LGBTQ+ Friendly Travel Guide to Asheville, NC

LGBTQ Friendly Asheville, NC
Photo by Rachel Covello

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With its progressive outlook, arts scene, and nightlife contributing to its inclusive atmosphere, Asheville, North Carolina stands out as a city that welcomes its LGBTQ+ travelers. While you won’t find a designated gay district, Asheville embraces a diverse LGBTQ+ community seamlessly integrated into the city’s fabric. Here, LGBTQ+ travelers can explore, express themselves, and enjoy their visit to the fullest.

Asheville is a city with a rich architectural heritage that beautifully blends Art Deco, Beaux Arts, and Neoclassical styles. Its downtown area provides a retro-urban backdrop to a local scene of shops, galleries, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Asheville is not only a place of creativity but also one that celebrates its Appalachian roots. Its historic architecture adds character to its streets, and visitors can enjoy strolling through neighborhoods of unique and well-preserved buildings.

Located southeast of Columbia, this mountain city is home to numerous art galleries, a culinary and craft beer culture, a live music scene, and stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville is an ideal place for outdoor adventures, with its nearly million acres of wilderness, mountain ecosystems, and waterfalls, and activities such as whitewater rafting, zip lining, hiking, and mountain biking, it’s an active traveler’s paradise. 

How To Get There: Planes, Trains, and & Automobiles

You can choose the transportation method that best suits your needs and travel plans to ensure a smooth journey to Asheville.

Planes: Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) offers daily flights from major cities, making it a hassle-free choice for air travelers.

Trains: While Asheville doesn’t have a passenger train station, you can take an Amtrak train to nearby cities like Charlotte (130 miles) or Greenville (64 miles), and then connect to Asheville via bus or rental car.

Automobiles: If you have the flexibility to “go at your own pace,” or prefer to enjoy the scenery, driving to Asheville is a good choice as the city is easily accessible from major highways. 

How LGBTQ+ Welcoming Is Asheville

Over the years, Asheville has developed a reputation for its LGBTQ+ friendliness, by cultivating an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusivity. With a diverse and thriving LGBTQ+ community, the city offers a welcoming and supportive environment for residents and visitors alike.

One feature of Asheville’s LGBTQ+ scene is the presence of numerous LGBTQ+-owned businesses, including restaurants, bars, and shops that not only create a sense of belonging, but also provide safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to socialize and connect. The city’s LGBTQ+ friendliness extends beyond social and cultural aspects as Asheville is also home to organizations and support groups that cater to LGBTQ+ individuals, offering resources, counseling, and advocacy. 

In addition to the social scene and support networks, Asheville’s government and institutions actively work to protect LGBTQ+ rights and promote equality. The city has implemented policies and ordinances aimed at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This helps create an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals can live and work without fear of prejudice or bias. Case in point is Asheville’s educational institutions and healthcare providers prioritizing LGBTQ+ inclusivity and competency so students, patients, and residents can access the resources they need while feeling respected and understood.

Asheville’s LGBTQ+ friendliness is not just a surface-level acceptance, it’s a deep-rooted and integral part of the city’s culture and identity. It’s a place where LGBTQ+ individuals can be themselves, connect with like-minded people, and access essential services and support. As a result, Asheville welcomes everyone with open arms.

Gay Friendly Asheville, NC

Blue Ridge Pride

Blue Ridge Pride is a non-profit organization that works with various individuals and organizations to support the rural LGBTQ+ community in Western North Carolina (WNC). Their goal is to create connections that bring this diverse community together and work towards a better future. They partner with corporations, churches, hospitals, other non-profits, entrepreneurs, and government officials who share their goal of building an inclusive community. They do this through community events, their WNC Pride Portal, business alliance initiatives, and community collaborations. 

Pride Events in Asheville

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Blue Ridge Pride PageantThe Blue Ridge Pride Pageant, affectionately known as the “Annual Drag Pageant” is one of the highlights of Asheville’s LGBTQ+ calendar where Appalachian charisma, talent, and individuality meet. Held in September, several weeks before the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, it features queens from various regions celebrating the spectrum of gender expressions as they compete for the title of Miss/Mr./Mx. Blue Ridge Pride.. 

Blue Ridge Pride FestivalAsheville’s Pride Week culminates with the ever-popular and widely attended Blue Ridge Pride Festival, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. Taking place annually in Pack Square Park in September, this themed event features two stages showcasing local musicians and a host of talented entertainers. With over 150 vendors and organizations, attendees can find everything they’re looking for, from clothing and accessories to food and education. It’s an opportunity to discover and support organizations dedicated to social justice and enjoy delicious treats from different food vendors.

  • Pride ProcessionThe annual Pride Procession kicks off the Blue Ridge Pride Festival with a city procession through the streets of Asheville that starts on South French Broad Avenue. All are welcome to join, whether as a business, group, congregation, community, family, individual, or a group of friends, for this half-mile journey into Pack Square, the heart of the festival.

Pride Night at Asheville TouristsWhile there’s no professional major league baseball team in North Carolina, that doesn’t stop Asheville from having a special night at the ballpark celebrating LGBTQ+ pride with the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team.

History Of Asheville

Before Europeans arrived in North Carolina, the land around Asheville belonged to the Cherokee nation. In 1785, Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family received a land grant to settle in the Swannanoa Valley, marking the early settlement of the area. In 1792, Buncombe County was established, with the county seat initially named “Morristown.” This was later changed to “Asheville” in 1797 in honor of North Carolina Governor, Samuel Ashe.

Asheville, served as an outpost in 1797 and was frequented by frontiersmen like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. With the arrival of the railroad in 1880, Asheville transformed into a resort and health center, attracting visitors seeking a mountain escape. By 1890, the city’s population had grown to 10,000 permanent residents.

Despite its initial growth, Asheville faced challenges after the stock market crash. The city had accrued significant debt due to construction projects in the “Roaring Twenties,” and the economic downturn hindered further urban development. However, this period helped preserve the city’s historic architecture, as Asheville prioritized repaying its debt. Today, you can witness the original “boomtown” architecture in well-preserved art deco buildings that house restaurants, galleries, and independent shops as you explore Asheville.

LGBTQ+ Friendly Places To Stay In Asheville

As an LGBTQ+ traveler, when planning your trip to Asheville, finding the right place to stay is essential to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Because Asheville is such a welcoming destination for the LGBTQ+ community, there are plenty of options that fit the bill. 

Depending upon what you like, you can opt for a hotel downtown that finds you right in the middle of all of the action. Or, if quaint and cozy is what you prefer, there are plenty of B & Bs that provide an opportunity to connect with fellow travelers and enjoy a more personalized experience. Want something unique and different? Boutique hotels tend to be smaller, more intimate, and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure all of their guests feel comfortable and respected. 

Regardless of which you choose, Asheville’s LGBTQ+ friendly lodging options ensure that all travelers find the perfect place to call home during their stay.

The RestorationThe Restoration Hotel is a boutique hotel, centrally located, and known for its southern charm and modern amenities. It features well-appointed rooms and suites, a rooftop bar with scenic views, and an on-site restaurant. The LGBTQ+ community gathers there one night each September for “Pride Takeover in the Solarium,” the hotel’s rooftop event space.

The Omni Grove Park Inn Resort and SpaThe Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa is a luxury mountain resort known for its grand architecture and exceptional service. The resort’s amenities include a world-class spa, championship golf course, multiple dining options, and a variety of accommodations to suit every guest’s taste.

Bent Creek LodgeBent Creek Lodge is a bed and breakfast located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lodge offers comfortable and cozy accommodations, including rooms and suites with private balconies or patios. Guests can enjoy easy access to outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Bent Creek Experimental Forest.

The Blind TigerThe historic Blind Tiger Asheville is a bed and breakfast, boutique-style hotel located just a 6-minute walk from Central Asheville. The hotel’s rooms are individually decorated, with some featuring private bathrooms with spa baths, while others provide free toiletries and hairdryers.. Guests can enjoy a seasonal breakfast menu with a selection of made-from-scratch small plates. 

Renaissance Asheville HotelThe gay friendly Renaissance Asheville Hotel is centrally located downtown, providing guests easy access and walkability to many of the local attractions. Modern guest rooms, some with mountain views offer the perfect combination for a relaxing stay. For eco-conscious guests, the hotel features rooftop bee boxes in collaboration with the Bee Institute to support sustainability.

Recommended Restaurants In Asheville

Asheville is known as the food destination in Western North Carolina and for good reason. You can find a variety of cuisines downtown, from international flavors to classic American fare. Most restaurants emphasize locally sourced ingredients, creating a farm-to-table experience. In addition to restaurants, you can find food trucks throughout the city offering quick bites with their different, and mostly limited menus. 

The city’s culinary scene reflects its multifaceted culture and commitment to sustainability. So, whether you’re seeking comfort food, American fare, or international dishes, Asheville has dining choices to satisfy all of the different tastes.

Tupelo HoneyTupelo Honey is a popular Southern kitchen and bar known for its scratch-made and responsibly-sourced Southern-inspired dishes. With its great service, huge portions, and selection of beers, expect a high energy environment that is reflective of the Asheville community.

Early Girl EateryEarly Girl Eatery specializes in farm-to-table Southern comfort food, serving dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. It’s a popular spot among locals and visitors looking for a taste of traditional Southern cooking, so reservations are recommended.

Sunset TerraceSunset Terrace is an upscale restaurant located at The Omni Grove Park Inn, featuring an elegant and romantic dining atmosphere and gourmet American cuisine. Guests can enjoy their meals on an outdoor terrace with stunning mountain views or in the classic dining room with a grand stone fireplace. The dress code is business casual, making it suitable for special occasions and upscale dining experiences. And, if Sunday brunch is your thing, Sunset Terrace is the place to be.

ZambraMeaning “gypsy dance of celebration,” Zambra creates a festive atmosphere with a nod to the meaning of its name. Its menu is a contemporary take on wine and tapas with a focus on Mediterranean flavors, using the best local ingredients for an unforgettable “feast of the senses” for its guests.

Things To Do & See In Asheville

There’s so much to do and see in Asheville. From outdoor adventures of hiking, biking, and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains to cultural experiences of art galleries, live music venues, theaters, museums, and everything in between, Asheville has activities and attractions that are sure to please. 

Asheville Rooftop  Bar ToursGay owned Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours offers rooftop tours of the city, focusing on its art deco architecture and panoramic views. The tour includes history, food, and drinks at Asheville’s rooftop bars, providing a unique, “birds-eye view” experience.

The River Arts DistrictThe River Arts District is a collection of art galleries and studios, including pottery, painting, sculpting, and glass blowing. It also offers dining options and ever-changing street art, especially around the Foundation, known for hosting LGBTQ+ friendly businesses.

The Biltmore EstateBuilt by George Washington Vanderbilt II in 1895, the Biltmore Estate is the largest privately-owned home in the U.S spanning 8,000 acres. Offering tours of the mansion, beautifully landscaped gardens, and a winery, guests can explore this château-style mansion and grounds.

Asheville Pinball Museum Have fun at the Asheville Pinball, where you can play vintage and modern pinball machines to your heart’s content. Arrive early as a line forms before opening to assure you get in. The museum allows 65 players at a time for its 70 pinball machines, so an open machine is always available to play.

Asheville Botanical GardensEnjoy a peaceful, out-in-nature visit to Asheville Botanical Gardens. Covering 10 acres and featuring native plants of the Southern Appalachian region, visitors can explore a variety of natural habitats, including woodlands, wetlands, and meadows, while learning about the native flora of the area.

Where To Shop & Stroll In Asheville

When it comes to shopping in Asheville, you have several choices. Downtown Asheville offers various stores and boutiques, while the city’s historic district is home to numerous specialty shops. You can also check out the local markets and craft fairs to find one-of-a-kind, handmade goods, or find bargains at the Outlets. Not in the mood to shop? You can still head downtown for the perfect place to stroll and sightsee with historic streets and architecture at every turn. Nature enthusiasts can venture into the nearby parks and trails, while the River Arts District has an artistic atmosphere to wander through.

Downtown Asheville –  Downtown Asheville is the place to be. Wander through its streets filled with art galleries, shops, restaurants, and historic architecture, where you can find unique clothing, jewelry, and local crafts. Are you traveling with a four-legged companion? If so, most shops are dog-friendly.

Asheville City MarketThe Asheville City Market is a farmers market located on North Market Street between Woodfin and Walnut Streets. Operating every Saturday year round, the market features local vendors, offering fresh produce, artisanal goods, crafts, and more. Visitors can explore the market and purchase locally sourced products directly from their source.

Historic Biltmore VillageIn the Historic Biltmore Village, you can stroll along the quaint cobblestone streets, explore local boutiques, and visit familiar national brands for a shopping experience unlike any other.

Asheville Outlets –  For those looking for discounted brand-name items, the Asheville Outlets is an open-air Outlet Center featuring 70+ stores including many of your favorites. No car? No problem. Asheville Outlets has free shuttle service available for many of Asheville’s hotels.

Grove ArcadeThe Grove Arcade, also known as “The Arcade Building,” is a historic building that’s home to some of Asheville’s best specialty shops, galleries, and restaurants. Here you can find fine gifts, local art, handmade jewelry, and gourmet food products. Step outside to The Portico Market, an outdoor market featuring vendors selling artisan goods, crafts, and local products.

French Broad Chocolates Tour and Tasting To satisfy your sweet tooth, no visit to Asheville is complete without a French Broad Chocolates Tour and Tasting, where visitors can take guided tours to learn what goes into creating their exquisite chocolates, making it a must-visit destination for chocolate lovers.

LGBTQ+ Bars, Clubs, and Nightlife In Asheville

Asheville’s LGBTQ+ nightlife provides a safe and enjoyable environment for all, emphasizing the city’s commitment to inclusivity and acceptance. Whether you prefer a night of dancing, a drag show, or simply sipping a cocktail in a cozy bar and connecting with the community, Asheville’s nightlife offers all of that and a whole lot more. Here are a few of our favorites.

Elaine’s Dueling Piano Bar – Located inside The Omni Grove Park Inn, Elaine’s Dueling Piano Bar is a lively and entertaining venue where two talented pianists engage in friendly musical battles, captivating the audience with their enchanting melodies. It’s a must-visit destination for those seeking a fun and memorable night out.

O.Henry’sO.Henry’s, Asheville’s Gay Bar, North Carolina’s Oldest Gay Bar, and named by Esquire as one of the best Gay Bars in America, is a private club with an annual membership fee of $5.00. To enter O.Henry’s, patrons are required to present their ID, purchase a yearly membership, and receive their official O. Henry’s Gay Card.

Scandals Nightclub.Scandals Nightclub is a well known nightlife destination for the LGBTQ+ community, featuring laser light shows, a state-of-the-art sound system, and an always crowded dance floor. Voted “Best Place To Dance” and “Best Drag Shows,” Scandals is a “don’t miss” night spot.. 

The OddWhatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it at The Odd in West Asheville. Whether your pleasure is Drag, Comedy, Games, Magic, Burlesque, Rock, Metal, or Punk, this local neighborhood bar and restaurant does not disappoint. Also serving brunch, lunch, and late-night eats, this LGBTQ+ friendly spot feeds on the uniquely “odd” within everyone.

Sovereign RemediesLGBTQ+ owned Sovereign Remedies is known for its creative cocktails and hyper-seasonal dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. The bar focuses on crafting unique mixed cocktails using fresh, local ingredients and innovative techniques, adding a twist to classic recipes.

Capella on 9 Capella on 9 is a rooftop bar and lounge located on the ninth floor of the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown. With its scenic views of the city and the surrounding mountains, the bar features a variety of craft cocktails, beers, and wines, along with a menu of small bites and tapas. With both indoor and outdoor seating, Capella on 9 is a popular choice for enjoying the Asheville skyline.

Annual Events and Festivals in Asheville

Asheville’s annual events and festivals capture the essence of the city’s mix of cultural diversity, natural beauty, and community spirit that make this city a “must visit” place at any time of year.

LEAF Global Arts Festival At this weekend-long festival,  LEAF Global Arts Festival showcases world music, arts, and cultures through live performances, workshops, and international cuisine.

Shindig on the Green The Folk Heritage Committee produces Shindig on the Green, a free summer concert highlighting traditional Appalachian music and dance in a family-friendly park setting to support the preservation and continuation of the traditional music, dance and storytelling heritage of the Southern Appalachian Mountains..

Mountain State FairHeld at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, the Mountain State Fair is an annual 10-day event drawing close to 200,000 people, celebrating agriculture, art, tradition, and most of all, the people of North Carolina.

Asheville Beer Week Asheville Beer Week is a week-long celebration of the city’s craft beer scene, featuring tastings, special releases, and brewery events for beer enthusiasts. It highlights the ever-expanding and innovative world of craft beer & beverage in the region. 

Goombay Festival: A celebration of African and Caribbean culture, the Goombay Festival features music, dance, food, and crafts, adding cultural diversity to Asheville’s annual festival lineup.

LGBTQ+ Friendly Asheville: Embrace Its Southern Charm

A visit to LGBTQ+ friendly Asheville is an experience like no other in a city that welcomes  everyone. The city provides inclusive spaces, bars, restaurants, and events catering to the community. Visitors can safely enjoy everything Asheville has to offer, thanks to its commitment to respecting all individuals. You won’t find a “gayborhood” as you would in bigger cities, but what you do find is a fun, relaxed city with so many things to see, do, and experience. And, who knows, you may be like one of the thousands of LGBTQ+ travelers before you who falls in love with this city and decides to just stay. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s such a popular destination for the LGBTQ+ community and has been for years.

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

Events are subject to change. Please check the events webpage for updates and schedules.

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may, 2024

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