You know how when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, and people tell you to go to your happy place? Bend is my happy place. When Alex and I first started planning this trip, we knew we both wanted to be spending 2 to 4 days at a time in each city — Bend was the exception. Life in Orange County was as beautiful as it was hectic, and we both found ourselves needing an “OC detox”. Thankfully, three weeks in Bend was just what the doctor ordered. Here is a little glimpse at some of our favorite parts of downtown. We’ll have separate posts about our favorite nature areas, because let’s be honest, the lakes, rivers, and mountains were our favorite things about Bend!
Not only is this city the home of Deschutes Brewery headquarters (shout out to Black Butte Porter fans), but the whole town is bursting at the seams with delicious breweries. 10 Barrel, located just a few minutes from downtown, was my favorite place to bring friends who came to visit us during our stay. I’ll be honest and admit that a huge part of that reason was their bacon-jalapeno mac & cheese as well as their S1NISTOR Black Ale. Typing that last sentence just made me drool a little. Each brewery had its own personality, both in décor and brews, so we never felt bored or like we’d already seen all there was to see. Crux was another really fun place to grab a drink and watch the sunset. There were usually live bands playing in their outdoors grassy areas under twinkling lights. It was great seeing people of all walks of life, from new parents with wiggly toddlers to retired friends, all coming together and sharing the communal-style tables.
2. Deschutes River
The beautiful Deschutes River runs right through the heart of downtown, and there are many trails along the way that cater to bikers, runners, and walkers. Both sides of the river are lined with lush trees and gorgeous homes. Some areas, such as Drake Park, are open to the public for swimming, paddle boarding, and inner tubing.
This is the most diverse collection of shops I have ever seen in a small downtown. Although a huge part of Bend’s DNA is sports and breweries, it’s easy to find stores that go beyond that. Look past the big Patagonia store and bike shops, and you’ll find stylish home décor, the funky “Wabi Sabi” Japanese store, art galleries, and stylish boutiques, such as Faveur.
4. Art Alleys
Have you ever walked through a downtown and sped up your pace as you passed an alley? Me too. If you’re a woman, you’re probably familiar with running through self-defense scenarios in your head and trying to remember how to use your car keys as a weapon. Bend has the friendliest alleys, and I mean that in every way. The city has taken the time to install beautiful art pieces as well as twinkling lights to many of the alleys. Grab a scoop of gelato or a chai to-go and spend some time admiring this free art show.
The people of Bend sure know how to celebrate! There’s always a festival of some sort going on or coming up. During our stay, the Little Woody Barrel Aged Brew and Whiskey Festival was happening downtown. For a small fee, we were given taster glasses and 8 wooden coins that functioned as the currency. In order for breweries to be a part of the festival, they needed to have at least one barrel aged beer to offer, hence the name. The fun part was that those beers were especially crafted in small batches for this event, meaning that the only people who were ever going to taste it was us, the attendees. My favorites were the whiskey-barrel aged ciders, they tasted like autumn. Move aside pumpkin-spice, there’s a new cool kid in town.
6. Local Businesses
There’s some serious local business love going on in Bend! Every week there are farmer’s markets, both downtown and in other parts of the city, selling local produce, baked goods, jams, cookies, and all that is good in the world. I bought some cherry tomatoes for a salad, and they were the juiciest and sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted. I kept saying “these taste like candy”, while passing them around to my friends and husband to make sure my taste buds weren’t hallucinating. The downtown businesses also participate in something called “First Friday Art Walk”, where place paintings and photography by local artists all over their walls for people to enjoy with a complementary glass of wine and appetizers. We met some really nice business owners during the walk, and the free wine was a great way to start the weekend.
7. Tin Pan Theater
I don’t know how my husband found this place, but I’m so glad he did. Tucked away in an alley is a really small theater that plays mostly indie films and documentaries. Alex used to do alpine climbing before he got married, and when he heard that Tin Pan was playing Meru, he was really excited about us seeing it together. Be warned that if you want to watch a movie here, you better come early and wait outside until the doors open (usually 30 minutes before a showing). The inside of the theater only holds about 30 people, so it’s really cozy. You can get a beer or cider for the show along with a champagne bucket filled with popcorn, making it a really unique experience. We highly recommend it!
If you don’t mind driving a little bit out of downtown, here are some other parts around Bend we really enjoyed:
1. Alpacas in Crescent Moon Ranch
Crescent Moon Ranch isn’t technically in Bend, it’s in Terrebonne, but if you’re on your way to check out Smith Rock and you have kids or an animal-loving wife with you might as well stop by. You can buy a bag of Alpaca food for a few bucks and hand feed them! The males in the back of the barn are the friendliest!
2. Old Mill District
The Old Mill District is the place to shop at if you’re looking name brand for stores. It’s located in what used to be an actual mill, so the historical aspect of it seemed appealing to my mall-fearing husband. The Deschutes River runs right alongside it, and you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and inner tubes that will float you all the way to Drake Park near downtown. Once you get there, a city shuttle will drive you back to your rental place. Also, if you happen to be in town while they’re doing concerts at the venue right across the river, you can make a reservation at one of the many restaurants and eat outdoors while hearing the show from a distance.
3. Lava River Caves
I can now say that I have been inside a lava tube. What a wonderfully random place to visit! You’ll see a lot of sharp volcanic rock surrounding the cave area, but the inside is very smooth and easy to walk on. Bring a light sweater and flashlights and you’re set to go. If you want, you can also rent a giant flashlight at the info center in the parking lot. You get to hike a mile in and a mile out, easy peasy. My favorite thing was seeing families come in with toddlers wearing light up shoes (so they wouldn’t lose their child), and other parents who would carry a flashlight and turn them off it the kids were wandering too far ahead (that way the kids had to stop walking because they couldn’t see). So clever.
4. The High Desert Museum
If you’re curious about the history of the area, stop by the High Desert Museum. I’ll be honest and tell you that the reason I went was because I wanted to see the river otters! Unfortunately, that exhibit was closed for renovation. There are still other animals, such as owls, snakes, eagles, lizards, and fish to check out.
Have you been to Bend and know of a fun area we missed? Please tell us! We plan on going back, and would love new suggestions. Also, if you like what we post, please subscribe with your e-mail address so you’ll be contacted as soon as something new is up! Thanks for reading 🙂
Until next time,