Hendersonville is a Small Town With Big Fun

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Downtown Hendersonville

Nestled in the foothills of Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Historic Hendersonville beckons visitors with its breathtaking scenery, cool mountain climate, vibrant arts and cultural scene, and abundance of outdoor activities.

“Our offerings run the gamut from cultural to heritage to agritourism to outdoor activities, and of course the great shopping downtown,” says Beth Carden, executive director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority. “We have such a nice, mild climate that we’re accessible year-round. It’s really hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes us unique, but I think the uniqueness lies in the fact that there really is something for everyone here.”

Downtown on the Upswing

The heart of Hendersonville is its downtown – a pedestrian-friendly oasis of quaint shops, museums, restaurants and cafes.

“The city of Hendersonville has invested a lot of money and effort to revitalize downtown to make it more inviting and walkable,” Carden says. “The reason Main Street is so wide compared to a lot of other small towns in Western North Carolina is because the citizen who donated the land for downtown made one stipulation – that people driving their horses and buggies down Main Street could turn them around without having to go off the road. That was very fortunate for us because now we have a nice wide Main Street with plenty of room for parking. It gave us the ability to widen the sidewalks and add benches for people watching,and gave restaurants plenty of space for outdoor dining.”

In addition to the eclectic mix of restaurants and shops, downtown offers a host of activities for families. Main Street is home to Team ECCO Ocean Center and Aquarium, the only salt-water aquarium in Western North Carolina, the Antique Toy Museum and the Henderson County Mineral and Lapidary Museum, as well as the Hands On! children’s museum, which fuels the imagination while teaching kids about science, art and history. The Mast General Store, a downtown staple, has become an attraction in itself. Stocked with nostalgic gifts and old-fashioned sweets, Mast General gives visitors a taste of childhood.

SEE MORE: North Carolina General Stores Offer Shopping for Simpler Times

Downtown Hendersonville

Arts-a-Plenty

The arts play an integral role in Henderson County tourism and quality of life. Just outside Hendersonville, the Flat Rock Playhouse produces comedies, classic plays, Broadway musicals and the Music on the Rocks tribute series for more than 100,000 visitors from mid-February through December. The theater, which began operating in a grist mill in 1940, was designated the State Theatre of North Carolina by the state General Assembly.

Book lovers will find a treasure of literary attractions, including the angel statue – found in the Oakdale Cemetery just east of downtown Hendersonville – which was immortalized by Thomas Wolfe in his classic novel Look Homeward, Angel. Just down the road is the home and farm of American poet Carl Sandburg, who completed a third of his works while living in Henderson County.

Natural Attractions

Spring in Hendersonville welcomes visitors with a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities, from kayaking, rafting and zip lining to golfing, hiking and mountain biking.

“Western North Carolina is one of the best-kept secrets in the country as far as mountain biking goes,” says Michelle Fleming, communications coordinator of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority. “We have people come from all over the world for our single track, some of our rambling mountain trails and some of our old forest roads. We have a number of tour guide services, so whether you’re a beginner or pro, you can come check out our mountain biking trails for fun, exercise or even for competition.”

Henderson and Transylvania counties share DuPont State Recreational Forest and its 10,000 acres of forest, trails and waterfalls. In addition, Henderson County’s more than 20 summer camps offer kids, families and church groups a place to soak up the area’s natural beauty.

Hendersonville NC

Come as Guests, Leave as Friends

One of Hendersonville’s greatest amenities is its Southern hospitality. The merchants, restaurant owners and local residents make visitors feel welcome, which is one reason Carden says the town sees such a large number of repeat visitors and why a good number of visitors end up making Hendersonville their home.

“We always say that relocation is a byproduct of tourism, and in 2013, USA Today ranked Hendersonville as the No. 1 retirement community in America. What’s interesting is that of the 150,000-plus visitors who come through our visitors center each year, about 40 percent of them come back in at the end of their vacation and say, ‘We had such a great time on vacation, we want to live here,’ ” Carden says.

Carden sums up the Hendersonville experience this way: “We’re part of the three bears story. Asheville, for some, is too big. Brevard is too small. But Hendersonville is just right.”

– Teree Caruthers

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