We visited Bend in late September 2022 as part of Big Trip #4.
You can’t drive from Mount Rainier to Crater Lake and not stop in Bend! Everything you’ve read about Bend’s coolness is true. We loved it. Mountains, waterfalls, cute neighborhoods, the Deschutes River running through the city, multiple food truck pods (!), and sooooo much beer…. what’s not to love?
Here are some tasty tidbits I learned from a Central Oregon travel guide I picked up in town: Bend is farther west than LA and farther north than Boston; Bend’s population is just over 100k; Bend has 65 miles of trails and 80+ parks; and Bend is #3 in breweries per capita behind Asheville and Portland ME (although we dispute that; see J’s beer notes below).
Bend is halfway between White Salmon and Crater Lake, less than 3 hours to each. If you take the narrow, sketchy for trailers Hood River Bridge from White Salmon to Bend, you’ll pass right by Mount Hood on your trip; the views of the volcano from the more trailer-friendly route are still good but we were sad not to get up close and personal with it.
We stayed at The Camp, an absolutely adorable little campground with a mix of RV sites and glamping trailers well-located in the Midtown (or Orchard District) neighborhood, near downtown and the Old Mill District. The campsites don’t have their own tables, but there’s a big communal hangout area with tables, a grill, a coffee station, a fire pit, and blankets. There’s also a hair salon in an Airstream next to the office; too bad J had just gotten a haircut in Ellensburg!
We came to Bend with a specific to-do list involving wandering neighborhoods, checking out tourist spots, and hitting breweries, and were able to do accomplish most of our list items. Our to-do list for next visit is at the bottom of this post, with what we missed this visit plus new items suggested by our cool Bend friends G&S who spent a couple evenings tootling around town with us.
Walking around town
Our first stop was Downtown Bend, only five minutes from home. We walked up Wall St and down Bond St, then over to Drake Park and Mirror Pond. Downtown is cute with the expected abundance of shops (I wanted to buy everything at Lone Crow Bungalow) and restaurants, and it was fun to gawk at the gorgeous houses lining Mirror Pond.
The Bend Farmers Market is downtown every Wednesday afternoon during the warm months. When we visited there weren’t a ton of vendors, but it was a good mix of produce and cheeses and meats and other prepared goods. Our favorite purchase there was incredibly yummy turmeric curry cashews.
Old Mill District
I’d read that the Old Mill District is an exciting area of Bend, so I took Bugsy to the dot on the Google map that said Old Mill District (J was working) and was kind of disappointed: the Old Mill District is basically a big outdoor mall with chain stores and restaurants. Hidden among the stores are some neat murals, and we had fun hunting for them.
The commercial stuff doesn’t have much personality, but the site itself does: the developer did a really nice job cleaning up and reclaiming the Deschutes River where former lumber mills operated, and preserved some of the historic structures.
A wonderful paved multi-use path follows the river on both sides, and a series of signs with photographs describes Bend’s timber history and the current state of the wetlands. The path connects with other trails in Bend’s extensive network, and is part of the Deschutes River Trail which totals twelve miles along the river.
We walked the trail north to the Bend Whitewater Park, an incredible redevelopment of the riverbed to allow safe passage under the bridge for floaters and paddlers, and fish! Previously, fish couldn’t pass through that section of the river, and now there’s a fish ladder. The whitewater section of the park is wild to watch: there are four different waves for surfing, kayaking, boogie boarding, and standup paddleboarding for all different skill levels–although the surfers we watched all looked pretty expert to us!
We also walked the section of the Deschutes River Trail between Old Mill and Farewell Bend Park to the south. It was our last activity in Bend the morning we left, and it really cemented for us how pretty the city is and how wonderful its network of parks and paths is.
The Last Blockbuster
Yes, it’s super-touristy, but people of a certain age HAVE to visit The Last Blockbuster. It’s really that–the very last Blockbuster in operation, and they actually rent and sell movies! And, of course, they sell lots of Blockbuster merchandise. It was a fun stop and we bought a classic 80s movie, Youngblood, after talking about it ever since going to Young Blood Brewing in Madison.
High Desert Museum
Did you know Bend is in the desert? The High Desert Museum, with its resident native animals, and superb historical and cultural exhibits, is a must-visit in Bend. It’s a Smithsonian affiliate, so you know it’s legit. When we visited, most of the birds were off-site to protect them from avian flu, but we did get to meet Dexter the red tailed hawk, and learned that from Memorial Day to Labor Day they do daily raptor flyovers at 11:30. The otters were sleeping when we stopped by their habitat, which was a bummer, but we could peek through a little window and see the cuddle pile. We paid $20 per person to visit, but felt it was well worth it.
At the top of our eating wishlist was Midtown Yacht Club, a food truck pod not far from our campground. Seven food trucks surround a central yard with tables, and at one end is a bar area that can be closed up in bad weather. J and I did a loop and both chose ShimShon for Israeli street food. SO GOOD! We’d eat there all the time if we lived in Bend. The food truck pod concept, as done in Bend with central seating and a bar on one end, is genius and we wish our town had one.
Our second food truck pod experience in Bend was at The Lot, just west of downtown and near our favorite brewery, which was the original food cart pod in Bend. You’ll may think this concept from A La Carte sounds strange, but trust me, it’s fantastic: toppings on a pile of french fries. My dinner was sweet potato fries smothered in coconut curry and it was phenomenal. I think J got some sort of burrito bowl–I was to focused on my curry fries to notice. The Lot also has a taproom, and when it gets cold, they enclose the seating area and turn on the heated benches. Again, why doesn’t my town do this!
Multiple friends, plus the internet, told us we HAD to go to The Sparrow Bakery for their signature Ocean Roll. We imagined something savory from the name, but an Ocean Roll is kind of like a big cinnamon roll with laminated dough and vanilla and cardamom instead of cinnamon. The Sparrow is a cheery French bakery and cafe about ten minutes from the campground (everything is a short drive from the campground) and we grabbed window seats to enjoy coffee, an Ocean Roll, and an everything bagel with cream cheese. And now we are also people who tell everyone they HAVE to go to The Sparrow Bakery for an Ocean Roll.
Bend has a James Beard Award-nominated sushi restaurant and we were excited to try it, but alas, we were too late to get a reservation (and they were so busy they weren’t taking carryout orders–on a Monday!) at 5 Fusion. Carryout from our backup sushi restaurant, Shinsei, was fine. 5 Fusion is going on the to-do list for next visit.
Drinking – beer
Here’s J with our take on Bend breweries!
Bend bills itself as the city with the most breweries per capita in the U.S. While Portand, ME and Asheville, NC also make that claim, I’m inclined to believe it is, in fact, Bend. Perhaps the prevalence of breweries is attributable to the cool, outdoorsy vibe of the city; or, perhaps it’s attributable to the fact that Oregon is the second largest grower of hops in the country, with most of those hops grown in the Willamette Valley near Bend. Because it was still harvesting season, many of the breweries were serving fresh hop beers when we were there, something that we’ve seen only a few times before.
Of the 26 (at time of writing) breweries in Bend, we targeted six as “must visits” based on our internet research. Circumstances kept us from one of the six; sorry, Spider City Brewing Company, but took us to another, Bend Brewing Company, that we had not coveted.
Our favorite brewery of the bunch was Boss Rambler Beer & Coffee Club. To go along with the strange name, the brewery has sort of an odd, but happy appearance, all white with 5 horizontal yellow to brown stripes and bright blue and yellow chairs dispersed around an open-air bar separating inside from out. It almost seems like a beach scene, although it’s set alongside the fairly busy Galveston Avenue across the street from a 7-11.
Anyway, we loved the odd scene and the fact that they mostly served hazy IPAs and sours; in fact, our friend who favors stouts and porters had to settle for a lager (note from L: our friend tried my milkshake sour and was horrified). L liked the sours whereas J thought their IPAs were the best he had in Bend, with each one of the four on tap better than the next. He managed to squeeze two of their 4-packs into our already packed fridge.
Our second favorite brewery was Crux Fermentation Project. It’s set in a massive field in an old mill area on the edge of the Southern Crossing neighborhood–only a four-minute drive from the campground–with beautiful view of the mountains. Aside from the open-air (when we were there on a nice warm day) tasting room, there are three separate permanent food trucks, tacos (the only one open during the week when we were there), Mediterranean street food, and pizza. Given the atmosphere and the 27 (!) beers on draft, it is the place I would recommend if you only had time for one brewery in Bend. And, the beers were tasty; they had 3 fresh hop IPAs plus another hazy and a gose, a fruited sour and a milkshake (lactose) sour for L. J liked it enough to go back on our last day for some cans to go.
Being beer nerds, we felt we had to go to the nationally known and distributed Deschutes Brewery, even though we haven’t loved their beers in the past. Deschutes has both a brewpub (restaurant) in the Old Bend neighborhood (basically, downtown) and a tasting room and beer garden at their production facility in the Southern Crossing neighborhood. We didn’t like the look of the interior of either place, but the tasting room had the beer garden and we had Bugsy. Sadly, we didn’t realize the beer garden was only open on weekends so we were forced to sit at the only dog friendly table, in the lobby where tours are booked just outside the tasting room. Anyway, they had an eclectic beer list, with 18 brews on tap, and we both found beers we liked enough – more than any from Deschutes we’ve had before, but not enough to bring any home with us.
A seeming focus on sours was the reason 10 Barrel Brewing made our list and they did not disappoint. L loved her cocktail inspired sour aged in gin barrels and took home a crowler of that and a sour with raspberry and lime; they also had a Berliner weisse made with fresh strawberries that she didn’t have time to try. J also enjoyed their lone hazy IPA.
10 Barrel has two locations in Bend (east and west) and we opted for the latter as it was the only one open on Wednesdays. It is located on Galveston, just a couple blocks from Boss Rambler. Both locations seem to be more like restaurants, with an extensive menu, host seating and table service. Luckily, there was also an outdoor bar section so we could just grab beers ourselves (our preference) and sit on the patio. It seemed that every table there had a dog, including ours.
Located in the River West neighborhood, GoodLife also made our list for their beer list and their outdoor patio. We got off on a bit of a wrong foot with them as we had to spend 10+ minutes waiting inside their not-so-nice tasting room for the incredibly inefficient beertender to clear the 7-8 people waiting ahead of us. Once we got to the grass patio, it was nice enough, but the beer was just ok (they had no sour on tap so L drank a decent local cider) and we won’t rush to go back.
Finally, Bend Brewing Company wasn’t on our list, but our friend took us there. Bend’s second-oldest brewery (since 1995, behind only Deschutes), Bend has a sweet, sweet location right in Old Bend along the Deschutes River. We sat at a picnic table by the river and sipped on hazy IPAs, stouts (our friend) and sours. The beer was serviceable. The scene was near magical.
Drinking – not beer
We had coffee and computer time at Spoken Moto in the Old Mill area, and it might be our favorite coffee shop ever. The vibe is great: chill music, people working or chatting quietly, and apparently they build vintage motorcycles there? There’s a big patio area out back with food trucks, and they serve beer and cocktails for post-coffee time drinking.
After an evening of brewery hopping with our buddies, we had a nightcap at Cabin 22. It’s basically a sports bar (they call themselves “Bend’s Best Gourmet Sports Bar”); we were drawn to their patio with a huge fire pit. Sitting by the fire, we had one last local beer before leaving town the next morning.
Most of our Bend “hiking” was really just walking around town, but we did get out of town for a couple real hikes, plus an easy urban hike to a viewpoint not far from the campground.
Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park is about a half-hour from Bend, and we stopped for a hike on the drive to Bend from White Salmon. The park was busy on a sunny Monday, but the overflow parking lot had plenty of room for RVs and trailers. It’s only $5 to visit this nice little park with hiking trails along the creek and a plethora of bouldering and rock climbing opportunities. We hiked upstream to get away from the people and find some shade and had a lovely stroll.
Also a half-hour away, Tumalo Falls is a very popular (and crowded) waterfall with an overlook near the parking lot and trails leading through the woods to more waterfalls. We wanted to hike the full seven-mile loop but were time-constrained so just walked a mile or so past the first falls and turned around. The 97-foot waterfall is spectacular!
Pilot Butte is a old cinder cone just east of downtown Bend with trails winding from the base to a scenic viewpoint at the top. The hike was an easy two miles total, and wasn’t crowded on a sunny, hot (there’s no shade on the trail) Tuesday afternoon. We were disappointed that the nature trail brochures weren’t stocked, but there are interesting informational placards at the top along with the big views of Bend and the Cascade Mountains beyond. It’s not a super exciting hike, but it’s kind of a must-do since it’s so short and convenient. Alternatively, you could just drive to the top from mid-Spring to mid-Fall.
- Hike around on lava flows, climb a volcano, ogle geology at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument just south of Bend
- Hike to a gorgeous lake and big Cascades views on the Broken Top Trail, 45 mins west of Bend
- Visit the world’s largest ponderosa pine in LaPine State Park, a half-hour away
- Drink a fancy cocktail downtown at Dogwood Cocktail Cabin (I read that whiskey lovers should order the Juan Connery)
- Snack on oysters and drink more fancy cocktails downtown at 900 Wall
- We got several recommendations to eat Mexican street food at El Sancho, and their East location is so close to our campground
- Explore more around Galveston Ave, just west of downtown–it seemed to have a lot of character and interesting commercial offerings
- Get sushi at 5 Fusion!