Bend, Oregon, is a small city in central Oregon recognized for its outdoor recreational activities such as skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and kayaking to mention a few. And with the majestic peaks of Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood, the jaw-dropping beauty of Smith Rock, and the invigorating Deschutes River as neighbors, I can see why the adventure sports here are world-renowned.
But this urban heart of central Oregon also boasts a cultural side equally as adventurous. As this was my first time in the high desert of Oregon, I explored the multiple offerings on the other side of Bend.
My visit was sponsored by VisitCentralOregon but all opinions and recommendations are my own.
Old Mill Town
Old Mill Town is the perfect place to begin. This centralized district is easy to spot due to its three trademark smokestacks standing sentinel on the shores of the Deschutes River. Once the largest ponderosa pine sawmill in the area, it is now transformed into a charming, urban shopping and dining hub. Over 55 retailers and restaurants call the Old Mill District home.
If you are lucky, on a warm, summer month evening, you may be eating at your favorite spot along the river and hear music wafting over the waterway. Wait! Is that your all-time favorite band playing? It might be and it is happening at the newly-expanded Hayden Homes Amphitheater, the place to catch some of the country’s biggest acts live in central Oregon.
Old Mill Town hosts an eclectic blend of new and old, modern and antique, and handcrafted and artisan shops. Stroll along its boulevard or river trail to pop into the array of studios for a one-on-one meet-and-greet with the artists themselves.
2. First Friday Art Walk
Many of the artists located in Old Mill Town show off their work during Bend’s First Friday Art Walk. What can be better than leisurely looking at art while sipping a warm beverage or glass of wine all the while supporting local small businesses? Spend a great evening out in downtown Bend with shopping, art, and friends!
If you share similar sentiments to me and consider books works of art, then be sure to drop by Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe in the heart of Bend. We stopped in for our morning coffee and left with not only our Americanos but a bag of books to boot! New and used books share shelf space at Dudley’s. Head upstairs with your morning brew to nestle in at a corner table and enjoy their open, airy loft space. With a relaxed start to your day and some java in your veins, you are ready to explore Bend.
Visit Bend in the Pacific Northwest and you will discover a rich history and landscape influenced by the people who were here since time immemorial.
The Museum At Warm Springs
On a road trip through this high desert area, we stopped at The Museum at Warm Springs. Witness firsthand the traditional basket weaving and cultural artifacts on display and experience the music, songs, and language of the three tribes comprising The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The curated displays tell stories through imagery, song, and art bringing the history of this area to life.
The High Desert Museum
Another must-see on a road trip, or day trip, from Bend is the High Desert Museum. Rated as a top central Oregon attraction, this cultural museum of the West’s high desert offers a diverse palette of exhibits. Where else will you be able to walk through a 1904 High Desert Ranch town and interact with living history? Roam the dirt road while you converse with the characters working and living on this ranch, believing as if it is 1904!
Take a walk on the wild side with an outdoor adventure through the raptor exhibit and learn about the native habitat for great horned owls, eagles, hawks, and other predators living in our wooded spaces.
Spend a few reverent moments inside the Creations of Spirit exhibit where seven Indigenous Pacific Northwest artists display their everyday pieces and living works of art. They consider art as ceremonial, functional, and utilitarian.
It is all here, found under the roof of this 100,000-square-foot exhibit space. Weaving together history, culture, art, and the natural world, the High Desert Museum provides visitors with a multi-faceted lens in which to view the world; one that fosters a deeper understanding while continuing conversations.
4. Food Trucks, Breweries, And Fine Dining
When it comes to food choices, Bend is the place to be. There is something for everyone, every taste, and every budget. Let’s start with the iconic Oregon food trucks; except, in Bend, they are more like food truck pods.
At The Bite, in scenic Tumalo on the north side of Bend, there is a plethora of food trucks, all lined up in a semicircle caravan around a general area of fire pits, picnic tables, and games to share. Grab a craft beer from the assortment on tap and get ready to join the laid-back, backyard party atmosphere, as only Oregonians know how to do.
Midtown Yacht Club
Don’t let the name deceive you. At this Midtown Yacht Club, no one is donning a stuffy dinner jacket and tie. Rather, the acquired attire in this outdoor pod is more along the lines of flannel shirts and beanies. Sit beside a warm fire pit while dining on some down-home favorites with a twist. Comfort foods such as tater tots explode with taste. You can even experiment with new flavors and try some Israeli street food. Wash it all down with a local craft beer and your meal is complete. Now, it’s time to set sail!
Bend Cider Company
Bend Cider Company specializes in quality botanical, dry hard cider. They began their journey in 2019 simply by building a cidery and planting an apple orchard. As their business grew, they expanded their focus, placing it on conservation. A percentage of all sales support local environmental education. They believe in supporting the local community, even choosing a Bend artist, Sheila Dunn, to craft the designs that appear on the labels of the craft cider.
Worthy Brewing And Hopservatory
A brewery with its own stargazing observatory, including a high-powered telescope, is what Worthy Brewing is all about. Set your sights on the night sky in this designated Oregon dark sky area and be transported through the galaxies. Once back on Earth, make your way downstairs to enjoy a full menu of craft beers and iconic pub fare inside the brewery.
Where To Eat In Bend
The Wild Rose
There is a large variety of dining choices in Bend, but by far one of the most beloved is the northern Thailand cuisine at the Wild Rose. Honoring the traditions and culture of their home, the dishes at Wild Rose reflect the unique flavors of northern Thailand. It is tradition in Thailand to share your meal, so in keeping with this custom, all dishes at Wild Rose are served family-style. This is a good thing as the food is so flavorful, fresh, and delicious, it is hard to pick just one!
Terra Kitchen At SCP Redmond
Fine dining cultivated in an atmosphere of wellness, community, and sustainability is what you will find at Terra Kitchen. This plant-forward restaurant features farm-to-fork cuisine inspired by the Oregon Coast. Terra Kitchen is part of Soul Community Planet’s (SCP) initiative to provide healthy, kind, and green experiences to its guests while furthering kindness to the community and sustainability of the planet. The mission at SCP is to make the world a better place. They do it deliciously well at Terra Kitchen.
Where To Stay In Bend
After a long day of sightseeing, it is time for some respite. But where to stay in Bend? Here are three suggestions centrally located to every activity from snowboarding on Mt. Bachelor to soaking in the unique culture of Bend.
The Oxford Hotel
Known as eco-chic lodging, The Oxford is a boutique hotel that offers luxury accommodations fused with a sense of sustainability. Keeping true to this ethos, the hotel hosts several wellness amenities including a gym, hot tubs, sauna, and steam room. To begin your adventures, try an organic breakfast from the hotel’s restaurant Roam.
Old St. Francis School At McMenamins
For a slightly quirkier stay, spend a night at the Old St. Francis School at McMenamins. As a former Catholic school’s main buildings, this hotel is a must for any history aficionado in your group. It is an extraordinary and wonderfully uncommon hotel.
Warm up at this perfect home base for an epic Oregon adventure. The Campfire Hotel is a 100-room boutique lodge with an urban, edgy, fun, and affordable vibe.
Pro Tips: All three of these Bend hotels are pet-friendly so bring your pooch along to enjoy all the adventures the high desert has to offer. The last remaining Blockbuster is located in Bend. It continues to rent movies if you need a feel-good flick one night.