What makes a town “the coolest”? In the end, it’s the same as what makes travel the coolest: the people. And yet there seem to be a few common patterns that attract cool people to certain areas, or perhaps it’s the other way around: people’s creativity and innovation helps lead their towns in a cooler direction.
Either way, the kinds of towns we like:
- Are not just bedroom communities or suburbs, but have their own economic / local “heart.” (We like to walk around downtowns, not just drive everywhere.)
- Have strong DIY or local movements around agriculture / food / drink / farm to table. (We like to eat and drink well.)
- Have cool natural features close by, and ideally a significant part of their local economy is outdoor recreation. (We like to surf / paddle / hike / chill in the woods.)
- Have cultural diversity to the point where even if the town is small it still has a “global citizenry” feel. (We like it when we can speak more than one language; we like it when the place is LGBT friendly.)
And that’s pretty much it. Size didn’t matter too much. Some places could qualify as small cities. Others are tiny. What matters really, is the feel. So without further ado:
20. Asheville, North Carolina
Visitors strolling around the cool art deco buildings or finding farm-to-table cuisine and craft beer everywhere they turn may presume Asheville has long been an affluent place. In reality, Asheville suffered decades of shuttered buildings, areas with a full-on “ghost town” feel.
But starting in the mid-80s, a group of visionary citizens led one of the most amazing economic transformations in the US. Fwd to 2015: Calendars full of next-level music / arts / culture festivals, boutique hotels popping up all over downtown, and pound for pound the most thriving craft beer and local food scene in the country
Why it’s so cool?
- Location: Appalachian highland terrain with wilderness options left and right.
- An almost ridiculously welcoming, supportive local community. Want to come and start a craft meadery? An archery shop? An electronic music collective? A wildcrafting camp? An integrative medical practice? You’ll find people stoked you came, and going out of their way to help.
- A chill Southern family-friendly culture.
Kids are welcome everywhere and there’s a total lack of pretension. The girl you chatted up at WALK? You’d never guess she’s a world-champion kayaker. The bearded bro who served you an IPA? You’d never know his brewery made a million dollars last year.
Early power breakfast at Sunny Point. Then go run the Green. Bonus points if it’s fall. If you’re not a boater, go on a day hike along the Horsepasture River. Come back for dinner at Chorizo, then cocktails at the Crow and Quill if you want it laid back or next door at Tiger Mountain if you want it rowdy.
If there’s someone you like playing the Orange Peel, don’t miss it, or just roll the dice at New Mountain.