Sometimes when you visit a destination, it’s the natural scenery that sticks with you, majestic mountains, tumbling waterfalls and miles of hiking trails. Hendersonville, North Carolina, has all of those things. Its location in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just minutes from the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, affords visitors mile after mile of beautiful scenery.
Other times, you remember a town because of its charming Main Street, variety of local restaurants and souvenirs picked up at a local market. Hendersonville has all of those things, too. With one of the most welcoming downtowns in the region, Hendersonville is pedestrian friendly with wide sidewalks, 25 independently owned restaurants and friendly shopkeepers who appreciate your business.
But sometimes when you’re traveling, the most memorable experience is totally unexpected. The quirky little museum on a side street, or the shop that sells funky artwork, or an out-of-the-way diner with delicious food. For travelers looking for something out of the ordinary, Hendersonville has you covered.
Beat the High Score
Do you remember playing pinball machines as a kid? Maybe in an arcade at the local mall or along the boardwalk on summer beach trips. Did you have a favorite? Maybe baseball or soccer, Twilight Zone or Star Trek. John French brings those memories to life at Appalachian Pinball Museum located on Main Street.
The space that was once a movie theater now houses approximately 35 pinball machines and 25 video games. Parents and grandparents are as excited as the kids when they enter the arcade-like museum with flashing lights and the sounds of flippers flipping furiously, victorious cheers and defeated groans. French enjoys seeing parents school their kids on games such as PAC-MAN (and Ms. PAC-MAN), Tempest by Atari, and Harlem Globetrotters pinball. He’s responsible for keeping the vintage and contemporary classics running.
Play all day for $12. Once you have a wrist band, you can come and go as you please. Visit the snack bar for snacks, soft drinks and beer to enjoy while you play.
Treasures from the Earth
Down the street is a museum of a different sort. The Mineral and Lapidary Museum of Henderson County houses some cool things that have come from the soil beneath our feet. Minerals found locally and throughout North Carolina, which has one of the nation’s richest mineral deposits, include amethyst, ruby, garnet, mica and more. Other minerals on display are from farther off, such as fluorescent willemite from New Jersey and ocean jasper from Madagascar.
One of the most popular sections of the museum is the fossil corner. See a life-size casting of a T-rex head; a mastodon thigh bone, tusk and tooth; and a leg bone from a woolly mammoth. Run your hand across a nest filled with fossilized dinosaur eggs. Inside the black-light booth, learn how certain minerals glow in the dark.
Admission to the museum is free. The gift shop has a variety of minerals, books, posters and fossils. All of the jewelry is handmade by museum volunteers. Purchase an uncracked geode, and museum volunteers will crack it for you and identify the crystals found inside.
The Western North Carolina Air Museum takes visitors back to the early days of traveling by plane, when the thought of flying was exotic and exciting. Located inside a hangar beside an active airport, the museum is a working passion project. On any given day, you’ll find enthusiasts tinkering on their latest finds, veterans sharing stories from years ago, and hobby pilots taking off and landing vintage aircraft.
The 1932 E-2 Taylor Cub was restored entirely on the museum floor. Visitors observed the process as volunteers tediously took the plane down to its bones and brought it back to its glory days. Planes on display span decades of progress in air travel, from the early 1900s to the late ’80s.
Special events, such as fly-ins, offer opportunities to see rare privately owned planes and occasionally get a ride in a vintage aircraft.
Bike and Climb Under One Roof
The Riveter opened in early 2020 as North Carolina’s first indoor climbing gym and bike park. Strap into a harness, chalk your hands and pick your path to the top along 16,000 square feet of climbing terrain. Climbers of every level will find something to challenge their abilities. The boulder area includes 60 routes, and the dedicated kids climbing cove has multiple rope stations and a boulder area that tops out to an awesome slide.
The bike park is divided into two parts. Under the canopy, there are four separate lines with terrain for all skill levels. Experienced riders practice jumps and drops, while younger riders hit the flowy pump track. Outdoors, four different lines vary in difficulty from green to double black. Riders push their limits on the bike with a variety of features.
The Riveter also includes a yoga studio, fitness studio, meeting space, libation station and retail shop. Visitors may bring their own climbing and biking equipment, or rent it on-site.