(Updated 2023) It is perhaps odd that for 20 years I have worked in tourism, and in all that time and all the destinations I’ve led tours to, rarely have they been to the place I am most familiar – the place I call home – Asheville, NC, even though it is a popular tourist destination on its own. My work in educational group travel typically has me guiding more up in DC and the Northeast and even internationally. But during the coronavirus pandemic, my “work” travel halted, and in 2021, I began hosting the guest suite in our house on AirBnB: https://airbnb.com/h/ashevillealbergue
Besides hosting in our home, I wanted to share my local knowledge, and so I began drafting a “welcome” folder containing recommendations for making the most of an Asheville visit. You don’t have to be a guest at our place for this information to be useful, so I decided to also organize it here in my blog. And this particular post is dedicated to one of my favorite things about living here – not just the region and the city, but our very own neighborhood: Montford.
Out Neighborhood: Montford (Living Like a Local)
If you want to feel more like a local than a tourist, a great way to do that is to focus on our local neighborhood: Historic Montford. Just walking around our neighborhood, I often feel like I’m in a movie set or a Norman Rockwell painting trying to capture the idyllic American neighborhood with friendly people strolling the streets or waving from their front porches.
First a bit of history to understand why Montford has a special appeal. Just north of downtown, it was developed starting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a time not unlike today, when Asheville was booming in popularity, and its natural environment offered therapeutic appeal. The homes were built with large open air porches to take in the healing mountain air, and besides the private houses, there were many guest houses, B&Bs and healing sanitariums. Like the adjacent downtown, the long decline after the Great Depression actually served to help preserve the historic neighborhood, by being ignored by re-development investment that largely looked to the suburbs, with little regard to historic preservation. As rebirth and renewal efforts started in the 1980’s, the city designated Montford as a historic district, ensuring its revitalization would mirror its original development. As such, Montford remains almost entirely a residential neighborhood. The few commercial pockets are found in small single buildings, favoring pedestrians over parking lots; they are tucked among the residential homes, rather than clustered together in one business or restaurant zone. Within the neighborhood are several small parks and a large historic cemetery (whose winding lanes we enjoy like a park). There’s a greenway that links to the Botanical Gardens and the campus of UNC Asheville.
Neighborhood Walks or Jogs:
Besides going out for food or just passing through to get to downtown, Montford is worth a walk just for walking’s sake. It is how so many of us in the neighborhood spend our time, walking kids, dogs, or just ourselves. We like our own Montford Hills loops for its quietness and that it is not a through street for faster traffic, but the heart of Montford’s historic district is centered around the parallel streets of Montford and Cumberland. There’s a tree lined greenway that follows the creek flanking Broadway, which can be followed all the way to the Botanical Gardens. Many walkers and joggers in the neighborhood also use the looping lanes of Riverside Cemetery (no dogs allowed).
Aimless strolls are a great way to enjoy Montford, but if you’d like to have a suggested route to follow, here are two I mapped out using All Trails. For my own charting purposes, they start and end near my street, but these loops could easily originate from other parts of the neighborhood:
UNCA Observatory / Lookout Mountain Loop: This is a mix of everything: charming streets, historic homes, parks, greenways, botanical gardens, UNCA campus and a bit of single track trails to a great mountain view to the west. Makes for a great jog.
Riverside Cemetery and Historic Homes Loop: There are many lanes in Riverside Cemetery to make this loop longer or shorter, and the same can be said of the historic streets, but this is a sample of some of the best. Good for a jog or a walk.
Getting to Around by Foot and by Car:
Montford is just on the northern edge of downtown, and if you’re staying in the neighborhood and the weather is nice, we encourage you to walk to/from town, as the route passes through some of the same streets that the tourist trolleys will drive down. There are several routes to take and you could walk back a different way you came. You could also consider a cheap Uber to get you back when you’re ready to return. Depending what your plans are for food, drink or activity, you may not even need to leave the neighborhood.
Eating in Montford
One of our top recommendations not just for Montford, but all of Asheville, is the very popular “Nine Mile” Jamaican restaurant. This is its original location, but they have also expanded to other locations in town. They don’t take reservations, so expect a wait, or try to go before 6pm ahead of the dinner rush. Also found in the neighborhood are “All Day Darling” (hip comfort food with great patio space) which is also a good option for breakfast or a drink. There’s also “Tall Johns” that most recently opened in an old church building; it’s run by people living in the neighborhood so it aims to be a local’s place; however in keeping up with Asheville’s foodie culture, it might be a little too refined and pricey for us to go to frequently.. Next to Nine Mile, inside there is little neighborhood corner convenience store should you need some quick grab and go drinks or snacks.
Drinking in Montford
The core of Montford doesn’t really have what we’d call a neighborhood bar. The one that fits the image best is Little Jumbo (great cocktail and fine liquor lounge). Check out their lineup for local musicians playing in an intimate setting. Archetype Brewery (Broadway location / Asheville North) is also located on the edge of the neighborhood such that it could likewise be considered off-shoots of downtown. Zillicoah Brewery, Ginger’s Revenge (ginger beer brewery) and the French Broad Chocolate Factory (drink a liquid truffle, or eat a solid one!) are all great and not far away on the northern edge of the neighborhood on Riverside Drive. You could feasibly walk, but it’s just not very pedestrian friendly up there, so consider driving. Of the restaurants mentioned above, Nine Mile and Tall Johns restaurants do have a small inside bar with local pints, and All Day Darling has bottles and cans for having a drink on their lovely patio.
If you’re looking for more of a breakfast drink / coffee, then you can also get that at All Day Darling, as well as the little to-go coffee wagon by the greenway Le Bon Cafe or High Five Coffee, both on Broadway.
To Do in Montford
Riverside Cemetery (free) can actually be seen through the trees at the back of the house, but to get there, you need to walk around to the entrance at the end of Birch Street. It is a very scenic cemetery with winding roads looping around rolling hills. Notable graves are: Thomas Wolfe, O’ Henry, Zebulon Vance, George Masa – a map and guide are located at the entry, or the link above provides a map and bio of notable graves..
Asheville Botanical Gardens (free) flank the campus of UNCA. It makes for a pleasant stroll of landscaped trails and creek bridges. The gardens also connect the Reed Creek and Glenn Creek greenways (bike paths).
Farmer’s Market at UNCA, just past the Botanical Gardens
From April-December, the North Asheville Tailgate Market is a great place to find local produce, breads, baked goods, honey and other local items. It takes place Saturday mornings only.
Montford Park Players (Outdoor Shakespeare performances)
We love this local tradition of free live theater (donations appreciated) on summer weekend evenings. As community theater goes, it’s not high art, but a community experience. People bring their own blankets or chairs, picnics and wine, their kids and their dogs. It’s a 1 mile walk from the house, and you can stop at either “Nine Mile” or the next door Corner Store on the way to pick up something to eat during the play. Check schedules: https://www.montfordparkplayers.org/