Last Updated on September 20, 2023
Last Updated on September 20, 2023
With a lively atmosphere and eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, and activities, Asheville is one of our favorite cities in the state. We’ve visited this Western NC city many times, and one neighborhood that always catches our eye is the Asheville River Arts District, known locally as RAD.
RAD is Asheville’s creative outlet located just minutes from downtown. Galleries and artisan shops line the street, inviting artists and visitors alike to soak in the magic of the district.
If you’re visiting Asheville, consider adding a day at the River Arts District to your itinerary! This mystical neighborhood has wonderful galleries and studios where you can watch artists at work and shop for art pieces, eat at flavorful restaurants, and enjoy great views of the flowing French Broad River.
We loved all our trips to the River Arts District and think you will, too! If you’re interested in visiting, this guide will help you plan your trip. Here’s how the guide is organized:
- Where is the Asheville River Arts District?
- History of RAD
- Events in RAD
- Galleries and Studios
- Artists in RAD
- Places to Eat in RAD
- Things to Do near the Asheville River Arts District
Skip ahead to any section, or keep reading about RAD’s location and its history!
Where is the Asheville NC River Arts District?
The River Arts District is slightly southwest of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. The western boundary of RAD borders a two-mile stretch of the French Broad River, one of the five oldest rivers in the world at around 320-340 million years old.
New Belgium Brewing is one of our favorite spots to watch the river on nice days. If you have a favorite place to relax and watch the scenery, let us know about it!
History of the Asheville River Arts District
Before we dig into things to do in RAD, it’s important to understand the area’s history.
- This district of Asheville has a long history dating back to Indigenous Cherokee populations. The banks of the French Broad River were home to the Cherokee for generations before European settlers arrived.
- Over the next few centuries, Asheville grew as a metropolitan area as European settlers flowed in.
- In the 1800s, the railroad brought industry to what is now the River Arts District, as the crossroads between the railroad and river facilitated the growth of buildings, farms, and factories.
- However, after a 1916 flood, this once thriving industrial hub became abandoned as businesses were forced to close and move locations.
- The first artists began to move to RAD in 1985, jumpstarting a creative revitalization. The industrial mills and buildings were converted into vivid galleries, bright buildings, and a haven for artists and artist-lovers alike.
- Over 270 artists now reside in the over 20 historical buildings that make up this district, many of whose work is displayed for the public.
Events in RAD
With so many creative minds nearby, it’s no surprise that the events in the River Arts District are always imaginative and colorful.
- Uncommon Market (Multiple Times of Year): The Uncommon Market is Asheville’s largest pop-up market with a curated collection of antiques, art, jewelry, crafts, and more. The Market occurs periodically throughout the year, including a summer extravaganza in August, Sunday markets in the fall, and a holiday market.
- Second Saturdays (Every Month): On the second Saturday of each month, the River Arts District hosts district-wide gallery walks complete with art displays, live music, vendors, and more. Various artists flock to the streets to conduct demonstrations of their work and art styles. It’s a lively event that takes over the entire neighborhood.
- Studio Stroll: May and November bring the bi-annual anticipated Studio Stroll events, two weekends when the district comes to life. It’s essentially a large self-guided tour of RAD, but it’s the best time of year to interact with all the artists here!
Things to Do in the Asheville River Arts District This Weekend (and All Year!)
Those events are worth a spot on your annual calendar. Here are some things to do in the River Arts District throughout the year.
- Guided Tours
- Galleries and Studios
When we first visited RAD many years ago, we were able to take a guided tour led by John Almaguer. He founded Asheville Art Experience after noticing a need for a service to help visitors experience the River Arts District.
We greatly enjoyed our tour experience and still recommend it as one of the best ways to explore RAD, especially if you are overwhelmed with all the galleries and art options.
Asheville Art Experience offers both standardized and customized art tours around the district. You’ll gain an insider’s perspective of RAD by meeting artists, watching them work, and even trying their hand at some art forms!
John’s tours are incredibly detailed and a great way to explore RAD in a fun and unique way.
Galleries and Studios in RAD
The River Arts District is overflowing with galleries, studios, and shops for you to stop by and explore. While it’s nearly impossible to list each one, here’s a general list to get you started:
- The Marquee (36 Foundy St, Asheville, NC): A relatively new addition to RAD, the Marquee is a dynamic European-esque marketplace. The Marquee is located in a converted 50,000-square-foot warehouse filled with vendors, stalls, and kitschy shops. It’s easy to spend an entire morning just wandering the aisles and browsing wares like vintage crafts, pottery, photographs, and more.
- North Carolina Glass Center (140C Roberts St, Asheville, NC): The Glass Center is a central establishment in the River Arts District. Many glassblowers work and display their creations here, and we love seeing this incredible art form in person. The Center also hosts glass-blowing workshops if you want to immerse yourself in the artistic environment.
- Art Garden AVL (191 Lyman St, Asheville, NC): Simply put, Art Garden is a combined art gallery and plant shop. In reality, it’s a place where imagination runs amok and where creativity and cultivation coincide. 50 Asheville artists work here surrounded by thriving greenery and plants.
- Foundation Studios & Foundation Woodworks (27 Foundy St Suite 10, Asheville, NC): These two galleries and studios combined form an extensive collection of crafted items and artworks in RAD. Foundation Studios also offers numerous classes on crafts like basket weaving, printmaking, and jewelry making.
- Studio A (344 Depot St, Asheville, NC): Studio A is run by Andrea Kulish, a pysanky artist we met on one of our tours of RAD. Pysanky is a traditionally decorated Ukrainian Easter egg, and Kulish’s designs are gorgeous. We wouldn’t mind having a few (or more!) of her works around our house.
- The Village Potters (191 Lyman Street, #180, Asheville, NC): The Village Potters is a collective of seven potters in a 14,000-square-foot facility. The building features seven private studios, three open educational studios, and a gallery offering clay, tools, and Raku kilns for sale. It’s a popular spot in RAD especially for those interested in clay art.
Artists in RAD
The 200-plus artists in RAD operate in several different genres and styles of art. We’ve met glassblowers, painters specializing in fine arts and styles like dialuminism, and many other craftspeople. In this section, we’ll mention some of the artists we’ve witnessed working in their element.
We mentioned that we were led on a tour by John Almaguer, a prominent glassblower in the area. John’s tour introduced us to some cool artists in varying art styles. We’ve continued to follow their journeys and wanted to share a bit more with you here:
- Stephen St. Clair is an oil painter specializing in dialuminism, which means “light passing through” in Greek. In 2000, St. Clair was browsing a festival when he came across a booth with Greek Orthodox styles. What caught his eye, though, was the striking effect of the sunlight hitting the artwork, which was painted on gold leaf. Ever since, St. Clair strives to incorporate this kaleidoscopic effect in his work by painting on metal leaf, creating one of the many unique artistic styles found in RAD.
- Daniel McClendon is a fine artist painter who now works in the abstract after starting his career in realism. His studio is a great wooden space where his work is in constant rotation.
- Andrea Kulish is the pysanky artist mentioned in this guide’s “Galleries” section. As a reminder, Kulish specializes the traditional Ukrainian pysanky eggs and displays her creations at Studio A. This is an extraordinary art form you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere!
- Ultra Coffeebar (242 Clingman Ave, Asheville, NC): When we toured RAD a while ago, we grabbed coffee from this fantastic cafe. Their cold brew is some of the best we’ve ever had and probably the best way to start exploring the district.
- 12 Bones (5 Foundy St, Asheville, NC): 12 Bones in Asheville, NC, is a legendary barbecue joint renowned for its mouthwatering smoked meats and innovative flavors. Established in 2005, it has garnered a devoted following and even caught the attention of President Barack Obama. This Asheville restaurant’s commitment to using high-quality ingredients and its inventive array of house-made sauces set it apart, offering a tantalizing twist on traditional barbecue.
- White Duck Taco (388 Riverside Drive, Asheville, NC): The flagship White Duck location is located along the east bank of the French Broad River. The upscale restaurant is said to have the best tacos in Asheville, and we couldn’t agree more!
- All Souls Pizza (175 Clingman Ave, Asheville, NC): For an elevated pizza experience, All Souls is another popular go-to in the River Arts District. One of their artisanal pizzas followed by in-house soft-serve ice cream is one of the best ways to spend an evening.
- Fresh Wood Fired Pizza (342 Depot St, Asheville, NC): For a fast-casual dining option, Fresh Wood Fired Pizza has classic options you’ll love. The menu is relatively expansive and affordable, making it an excellent place for a quick meal.
- New Belgium Brewery (21 Craven St, Asheville, NC): This brewing company has a new location on the west bank of the French Broad, just across the river from RAD. It’s a 6,000-square-foot taproom with an outdoor patio perfect for a nice evening in Asheville.
- Wedge Brewing (5 Foundy St, Asheville, NC) Wedge Brewing has an industrial-chic atmosphere, providing a unique setting for enjoying its innovative brews. With a commitment to quality and creativity, Wedge Brewing continues to play a significant role in Asheville’s thriving craft beer scene.
- pleb Urban Winery (289 Lyman St, Asheville, NC) stands as a contemporary winery in Asheville, crafting wines from grapes cultivated in the surrounding mountains. The venue boasts a charming blend of rustic and urban aesthetics, where barrels double as tables and wooden accents create an inviting atmosphere—perfect for enjoying evenings with friends and family. Pleb’s wine selection is captivating, encompassing reds, whites, rosés, oranges, and innovative experimental flavors.
Things to Do Near the River Arts District in Asheville
There is no shortage of things to do in Asheville! After spending a day of your visit in the River Arts District, several museums, restaurants, and outdoor activities remain to fill your itinerary.
If you still haven’t had your fill of gorgeous art, be sure to visit the Asheville Art Museum downtown (2 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC). Other museums in the city include the Asheville Museum of Science (43 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC) and The Moogseum (56 Broadway Street, Front, Asheville, NC).
Of course, you can’t say you’ve visited Asheville if you haven’t visited Biltmore Estate (1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC) known as “America’s Largest Home.” This historical site is a museum, a place to go hiking (or biking), a hotel, a winery, and one of our places to see Christmas lights.
Asheville’s location in Western NC also means great outdoor hiking opportunities. There are plenty of Blue Ridge Parkway stops within a two-hour drive, including:
Ready to Explore RAD?
We love visiting this part of Asheville and can’t wait to return for more. We’d love to hear from you if you’re familiar with the Asheville River Arts District.
What are your favorite things to do here? Let us know in the comments.
Don’t forget to share your RAD experiences in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group! Photos welcome.
More River Arts District Asheville NC Travel Guides
We’ve created many more travel guides that cover the Asheville NC River Arts District and places nearby. Here are a few of them.