Asheville, N.C., has been called the green mecca of the South, and it’s no wonder: This small Southern Appalachian city of less than 75,000 residents certainly has a smorgasbord of eco-friendly businesses and activities for visitors to enjoy.

Exploring the city’s downtown area, which is almost exclusively populated by independent, locally owned businesses, sightseers can spot many rooftop solar panels and can even hitch rides around town in electric taxis or bicycle-drawn rickshaws. Visitors driving biodiesel-powered vehicles can fill ‘er up at one of the city’s at least 10 biodiesel gas stations.

Asheville is well-known for its vibrant arts scene and fiercely loyal locals, who make it a point to patronize local businesses as often as possible, but the real draw to this area is its breathtaking mountainous landscape and the wide array of outdoor adventures to be had.

Play green

Get a unique view of the city on the LaZoom comedy tour bus, which takes riders on a biodiesel-powered, 90-minute journey through Asheville highlighting local neighborhoods and landmarks. Tours on rechargeable electric Segways are also popular, though getting around by foot is remarkably easy in the walkable downtown area.

While you’re out, pick up some sustainable souvenirs at Spiritex boutique on Lexington Avenue or peruse the many other shops for local crafts, pottery, artwork and specialty food items. Lexington Avenue is known for used bookstores, art galleries and funky shops full of locally made, recycled, secondhand and organic clothing.

Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, bike or ride horseback on over 2,000 miles of nearby trails including the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the famed Smoky Mountains National Park. Water lovers can get wet or just enjoy the views while whitewater rafting, kayaking, cooling off in the area’s many swimming holes, or taking gentle boat tours of Lake Lure.

But enjoying the natural beauty of Asheville and the surrounding areas doesn’t necessarily require strenuous activity. Many overlooks along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway offer stunning vistas of mountains and valleys, and the majestic Whitewater Falls – the highest waterfall east of the Rockies – can be seen from a handicap-accessible walkway.

Stay green

The LEED-certified Hilton at Biltmore Park is one of Asheville’s newest hotels, and also its greenest. Its rooftop boasts one of America’s first hotel solar water heating systems, which heats water throughout the hotel including the saline pool and whirlpool tubs. The Hilton reduces water usage by 30 percent with low-flow fixtures, uses energy-efficient lighting throughout the property and outfits its employees in uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles.

Bed and breakfasts are numerous in Asheville and the rest of western North Carolina, but eco-conscious visitors should take a look at Asheville Green Cottage. Located in a quiet historic neighborhood, this 1920s Arts and Crafts style granite block house was named one of America’s greenest hotels by Forbes Traveler and features four bedrooms with organic textiles, water-saving fixtures, energy-efficient lighting and local, organic breakfasts.

Eat (and drink) green

Asheville is home to a dazzling array of independent restaurants, and a large number of them use as many local ingredients as possible. Tupelo Honey, located in the heart of downtown, is perhaps the city’s most popular restaurant with locals and visitors alike, offering unique “Southern cuisine with a twist” made using local meats and produce from its own farm.

Vegetarians and vegans have plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from in Asheville, which was named GoVeg.com’s #1 Best Vegetarian-Friendly Small City in America. Laughing Seed Café, Rosetta’s Kitchen and Firestorm Café are exclusively vegetarian, and most of the city’s other local restaurants have vegetarian and vegan options.

Fans of craft beers will revel in the choices offered by a surprising number of local breweries — in fact, Asheville is gaining a reputation as one of America’s premier beer cities, sharing the honor of “Beer City USA” with Portland, Ore.  Breweries include Highland Brewing Co., Asheville Pizza & Brewing, Green Man Brewing, French Broad Brewing, the Wedge Brewery, Pisgah Brewing, Oysterhouse Brewing, Craggie Brewing and Lexington Avenue Brewing. Sample them all at local beer store Bruisin’ Ales.

Want to travel somewhere else? Check out our other destinations of the week or stop by our travel channel.

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