At the conclusion of a recent business trip to Portland, Oregon, I decided to extend my visit to the Pacific Northwest with a trip to Bend, in the central part of the state. I was intrigued by all the research I had done which seemed to support the claim that Bend is the “outdoor playground of the West.” I set out to see if it was true.
After a bit of a shaky start driving across the Mt. Hood pass during a snow storm in a rental Kia Soul without chains (shhhhhhh!), I arrived in Bend – much more beautiful than I had anticipated. It took a bit of creative scheduling, but in just a few short days, I was able to do everything on my wish list… and then some. Here are my top ten recommendations.
Race a dog sled. What a thrill! Whisking through a forest of towering, snow-dusted hemlocks juxtaposed against a bright periwinkle sky while tucked snuggly into a bright red Iditarod sled was simply magical. The Oregon Trail of Dreams sled ride was the highlight of my visit to Bend.
Go snow shoeing. Much to my surprise, I was better at it than I thought I would be. Form running down the snowy hills, to making snow angels, to learning about the natural wonders from my guide from Wanderlust Tours, we forged our own path uphill until we reached a semi-summit.
Arriving at that clearing, we were rewarded for our aerobic efforts with a stunning vista of the Cascade Mountain Range.
Pamper yourself at the Oxford Hotel. The only boutique hotel in downtown, the Oxford Hotel is easy walking access to restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, galleries, shopping, and theaters. The luxurious suites are very large, tastefully decorated in contemporary themes.
Eat at Barrio. There are numerous opportunities for gastronomic glee in Bend. My favorite was the small and quirky but über-friendly Latin bistro, Barrio. My Cuban Sliders – pork belly, pork carnitas, eschabeche, Jack, mustard, on Gordon’s bun were out-of-this-world. Don’t believe the rumor that I licked my plate… I actually used the last morsels of bread to sop up the tangy sauce.
Try a craft beer. I’ve never been a fan of beer, but since Bend is renowned for it’s microbreweries and unique craft beers, I decided to give them a try. My favorite was the “Freakcake” at Crux Fermentation Project, which is fermented with sour cherries, raisins, cranberries, figs, dates, and currants and not bitter at all.
Take a salsa lesson at Seven. If you’re at Seven on Wednesday, you can participate in the free salsa dance class. Other days bring other specials like karaoke, or just dance the night away at this popular night club, where you can even dance in their famous “cage.”
Ride an electric bike. I really had a lot of fun. I’d never driven anything with a throttle before and loved riding it through downtown with Kim from Let It Ride who regaled me with the history and tales of Bend.
Take a public bath. For $5 you can soak in the grand Roman-style soaking pool at McMenamins. Renovated from the old St. Francis School, McMenamins houses a small hotel, movie theater, and a brewery, along with the soaking pool.
Go shopping. Bend has two great shopping venues – the Old Mill District, which as the name suggests, is an area of refurbished old mills situated along the banks of the scenic Deschutes River. The other location for shopping is downtown, laid out in a grid, and chock full of specialty shops, eateries, and parks.
See a show at the Tower. The attractive retro neon sign of this historic building is enough to draw you in for a closer look. In the middle of downtown, the Tower offers live music, drama, comedy and dance performances, as well as classic movies.