Bend, Oregon used to be a quaint city few tourists ventured to but now it often tops the charts of best places to visit in Oregon. Once you visit, you’ll understand why. Bend is located in Central Oregon, in the high desert. When deciding what to do in Bend, Oregon, one only needs to look outside to discover some of the most breathtaking attractions in the state. Bend is surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains, rushing rivers and secluded waterfalls, as well as perfectly painted, picturesque shopping centers and parks.
Why You Should Visit Bend, Oregon
While Oregon itself is a state filled with incredible nature and places to see, Bend is one of the best places to visit in Oregon. The town has changed dramatically in the last few years, however. I used to grow up going to Bend every year from our home in Portland; enjoying gorgeous snowy winters and hot, scenic summers at our cabin.
Bend was low-key, filled with kitschy “Old West” style shops and down home diners. Now, Bend is booming, with hipster finds that rival Portland and a rapidly growing young population. While its proximity to some of the best mountains, waterfalls, and attractions in Oregon has always made Bend a desirable place, the city itself is now filled with exciting things to do and places to eat. In Downtown Bend you’ll now find numerous eco-friendly shops, plant based restaurants, live music, including one of the prettiest amphitheaters in Oregon, and fantastic local shopping.
Bend residents deeply value nature, making it an ideal destination for sustainable tourists. Bend attracts the most adventurous, nature lovers in Oregon. With perfectly hot and sunny summers (Bend is the sunniest city in Oregon) and winters that bring almost 40 feet of snow, residents and tourists alike can experience just about every sport and outdoor activity throughout the year.
Things to Know Before You Visit Bend
How to get to Bend: Bend is centrally located, making it an ideal road trip stop if you’re coming from either Washington, California or Idaho. If you’re flying, it might make the most sense to fly into Portland and drive down from there. That way you can experience both cities and some of the wonderful stops on the three hour drive. You can also fly directly into Redmond, just twenty minutes from Bend.
How to get around Bend: When deciding what to do in Bend, you’ll quickly realize that many of the top attractions are twenty minutes to an hour outside of downtown. The city itself is also not very walkable, so renting a car or bringing your own is highly recommended.
Where to stay in Bend: You have numerous accommodation options throughout Bend, from boutique hotels to vacation rentals and there are several eco-hotels to choose from. Some favorite eco-friendly options are the Oxford Hotel, or the Riverhouse, along the Deschutes River.
What to do in Bend, Oregon: 14 Things to do for Sustainable Travelers
Hike South Sister
When trying to decide what to do in Bend, Oregon, this should be at the top of your list- if you’re a hiker that is. This 12 mile hike is one of the most beautiful hikes in the area and definitely one of the most beloved things to do in Central Oregon. South Sister is the third tallest mountain in Oregon and part of the picturesque “Three Sisters” mountains. The hike to the top is not accessible to all, as it’s incredibly steep and covered with snow for a large portion of the year. It’s best to climb during June – October.
Drive Through the Cascade Scenic Byway
If the name doesn’t give it away, this area is incredibly scenic and home to some of the best sightseeing in Oregon. While the drive through the forest and mountains itself is stunning, the numerous stops along the way are what make it so special. From Todd Lake, to Green Lakes to Ray Atkeson Trail, this road is filled with some of the prettiest places near Bend. You can picnic, hike, swim or camp at any of these spots.
Eat at all the Food Carts
Oregon is known for its food carts- especially Portland. Bend is now home to many hip, foodie approved and delightful food carts. When deciding what to do in Bend, Oregon, eating at the food carts is an event in itself. There are several food cart areas, like Podski Food Cart Lot, that bring the best of outdoor dining and local eats together. Check out the vegan ones such as A Broken Angel and Lively Up Yourself.
Go to a Local Craft Brewery
Craft beer should be at the top of your “what to do in Bend, Oregon” list. Oregonians are serious about their local breweries and Bend doesn’t disappoint. I’d recommend a visit to Deschutes Brewery– they recycle leftover grain from the brewing process into their home made fresh pizza and pretzel dough.
Another fun thing to do in Bend, Oregon is to embark on the Bend Ale Trail. They’ve divided the town into seven territories and provide a map and “passport” to those who want to embark on the trail. It’s a fun way to discover and support local breweries and potentially win some prizes.
Take a Group Tour with Wanderlust Tours
If you’re wanting to kayak, canoe, go climbing or go on any adventure where a guide or equipment may be useful, Wanderlust Tours is a great place to start. It can be a challenge deciding what to do in Bend, Oregon when it comes to the great outdoors, because there is so much to see. Why not let a tour company show you around? Wanderlust is a local, sustainable tour company that ensures their tours don’t disrupt the natural environment. They also offer opportunities to volunteer and give back throughout Bend.
Eat at Sustainable Restaurants
Bend has a wonderful upcoming foodie scene, so it can be somewhat challenging to narrow down where to eat in Bend. There are so many incredible restaurants that focus on sustainability and vegan eats.
Try Chow for breakfast- they use organic and local ingredients. Ariana is a wonderful fine-dining restaurant that serves locally grown food, complete with their own herb garden. As far as plant-based local eats go, Deeply Rooted, Root Down Kitchen and Salud Raw Food are not to be missed.
Catch a Sunset at Pilot Butte
One of the only places to catch a view of the Bend skyline, if you can call it that, is Pilot Butte. This gorgeous mountain right in the center of town is a great place to enjoy a quick hike and see a fantastic sunset. Pilot Butte is a cinder cone, and you can reach the top by hiking roughly a mile to the top. Here you can take in the views of five different mountains and learn a little bit about the natural history of the region.
Shop at the Farmers Market’s
A fantastic way to support local businesses and get a feel for the community is to check out the farmers markets. The Bend Farmers Market is held every Wednesday and Thursday in downtown Bend, in the parking lot of Whole Foods.
Design Your Own Bike Tour Through Bend
While Bend isn’t the most walkable city, since it’s so spread out, it’s very biker-friendly. Biking around town is a great green transportation option, as well as a fantastic way to get to know the city. I’d recommend biking through Downtown Bend and the Old Mill District. Then, bike over to Drake Park to picnic, people watch and enjoy Mirror Pond. From there you can bike along the Deschutes River.
There is no shortage of quirky, local places to shop throughout Bend. While many people flock to Bend for the outlet malls, spend your money instead on local and sustainable goods. Cosa Cura is a great consignment store as is the Feather’s Edge, an awesome shop selling handmade, sustainable and vintage goods. Other fun second-hand options include Luck of the Draw, Truffle Pig Trading Co, and Revival Vintage, to name just a few.
Drink Your Way Through the Organic Coffee Roasters
Oregonians are also very serious about their coffee. Bend has plenty of local roasteries to choose from and you could make coffee tasting an activity of its own. When looking for what coffee roasteries to choose, prioritize local, fully organic ones. One of the best options in Bend is Strictly Organic. They produce 100% organic and fair trade coffee, plus their breakfast menu is absolutely delicious.
Spend a Day at Newberry Volcano
When deciding what to do in Bend, Oregon, Newberry Volcano has to be on your list. Just outside of Bend, this volcanic area is home to some of the top things to do in Oregon. You can explore part of the Deschutes National Forest, visit multiple caldera lakes, soak up the beauty of Paulina Falls and Paulina Peak or view Obsidian lava rock. If you’re going to swim in the lakes- don’t forget your sustainable swimsuit! While you could explore the top attractions within a day, there are camping areas throughout the park if you want to make a weekend out of it.
Ski Through Mt Bachelor
You can’t visit Bend without paying a visit to Mt. Bachelor. Every Oregonian's favorite ski resort, this tops the list for most when deciding what to do in Bend, Oregon. Mt. Bachelor has over 4,300 skiable acres and is an extinct volcano that offers stunning views of the region. You can ski, snowboard, snow tube, or snowshoe during the winter, making it one of the top winter activities in Bend. During the summer however, you can still enjoy a visit to the lodge or try their famous zipline.