Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Hendersonville welcomes visitors with one of the coolest downtowns in the region. Just south of busy Asheville and only 20 minutes from Asheville Regional Airport, Hendersonville boasts a vibrant Main Street with lots to see and do, while maintaining its quintessential small-town charm and relaxing, slower pace.
When Hendersonville became a town in the 1840s, the judge who gave the land for its charter decreed that Main Street should be wide enough to turn around a coach pulled by four horses. Today, Main Street’s wide sidewalks and curvilinear design attract pedestrians, alfresco diners, and boutique shoppers.
Bears and bees
Each May, 20 colorful bears take their spots along Main Street. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bearfootin’ Art Walk. The bears stay on display until October when they are auctioned off for charity. Local artists decorate the bears. Past renditions incorporated Blue Ridge Mountain scenes and landmarks, as well as elements of nature, such as flowers, forests, butterflies, and birds. Other bears take on humanlike characteristics, wearing clothes, hats, or costumes. Sometimes bears morph into other creatures, such as a dinosaur or dogs.
A new permanent public art addition debuted in spring 2021. A bee mural now covers two sides of the building housing Hands On! Children’s Museum. The mural, which is designed to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators, depicts honeybees, butterflies, and native flowers. The mural is part of an international campaign by artist Matthew Willey called The Good of the Hive, which involves painting 50,000 honeybees in murals around the world.
Downtown Hendersonville is home to 25 independently owned restaurants. One standout is Shine. Exposed brick and low lighting give the place a speakeasy feel. A rooftop bar provides views of Main Street and mountains in the distance. Everything here is scratch-made, from ketchup to cocktail mixers.
The culinary variety in Hendersonville spans the globe. Area diners from all directions regularly make an hour’s drive for sushi at Umi. The low-key spot with an expansive patio serves fresh food in creative presentations. Mezzaluna and West First use wood-fired ovens to char pizzas, vegetables, and more to perfection. Never Blue, an internationally inspired tapas-style restaurant, rolls up its garage-door front on pleasant days. Diners enjoy powerful cocktails, creative tacos, and decadent desserts topped with house-made ice cream.
On the beverage side, Main Street is home to two breweries, with three additional breweries in the adjoining Seventh Avenue entertainment district. Newcomer D9 Brewing specializes in wild-fermented beers. Oklawaha Brewing takes pride in fostering a community with regular live music and kid-friendly offerings. Hop aboard the HVL Pedal & Brews pubcycle for a fun-filled cruise to breweries and taprooms. The mobile pub provides a different perspective for seeing the downtown sights.
The Blue Ridge Mountains have long been known for the large collection of artists and crafters who come here to create. Galleries along Main Street carry works by local and regional artists. From weavers and sculptors to painters, woodcarvers, and glassblowers, you’ll find one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Mast General Store is a North Carolina icon. Originally started as a small country store selling daily necessities, the store now has several locations, all in historic buildings. The Hendersonville store, located in the 1905 Syndicate Building, stocks outdoor adventure gear, home decor items, and big barrels of candy.
The young and young at heart enjoy Dancing Bear Toys. This beloved toy store is not only a place to shop but also a place for kids and adults to play. From classic toys to the newest, hottest items on the market, you’ll find them here.
Bring the Family
An unexpected attraction in this mountain town is Team ECCO Aquarium & Shark Lab. North Carolina’s first inland aquarium is home to a 2,000-gallon shark study tank where visitors can watch daily shark feedings. More than 275 fish, invertebrates, reptiles, and salamanders call the aquarium home.
Pisgah Forest Gem Mine allows treasure hunting in any weather. Search for precious and semiprecious stones of all colors, shapes, and sizes. When you’re done, have your favorite find made into a piece of jewelry.
At Appalachian Pinball Museum, approximately 35 pinball machines and 25 video games delight customers. 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. All-time pinball favorites include PAC-MAN (and Ms. PAC-MAN), Tempest by Atari, and Harlem Globetrotters. You can play all day for $12.
Stay Steps Away
The Buncombe Turnpike, built in the 1820s, provided easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains from the lowlands of South Carolina. Hendersonville quickly became a vacation destination in the summer months to escape the sweltering heat. Many of those grand houses from the late 1800s and early 1900s carry on the tourism tradition by operating as bed-and-breakfasts.
Guests have been staying at The Charleston Inn since 1906. Located two blocks from the central business district, the inn has 16 large rooms covering three stories. Guests choose from many amenities, including spa services.
The 1898 Waverly Inn, located next door to The Charleston, is a lovingly restored bed-and-breakfast. Rooms are spacious and airy, with porches on the first and second floors lined with rockers. Full-service breakfast and afternoon beverage service are included in your stay.
The Henderson, only a block off Main Street, is a historic B&B with a culinary focus. Owner Michael Gilligan is an award-winning chef. The inn’s on-site restaurant, Harvey’s, regularly serves breakfast and an evening menu of small plates, as well as Sunday brunch and monthly wine dinners.
Elizabeth Leigh Inn, built-in 1893, is one of Hendersonville’s most intimate inn experiences. This beautiful structure sits on the stately corner of a residential district, just a handful of blocks from downtown, with gardens on the grounds.