Bend is a special place that offers abundant opportunities to enjoy nature through a plethora of trails and Alpine lakes while also presenting many options to kick back in breweries, cafes, and restaurants of a high caliber after a long day spent in the woods. It's hard to imagine a place that magnetically pulls you to everything related to outdoor exploration can suddenly turn brutally cold and grey in the winter. Summertime here is perfection. I'll hold on to our memories of a blue sky, green landscape, turquoise crystal lakes, and cool evening temperatures. We spent three wonderful nights in Bend equally enjoying downtown and the heavily forested environment. We also were able to get a good sense of the laid-back locals who tend to be in either hiking boots or flip flops, heavily tattooed, and ready to relay a friendly greeting to everyone they pass. Life here is chill with an emphasis on beer and adventures in the great outdoors.
Below I share our itinerary for your taking.
1. Check into a Comfortable Home in a Great Location
After more than two weeks of hotel hopping with no laundry access, it felt wonderful to check into a spacious house and finally wash our clothes. This Airbnb is very reasonably priced, considering its great location and size. More importantly, it is immaculate and well-stocked. The decor is quirky with a retro twist that incorporates cork-inspired details and an unusual choice of accent colors but otherwise, you cannot go wrong with a stay here. We were able to walk to many neighborhoods, restaurants, and cafes from the house and also easily access other parts of the area. We were all unanimously thrilled to be able to spread out in this comfortable home, watch a movie together at the end of the day, and take a break from all the running around we have been doing.
2. Time for Tacos & Margaritas in One of Bend's Best
Not too long ago we relished in a delicious dinner at Tenant in Minneapolis, where our server recommended eating at El Sancho Taco Shop West when we got to Bend. What a great recommendation! We knew we were in for something special when we arrived to find a long line filled with the kitchen's loyal fans. After developing a cult following with their food trucks, El Sancho opened their brick-and-mortar locations proudly serving high-quality street food to the community. This simple, laid-back joint whips up innovative and truly delicious tacos. My mushroom tacos (a wild blend of mushrooms with onion, cabbage tomatillo, and chili paste) were SO good. Equally impressive was the Oaxacan taco (seared Mexican cheese with roasted green chilis). Tacos coupled with a margarita under an umbrella at a picnic table surrounded by a young, hip crowd with brightly colored hair and tattooed bodies is my idea of a fun meal.
1. Turn up the Tunes and Roll Down the Windows
Hop in your car and drive through the Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway for sixty-six miles of spectacular sites through windy roads and towering mountain peaks. Mount Bachelor looms larger than life along the route as Alpine lakes greet you in their scattered locations. The views are remarkable. There is a lot more to see in this area but honestly, we were eager to get back to our Airbnb and enjoy some downtime. We initially planned to drive down to Crater Lake but decided against it after seeing recent pictures of the smokey atmosphere from the current wildfires. We also tried to find Crescent Lake but without cellular service, we could not use our GPS and failed at finding it on our own. If you're up for it, I do suggest visiting these two lakes while you drive through the Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway. Below are some of the gorgeous vistas we enjoyed along the picturesque drive.
On a summer Monday morning lots of locals and visitors flocked to this popular lake to set up their camping sites and push their kayaks into the water. The landscape is visually stunning comprised of marshland, wetland, and meadows. From the lake, there are also breathtaking views of three dominant peaks: South Sister, Broken Top, and Bachelor Butte.
Nineteen miles of trails are available for those wishing to enjoy the lake from land. The natural beauty here is magnificent.
Nestled in the Deschutes National Forest is a stunning, thirty-acre lake, Devils Lake. The scenery here is as serene as it can get. Still, turquoise waters instantly soothe the soul.
This active lake is located on the Elk Lake Resort where guests of the hotel and day-time visitors congregate for year-round activities. During the summer there is a marina with ships ready to sail, cabanas along the water to lounge in, a swimming beach, and an onsite restaurant and ice-cream shop. It's really fun to walk around here and soak in the summer vibes. If you have time rent a kayak and explore the lakes vast waters.
2. Discover Downtown Bend
If you've been to Austin, TX you're likely to find some similarities between the cities. The main hub of town exudes an urban-hipness without much effort. You'll find local coffee shops on every corner and a never-ending selection of breweries. The folks are casual. It just feels easy here. Even on a Monday evening, it felt like Sunday morning. There's a nice, slow pace in the rhythm of the town but not in an annoying I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out kind of way.
Take a Bet on Bend Mountain Coffee
If you find yourself needing a caffeine fix after all this exploring you'll have plenty of options to choose from. There are dozens of inviting cafes with catchy names and they are all well-reviewed. It's really hard to decide which one to try when there are so many promising options. We ended up taking a chance on Bend Mountain Coffee and we were extremely pleased with our cold brew and iced latte.
The thirteen-acre park is an easy walk from downtown. As you stroll the trail you're sure to admire the setting filled with large homes that line Mirror Pond, locals walking their dogs, and people laying in the grass.
3. Eat Like a Local
Oregonians love their food trucks, and not just those living in Portland. In Bend, you'll find the locals' favorite food truck collaborative at The Lot where a pod of food trucks meets around a communal dining area equipped with a taproom in an inviting atmosphere. It's a fun, outdoor place to enjoy a casual meal made with the freshest ingredients. We munched on gyros, salads, and of course... tacos!
4. Reward Yourself for a Day Well Spent
The artisan gelato at Bonta is no joke. I don't indulge in ice cream frequently, when I do it's because it's nothing less than fantastic. The staff encourages patrons to sample away and they permit two flavors in a small cup. Score! Each flavor is hand-crafted and most include locally grown ingredients. Ready for our order? Dulce de Leche & Sea Salt, Stracciatella, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Fudge, Vanilla Bourbon Pecan, Salted Vanilla, Espresso & Brownies, and Strawberry Honey. I think it is fair to say we had a comprehensive experience here. I can confidently vouch that this gelato is incredible.
5. Grab a Drink at a Neighborhood Favorite
Grab a pint in the beautiful gardens of McMenamins Old St. Francis School a former Catholic Schoolhouse converted into a destination hotel that draws locals and tourists alike with an onsite pub, brewery, movie theater, live music venue, and a soaking pool. Former classrooms have been brilliantly transformed into lodging rooms. If you're interested in getting to know this historic property more intimately, they offer walking tours. Otherwise, just kick back and relax in their tucked-away garden.
Day Three: 1. Fuel Your Day With an Awesome Cup of Caffeine I am kind of obsessed with The Pantry and equally inspired by the mercantile-meets-coffee shop concept. At The Pantry not only can you pick up a delicious brew but you can buy dozens of grains, seeds, and dried fruit in bulk; all displayed in attractive glass jars. They even sell bulk artisan shampoos, conditioners, body wash, and bubble bath soaps in appealing jars to pump into reusable corked-sealed glass jars to take home. I need this store in my neighborhood asap. If buying in bulk always looks this good, I want to buy in bulk forever!
2. Chase Waterfalls
There are at least two hundred and forty waterfalls in Oregon. You can commit an entire year to find them all. Bend has its fair share of striking falls to hunt, some are easier to find than others depending on how challenging and lengthy of a hike you desire. We chose the three falls below based on their easy access from Bend (about a one hour and twenty-minute drive) and because they are a nice mix of falls you can enjoy right off the highway to some that require four miles of hiking to view. To make things easy, they are all within a five to ten-minute drive of each other.
These falls are right off the parking lot requiring very little walking before facing their majestic flow. I felt guilty having the pleasure of witnessing this magical sight without working for it.
Koosah Falls is right near Sahalie Falls. You can either embark on a 1.6-mile hike to get to them from the Sahalie Falls trail or you can drive two minutes to the next parking lot that is only a couple of hundred steps from this grande natural wonder. The scenery is unreal; the aqua-watered pools that form at the base of the falls juxtaposed with the lush, green landscape are simply breathtaking. Make sure to take the wooden stairs down to the base of the falls to soak in this beauty from all vantage points.
Blue Pools During the four-mile in and out hike, I kept thinking of the similarities between the lessons we learn in nature and the ones we learn in life. Most times, big rewards come to those who earn them. Walking through this scenic jungle, reminiscent of a scene of Jurassic Park, is not easy. Hikers need to patiently traverse the two-mile trail covered by lava-formed rocks and large underground roots. During the summer, not only is it a busy trail, it is humid. Those willing to persevere win the privilege of witnessing one of the most crystal clear aqua waters on the planet. In basic terms, the vision you'll encounter is simply unforgettable. In my opinion, the walk to the pool is as equally striking as the pool itself. The moss-covered landscape is painted in every shade of green, the misty river that hugs the trail with a series of small falls is quite dreamy, and the scent of wet wood is energizing and uplifting. If you are going to enjoy a longer hike while in the area, this is one not to miss. Please note that swimming in the water is not recommended. The temperatures stay at thirty-seven degrees year-round and may cause hypothermia.
3. Indulge in a Memorable Meal
Located in downtown Bend, 900 Wall serves American food in an airy and bustling atmosphere. Their spicy deviled eggs are outstanding and so are their lentil fritters (which we ordered a second order of). We also shared an order of homemade bread, a Cesar salad, a seared tuna, and two types of pizza (mushroom and Margherita). What really stood out was how accommodating the waiter was - he literally said "yes" to all of our requests. This isn't the kind of place where the chef is a diva. At 900 Wall the kitchen wants everyone to leave happy. We left very satisfied and on a high note as we prepared to leave Bend the next morning.
4. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Goody's Chocolate & Ice Cream is a family-run chocolate and ice cream shop. Their factory produces twenty tons of chocolate each year. It gets pretty crowded in the evenings by post-dinner crowds looking for a sweet treat. The shop is quaint, staffed by friendly teens, and has really delicious chocolates. We savored our salted peanut butter cup, rocky road bar, dark chocolate pecan cluster, and homemade caramel. What a perfect way to end our three nights in beautiful Bend!
During the summer season, there is nothing bad that could be said about Bend. We genuinely loved everything about it, even when it turned a little gray and rainy. Every aspect of the town is unassuming, unpretentious, and really innovative. In all our travels in the USA, and even throughout the world, I have never seen a store like The Pantry (see above). They don't stand alone in the originality department, every restaurant and cafe in Bend distinctly stands out from one another; each with its own unique spin yet not one of them flaunts their creative touches with their noses in the air. Instead, the goal here is to make everyone feel welcome while introducing them to new experiences. On top of this great lifestyle approach, there are endless stunning surroundings that call everyone outdoors at every opportunity. A day on the lake followed by an ice-cold locally brewed beer sounds like an epic summer day to me.