Domestic Travel, Itineraries & Trip Planning

A Guide to the Big Little City of Bend

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When I first mentioned to friends and coworkers that we were temporarily moving to Bend, Oregon, the common response was a two-parter: 1) Ooh, Bend is really popular these days. My XYZ just moved there, too, and 2) But why? Are there a lot of things to do in Bend?

We fell in love with Bend during a 24-hour visit in fall 2019. When we returned in fall 2020 for a two-month stay, we packed in as many new experiences as we could while working full-time jobs and taking care of a young pup.

The answer to that second question? Yes, there are indeed so, so many things to do in Bend, especially if you like beer and the great outdoors.

Almost everything on this list of things to do in Bend is dog-friendly since our pup Kokomo goes everywhere with us. As a city, Bend is also one of the most dog-friendly places we’ve ever lived.

So bring your pup, and let’s explore Bend!

The best things to do in Bend, Oregon

Where to stay in Bend

I’d highly recommend staying somewhere that allows you to walk to as many in-town locations as possible and allows you to get on the freeway easily for the out-of-town experiences.

We absolutely adored our 1-bedroom rental in Old Bend. We could walk to downtown, the river, parks, a dozen breweries, and tons of restaurants within 15 minutes. It was pet friendly,economical for a long-term stay, and also easy to get onto highways going all directions within minutes. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s no longer available to rent, but Bend has plenty of other beautiful short-term rentals.

There are also, of course, some great hotels in Bend. The same advice applies though — stay central and take advantage of the very walkable downtown area.

Oregon trail wagon
Kokomo didn’t care for this wagon as permanent lodging…

The best things to do inside Bend city limits

Due to COVID, we avoided indoor activities like visiting museums, though I do want to go to the High Desert Museum one day. And of course, some things were closed or modified enough that it didn’t make sense to experience during this time.

But there was still plenty to do. In no particular order, here are the “do not miss” things to do in Bend, Oregon.

Drink all the beer

monkless ale bend oregon

I don’t think I need to go too deep into this. If you like beer, Bend has one of the highest number of craft breweries per capita in the world, with more than two dozen breweries.

We spent a lot of our free time tasting away, and you can find our guide to which Bend breweries are best for the beers, has the most delicious food, provides great outdoor seating options, and are the most dog-friendly.

Not actually that into beer? There are also cideries and wineries in town if those are more to your taste.

Explore the Deschutes River

Did you know Bend was named due to the great bends in the Deschutes River? (Okay, fine, that’s a very simplified version of the full history.)

The Deschutes River is the main source of all life in Bend (beer being the secondary…), so it’s no surprise it’s also a center of activity.

During the warmer months, the river is packed with paddleboarders, kayakers, tubers, and yes, even surfers.

There’s plenty to do out of the water as well, as Bend has a lot of parks lining different parts of the river. Most have trails for strolling, running, and cycling.

Deschutes River Bend Oregon

Kokomo certainly spent a lot of time splashing around the riverbanks, especially at our go-tos, Drake Park and Riverbend Park.

Go shopping

I’m not a big shopper, but I’m a sucker for cute boutiques. And Bend’s downtown is lined with these.

Sure, are they filled with horrendously expensive things that I probably don’t need? Yes. Are they fun to explore and look for hidden gems in anyhow? Also yes.

True to Bend, dogs are allowed in most of these shops. And there are even stores that offer beer or cider to enhance your shopping experience!

If you’re in need of something from a big-brand store, there’s also the mall at the Old Mill District. It’s an open-air mall filled with lots of restaurants and outdoor seating, right off the Deschutes River.

Discover art in the alleys

Downtown Bend also offers another activity that’s way less harsh on your pockets: street art.

The alleys of downtown Bend are filled with art of various mediums, so grab a coffee from one of the many great shops in town — I highly recommend Palate and Thump — and go explore.

Bend art alley

Visit the world’s last Blockbuster

Another free thing to do in Bend is visit the last Blockbuster on Earth.

Yep, one still exists! And yes, there are still people who rent DVDs from there.

Last Blockbuster on Earth Bend Oregon

When we first visited Bend in fall 2019, I called it out as one of the things I sadly missed.

We finally visited toward the tail end of our stay in Bend this year, and it really felt like we went back in time.

The iconic blue and yellow. The aisles and aisles of DVDs. The expected “last Blockbuster on Earth” souvenirs. And the unexpected Russell Crowe movies paraphernalia display.

Blast from the past for sure!

Hike Pilot Butte

For another free activity that’s slightly more physical, take a morning hike to Pilot Butte for one of the most iconic viewpoints in Bend.

This old cinder cone (aka extinct volcano) offers one of the best 360° panoramic views of all the mountains around Bend. It’s a fairly easy hike at around 2 miles and with very gradual elevation change.

On a clear day, you can see many of the Cascade range peaks, including Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Black Butte.

view from Pilot Butte Oregon

Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of harder hikes for you in the next section. Most of those tend to be outside city limits.

Eat at the best restaurants in Bend

Bend’s booze options are more well-known than its food selections, but there’s no shortage of delicious eats in this high desert town.

We did a lot of take out and outdoor dining while living in Bend to support local restaurants. Our absolute favorites that we rave about:

  • Northern Thai dishes from Wild Rose
  • The elk burger from 10 Barrel Brewing
  • Chow’s crab burger
Chow Bend crab burger

Other delicious spots that we’d recommend trying out when you’re not sure where to eat in Bend:

  • Zydeco’s PNW-style Cajun fare and cocktails
  • Specialty sausages from Bangers and Brews
  • El Sancho for delicious tacos and margaritas
  • Scrumptious brunch and baked goods at Foxtail Bakeshop & Kitchen
  • Belgian classics at Monkless Belgian Ales
  • 900 Wall’s classic American fare
  • Cardamom ocean rolls from Sparrow Bakery

Get local at Bend’s farmers markets

If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know that I love using farmers markets as a way to get to know a city, whether that’s in Corvallis, Oregon, or in Tuscany.

It was no different in Bend.

The city’s two farmers markets are full of life and great places to try out local produce and foods as well as explore artisanal goods.

The Bend Farmers Market takes over Brooks Alley just behind the main strip of downtown on Wednesday afternoons. Meanwhile, the Northwest Crossing Farmers Market on, well, NW Crossing Drive, takes over on Saturday mornings.

Both farmers markets also serve prepared foods with a variety of food trucks and carts. Kokomo has a favorite, too — the appropriately named The Best Doggie Bakery!

Bend Northwest Crossing Farmers Market

The best things to do in the Bend — that aren’t actually in Bend

One of our favorite things about Bend is that there are so many outdoor activities that are incredibly accessible.

While Bend has great trails for running and plenty of watersports options, it’s outside city limits that really shines for outdoors enthusiasts. From hiking and cycling to climbing and skiing, there’s something to do all year round.

The scenery is pretty fantastic, too!

Drive the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway

Starting on the west side of Bend, the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway stretches 66 miles and is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever do.

There are sweeping views of many peaks of the Cascade mountain range, plus 12 alpine lakes and 2 reservoirs that offer an endless amount of recreational options.

Keep in mind that once it starts to really snow, the road closes for the season (though there are snowy ways to visit, like via a snowshoeing tour). Typically, that’s November through May.

Hike or paddleboard Todd Lake

The first lake in that chain is Todd Lake, which holds a special place in our hearts.

Todd Lake offers stunning views of Mt. Bachelor and Broken Top and a conifer forest surrounded by wildflower meadows that go into full bloom in the summer.

Todd Lake Bend Oregon

There’s a wonderful trail around the lake. It’s more or less flat, making it suitable for child and adults of all ages as well as dogs.

The lake’s also open for play. No motors are allowed on Todd Lake, so it’s paddleboarding and kayaking heaven.

Because it’s the closest of the Cascade Lakes, Todd Lake can be crowded on the weekends. So try to go during the week or either early or late on weekends.

Todd Lake Oregon

Hike up Broken Top to No Name Lake

If you want a more challenging hike, go beyond Todd Lake. Literally.

The Broken Top Trail to No Name Lake is one of those hikes where you’ll really want to lace up your hiking boots and pack some protein bars. To get there, you have to first drive to Todd Lake, and then continue on NF-370 to the Broken Top Crater Trailhead.

A warning: Only attempt this if you have a high-clearance car, 4WD, and strong backcountry driving skills!

This road is filled with muddy ditches (yes, ditches, not just potholes) and is extremely difficult to navigate. We had trouble with our Subaru Outback and honestly only kept going because another SUV came up behind us and there was no option but to move forward.

The drive between the Todd Lake parking area and the Broken Top Crater Trailhead is about 3.5 miles, but it’ll take and feel significantly longer than you’d expect.

Broken Top Bend Oregon snow

Due to the elevation and roads, this hike is only open a few months a year, typically July through October.

We visited at the tail end of the season, and boy did the weather make this hike challenging!

This Broken Top hike is 6 miles roundtrip, but it was wavering in the low 30s and sleeting while we hiked. The 1,400-feet elevation change isn’t something to laugh at either!

Unfortunately, the weather meant we didn’t get to see the magnificent views this hike is known for. But we had a great time anyhow, and Kokomo experienced snow for the first time.

Promise the view at No Name Lake is usually better than this! I’m told late summer is the best time to see wildflowers blooming with snow-capped mountains in the background.

No Name Lake Oregon

See Tumalo Falls

For a slightly more dependable view, go to Tumalo Falls. This waterfall is one of the closest to Bend and is quite popular.

During the warmer months, you can park fairly close and get to the waterfall with just a short quarter-mile walk.

Tumalo Falls Bend Oregon

If you visit after snow has closed down the main road though, you’ll need to hike a couple of miles in the snow to get to the waterfall. We absolutely loved experienced Tumalo Falls this way — some folks visit on their skis, too!

Explore Newberry National Volcanic Monument

For a more monumental and diverse area, check out Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Despite its name, the park is way bigger than a single monument. Newberry actually includes multiple areas: Lava Butte, Lava River Cave, Lava Cast Forest, Newberry Caldera, Paulina Peak, East Lake, and Paulina Lake.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument snowy forest

To visit them all thoroughly would take days if not weeks, so we picked what was most interesting to us: Paulina Peak and Lake.

Paulina Lake Oregon with snow

By the time we visited in early November, the road from the lake to Paulina Peak was already closed to cars due to snow, which meant a steep 8-mile out-and-back hike instead.

Like with our visit to Broken Top, the weather offered blustering winds and low visibility when we went to Newberry. But we still got to see a very mystic Paulina Lake and some gorgeous winter wonderland views on our hike.

Paulina Peak trail covered in snow

Can’t wait for the panoramic views when we visit on a day with better visibility!

Climb or hike Smith Rock

All of the above are hikes that encapsulate the beauty of the Cascade Mountain Ranges. For a slightly different landscape, check out Smith Rock State Park in nearby Terrebonne.

These jagged peaks made of volcanic ash are home to what is known as the birthplace of American sports climbing. Every day, you can see dozens of climbers working on their skills.

For those of us who prefer the ground underneath of our feet to be more solid, Smith Rock also offers miles and miles of great hikes. The views are absolutely stunning!

Smith Rock State Park Oregon

Bike Phil’s Trail

Cycling more your thing? Bike one of the many well-known trails around Bend.

Of the most popular is Phil’s Trail, one of the original trails that made Bend a mountain biking destination.

Ski Mt. Bachelor

While we ended up leaving Bend before ski season started, we definitely considered staying through the winter so we could spend the season at Mt. Bachelor.

It’s the main ski resort in central Oregon, and due to its location in the Cascades, Mt. Bachelor also offers one of the longest ski seasons in the U.S. Certainly a great spot for spring skiing, so you might see us there later in the season!

Shop & “hop” Sisters

If all this outdoor physical activity is leaving you less than interested, no worries. Head to Sisters, a town of ~2000 people just northwest of Bend, for a day of shopping, drinking, and dining.

Sisters is the gateway to the Three Sisters mountains and many outdoor recreation options. In town, however, you’ll find the Old Wild West town of your cinematic dreams.

There’s an abundance of shopping options, including a number of art galleries, plus lots of food choices. Don’t forget to grab a beer at Three Creeks Brewery, the town’s hometown craft brewery.

And if you want to take your love of beer and eccentric mountain life to a new level, visit The Hop Inn, the self-proclaimed “hoppiest place on Earth.”

The ultimate experience there? Relax in a tub of craft beer-inspired microbrew soaks while drinking Bend beers and eating pub food. I told you this was next level!

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The best things to do in Bend, Oregon

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