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5 ways to rock your winter vacation in Bend

December 4th, 2014

If you’re a fan of skiing and snowboarding, odds are good you’re already aware that Bend, Oregon, makes a killer place for a winter getaway.

But whether or not you love strapping slippery boards to your feet and sliding down an incline, Bend still offers a dizzyingly diverse array of activities to enjoy during the snow-packed months of winter. Here are five winter vacation ideas you can get the most from your vacation in Bend.

 

Do the ever lovin’ heck out of Mt. Bachelor

Carving some turns at Mt. Bachelor is just the beginning of your winter vacation in Bend.

Carving some turns at Mt. Bachelor is just the beginning of your winter vacation in Bend.

First things first: Mt. Bachelor has the highest skiable elevation in all of Oregon and Washington, and it’s one of the largest single-mountain resorts in the country. The fact that it’s a dormant volcano gives you the rare opportunity to ride 360-degrees off the summit, and with an average snowfall of 462 inches, there’s plenty of white stuff to go around.

Like to ski and snowboard? They’ve got 3,700 acres of lift-accessible terrain ranging from beginner slopes to terrain parks to treed slopes with pillowy caches of powder. And unlike a lot of resorts around the country, Mt. Bachelor makes sure you spend a lot more time on the slopes than you do standing in lift lines.

If Nordic skiing is more your speed, Bachelor has the longest groomed Nordic season in North America, with trails open from mid-November to late-May. More than a dozen trails sweep over 56km of forest, and the area is machine-groomed and track-set every night.

Craving something a little outside-the-box from your Mt. Bachelor experience? Try a sled dog ride with Oregon Trail of Dreams, or grab the whole family for an afternoon of sledding fun on the Snowblast Tubing Park.

 

Biking in wintertime?

Rent a fat bike from Hub Cyclery and cruise through snowbanks on two weeks.

Rent a fat bike from Hub Cyclery and cruise through snowbanks on two weeks.

When I explain the basics of a Bend winter vacation to journalists who’ve never been here, one thing that consistently blows their minds is the idea that you can ski powder all morning, then drive 20 minutes down the hill and spend your afternoon mountain biking on 277 miles of sweeping singletrack.

That’s the beauty of this area. While Bachelor might get the aforementioned 462 inches of snow each season, the city of Bend averages only 23.8 inches. You can credit the magic of elevation gain and the high desert climate for that little miracle.

If you’ve got your mountain bike loaded on your car already, check out Visit Bend’s mountain biking guide to learn everything you need to know to have a blast when you’re out riding. Prefer to hit the trails in the company of a seasoned tour guide who can hook you up with all the equipment you need? Book a full-day or half-day adventure with Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours.

If you just can’t get enough snow, you’ll be fired up about the latest cycling craze. Fat bikes have oversized tires designed to cruise through the snow. You can rent one from Hub Cyclery in Downtown Bend, then stick around and enjoy a free beer from their in-house tap while you chat up the staff about which trails to hit.

 

Now it’s time for some suds

You’ve played hard in the great outdoors, so you’ve earned the right to reward yourself with some delicious craft beer along the Bend Ale Trail.

Boneyard Beer is one of many fantastic stops along the Bend Ale Trail.

Boneyard Beer is one of many fantastic stops along the Bend Ale Trail.

Pick up your passport at the Bend Visitor Center or any of the 14 breweries that are part of the program. Then sip your way from brewery to brewery gathering passport stamps and sampling hoppy IPAs, malty porters, and unique seasonal selections you’ll only find in the pubs.

For tips on making the most of your Bend Ale Trail adventure, check out this post!

 

Soak up some arts and culture

Now that you’re nice and relaxed, it’s time to scope out Bend’s unique arts and culture scene. If you’re in town at the beginning of the month, don’t miss First Friday Art Walk and the awesome opportunity to browse shops in Downtown Bend while enjoying music, art, wine, nibbles, and the chance to chat with artists about their work.

Soak up some arts and culture at Bend's iconic Tower Theatre.

Soak up some arts and culture at Bend’s iconic Tower Theatre.

If you want to catch a show, the historic Tower Theatre is a great place to start, or check out the kitschy-cool Tin Pan Theater. While you’re there, stroll around Downtown Bend checking out the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection for a look at one of Bend’s most unique assortments of outdoor art. Want more? Swing by the Bend Visitor Center to grab a passport for the Roundabout Art Route, then set out on a mission to see an exciting array of sculptures in the center of Bend’s traffic circles. If you’d prefer to leave the driving to someone else, call Bend Tour Company and book their popular Bend Art Safari tour.

If you’ve got a hankering for some Bend history, check out the Des Chutes Historical Museum, or visit the High Desert Museum for Central Oregon’s coolest collection of natural history exhibits and animals.

You'll experience a whole new realm of snow play when you head out for an adventure with Wanderlust Tours.

You’ll experience a whole new realm of snow play when you head out for an adventure with Wanderlust Tours.

If music is your passion, don’t miss the Jazz at the Oxford series at Bends super swanky Oxford Hotel, or see what Opera Bend has going on during the time of your visit.

 

Snow play without slipping and sliding

Ready to get back to the snow now? Try snow play of a different sort when you book a snowshoe outing with Wanderlust Tours.

Choose from daytime outings with your kids in tow, or opt for the Shoes, Brews & Views tour featuring an array of local beer from breweries along the Bend Ale Trail. If you’re more of a night owl (or just want the experience of seeing the snowy landscape under sparkling stars) try one of their Moonlight or Starlight Snowshoe Tours, where you’ll trek to an amphitheater carved into the snow.

Your snowshoe outings with Wanderlust include all gear, transportation, refreshments, and the most engaging, entertaining, and educated naturalist guides in the biz.

 

7 reasons Bend makes a great place to honeymoon, get hitched, or drop to one knee

September 8th, 2014
Your regular blogger, Tawna, won't be here for a couple weeks. This is why.

Your regular blogger, Tawna, won’t be here for a couple weeks. This is why.

I got married at Tumalo State Park in Bend this past Saturday, so you might say I have weddings on the brain. The fact that I already live here precluded me from choosing Bend as a honeymoon destination, but rest assured, I’m aware that this is one of the most romantic spots in the universe.

Here are seven of my favorite reasons Bend makes a fabulous place for a romantic marriage proposal, a couples’ getaway, or a destination wedding:

 

How ‘bout that backdrop?

Whether you’re popping the question or popping the cork on your wedding day champagne, you want a scenic backdrop to your special moment. Luckily, Bend is packed full of vistas so beautiful you want to gobble them up with a spoon.

It's too bad Bend is such an unpleasant place to get married (said no bride, ever, including Tawna from her scenic wedding site at Tumalo State Park).

It’s too bad Bend is such an unpleasant place to get married (said no bride, ever, including Tawna from her scenic wedding site at Tumalo State Park).

Want a romantic riverfront setting? Scope out the parks map to find a setting that’s perfect for your big moment. Scenic locales like Smith Rock State Park and Tumalo Falls are popular places for couples to get engaged or share a romantic moment. Just about any hiking trail around Central Oregon will lead you to a scenic, secluded setting that’s perfect for asking your honeybun to be with you ’til it’s time to choose matching cemetery plots.

Planning a wedding? It cost me a whopping $50 to reserve the picnic area where we wed last Saturday at Tumalo State Park, so clearly you can get the scenic setting on a budget. For more elaborate affairs, consider the stunning backdrop at Brasada Ranch and start planning your destination wedding today.

Visit Bend has multiple web pages devoted to finding the right venue, flowers, DJ, and more, so click the link to get started.

 

Spoil me, pamper me, love me

River views abound from the styling chairs at Luminescence Salon in Bend.

River views abound from the styling chairs at Luminescence Salon in Bend.

If your vision of a romantic weekend getaway involves a decadent massage for two, you’ll find tons of great ideas on Visit Bend’s spa page. Two of my favorite spots offering couples’ massage are Jinsei and Anjou. Both have cozy, romantic suites where they set up two massage tables side-by-side and spoil you with chocolates and champagne.

Bend’s spas are a great place to get spiffed up and beautiful for a wedding, too. In the weeks leading up to my own nuptials, I sprung for a series of facials at Revive Skin Services to help smooth out some of the damage done by Bend’s harsh desert climate. Jen at Polish works magic when it comes to waxing and eyelash extensions, and my tootsies were perfectly pampered thanks to a pedicure at Raelynn at Images Salon. I’ve trusted Fawnda at Luminescence to trim and style my hair for more than a decade, with the added bonus of stunning river views as I sit in her chair.

To plan your own weekend of pampering in Bend, be sure to check Visit Bend’s spa page.

 

Make memories together

There’s nothing quite like marking a special vacation with an activity you’d never get to do at home. Whether you choose to propose during a romantic moonlight snowshoe tour, or celebrate your honeymoon with a starlight canoe outing, you owe it to yourself (not to mention your sweetie) to book a special outing with Wanderlust Tours.

One of many couples to get engaged during the Bonfire on the Snow outing with Wanderlust Tours.

One of many couples to get engaged during the Bonfire on the Snow outing with Wanderlust Tours.

If you’re more of a foodie than an adventurer, schedule a cooking class together with The Well Traveled Fork. I can’t tell you how many times my new hubby and I have consulted the recipe packets from our classes with Chef Bette, and it makes us smile every time we prepare one of the dishes we learned to make together. Watch her offerings around Valentine’s Day for special classes like aphrodisiac cooking!

Want to bond over a shared adrenaline rush? Book a whitewater raft trip with Sun Country Tours, or opt for the ultimate adventure with an aerial tour. You can see Bend from the vantage-point of a helicopter, airplane, or hot air balloon. You can even scope out the scenery while skydiving. Talk about taking the plunge!

 

Table for two, please?

If you’re looking to canoodle over canapés, there are plenty of romantic restaurants in Bend for your special occasion. One of my favorite splurgy dinner spots is Ariana Restaurant. Their outdoor patio is sunny and open, and their indoor space is cozy and romantic. The menu is centered around Northwest cuisine and unique twists on classic dishes, and their wine list can’t be beat.

The herb gardens adorning the cozy courtyard at Jackalope Grill are one of many things to make this a great spot for a romantic dinner.

The herb gardens adorning the cozy courtyard at Jackalope Grill are one of many things to make this a great spot for a romantic dinner.

If you want Italian cuisine like you’ve never experienced before, Trattoria Sbandati is your spot. You can go here to read my full write-up on this magnificent little Italian restaurant, or just trust me when I say the food here is one of those things you’ll remember for years after you’ve lovingly polished off the last forkful of Tagliatelle al Gorgonzola.

Jackalope Grill is another special occasion hotspot guaranteed to leave you swooning from more than just the romance. Order the Osso Bucco and a seat in their sunny courtyard, and prepare to have your mind blown.

If you feel like venturing outside the city limits for something a little different, check out the scenic dining at Black Butte Ranch. Their menu features creative Northwest cuisine, and you’ll always find unique dishes like elk loin or brook trout.

For a complete roundup of Bend restaurants to fit every taste and budget, go here.

 

The honeymoon suite

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, or just a romantic weekend getaway, Bend is jam-packed with hotels, motels, vacation rentals, and resorts. For an in-depth look at the charming array of bed and breakfast establishments in Bend, check out this post, or peruse Visit Bend’s lodging page for info on all kinds of great places to stay.

The stunning view from Tawna's wedding night suite at Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center.

The stunning view from Tawna’s wedding night suite at Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center.

Even though I was Belize-bound for my honeymoon, I chose to spend my wedding night in a lovely river-view suite at the Riverhouse Hotel & Convention Center. We had a breathtaking view of the Deschutes River, an in-room hot tub, and a fireplace that came fully-stocked with everything we needed to start a toasty little fire to sit beside while we enjoyed the champagne and chocolate they left for us. Perfect!

 

Hey, don’t just take my word for it

OK, I know what you’re thinking. “Of course the lovestruck newlywed thinks Bend is the perfect place for romance.” That may be true, but I’m not the only one with that opinion. Travel + Leisure included Bend in their January 2013 roundup of America’s most romantic towns, and Livability.com ranked Bend in the #1 slot in their roundup of the nation’s top 10 romantic cities. See? It’s not just me.

 

Come back again and again

When you get engaged, hitched, or otherwise romantic in a certain city, ever notice how you want to go back? Once you’ve made some memories in Bend, we hope you’ll want to return for anniversaries and special getaways. Luckily, it’s easy to reach Bend from just about anywhere. Nonstop flights depart daily to major hubs like Seattle, Portland, LA, San Francisco, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

If you crave the bonding time of a road trip, check out our handy Getting Here page for maps and info about travel times.

 

Get happy! Finding Bend’s best happy hours in Downtown Bend and the Old Mill District (part 1 of 2)

August 7th, 2014

It was recently brought to my attention that Bend Buzz Blog readers continue to seek out my 2010 blog post on finding the best happy hour in Bend. While that’s awesome to hear, it’s alarming to realize you guys are relying on four-year-old information to get your drink on.

The dirty dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog with caramelized onion, bell pepper, cheese, and fried jalapeños. You'll find it on the happy hour menu at Level 2 in the Old Mill District.

The dirty dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog with caramelized onion, bell pepper, cheese, and fried jalapeños. You’ll find it on the happy hour menu at Level 2 in the Old Mill District.

That just won’t do.

Bend’s happy hour scene has changed a lot in four years—so much that it makes sense to split this new blog post into two sections. This week, I’m focusing on happy hours in Bend’s popular Downtown area and the Old Mill District.

Be sure to check back next week when we’ll spotlight happy hours outside those zones, including spots like Crossings at the Riverhouse, some great finds in Northwest Crossing, and more. We’ll also tell you about finding killer happy hour deals outside the traditional post-work time-frame, including hotspots like 10Below and Joolz.

But for now, let’s focus on drinking our way through Downtown and the Old Mill District.

 

Lift a glass in Downtown Bend

    • 900 Wall’s happy hour (3-6 p.m. nightly) has been one of my favorites from the moment they opened. The menu changes seasonally, but one thing you can always count on is that they make one of the best greyhounds in town. They also mix it up with unique offerings like the beer cocktail “Michelada” for $5 or a Pearl Plum Vodka Kamikaze for $6. The best deals are found on their food menu, however. On the cheap end of the spectrum, go for the deviled eggs at $1.50 each. Other great bets are the Caesar salad or the tempura fried green beans for $6. Their beef carpaccio is a splurge at $10, but it’s one of the best you’ll find in town.
The carpaccio at 900 Wall is one of the best in Bend, and you'll find it on the happy hour menu.

The carpaccio at 900 Wall is one of the best in Bend, and you’ll find it on the happy hour menu.

  • Founded in 1936, Pine Tavern is one of Bend’s oldest restaurants, but it recently came under new ownership. One result is a pretty stellar happy hour that’s worth investigating from 3-6 weekdays, noon to 5 Saturdays, or Sundays 3-close. It’s only available in the bar, so you won’t get to sit next to those landmark pine trees jutting through the roof or take in the killer river views from the patio, but the great deals more than make up for it. Try the scrumptious Cajun shrimp & grits for just $4.95 or the tasty spinach & artichoke dip for $3.95. The house-made hummus plate is a steal at $2.95, and if you ask nicely, they’ll even bring you extra flatbread or veggies. Your best bet on the drink menu is to opt for a well-drink for $4.50, then have them add freshly-squeezed juice for just 50-cents more.
  • Noi Thai Cuisine is one of those spots I never seem to go except during happy hour (3:30-6 daily), which is not any sort of commentary on their regular menu. It’s just that their happy hour is too good to miss. I’m especially fond of their fresh rolls (made with tofu, prawn, or BBQ pork) and their small portions of red or yellow curry. The Tom Kah soup is also delightful, especially when washed down by one of their fun cocktails (try the pumpkin martini when the weather turns cooler, and prepare to be blown away).
  • Dogwood Cocktail Cabin is one of Bend's newest (and tastiest) places to grab a drink.

    Dogwood Cocktail Cabin is one of Bend’s newest (and tastiest) places to grab a drink.

    Dogwood Cocktail Cabin is a newcomer to Downtown Bend, though they’ve had a successful restaurant in Colorado for a number of years. Admittedly the drinks are on the pricey end of the spectrum during regular hours, which is why you don’t want to miss happy hour from 4-6 Tuesday through Sunday. That’s when all their martinis are $4 off (regularly $10). My personal faves (and yes, I’ve tried them all) are the summer squash (vodka, butternut squash, lemon, and spices), the fennomial (vodka, fennel, strawberry). Those who prefer something sweeter will dig the Portuguese (rum, port, fig) or the yellow rose (vodka, rosemary, lemon). Their rosemary-spiced nuts make an excellent thing to nibble for just $6, or for an extra special treat, try their fried mac-and-cheese balls (gruyere, sage, green apple, truffle oil, greens) for $12.

  • When out-of-town guests come to visit me, one of the places they always ask to go is5 Fusion. Head chef Joe Kim was recently a James Beard finalist (kinda like the Oscars for chefs) so it’s no wonder my pals drool at the thought of going there, and their happy hour (4-6 weekdays) is a great way to save a few bucks. Their cucumber gimlet is a steal for $6, or try the lavender lemondrop if you like your happy hour cocktail a bit sweeter. Most of the items on their happy hour menu are $5-$6, so it’s easy to order four or five and make a meal of it. My top picks include the crispy lobster fritters in red pepper sauce, the filet mignon lollipops with mashed potatoes, and the ebi tempura roll with tempura shrimp, avocado, and tobiko.
  • Brickhouse is known for having some of the best steaks in Bend, but they’ve also got a pretty impressive happy hour (4-6 weekdays) offering plenty of things that don’t moo. The zucchini tempura is a steal at just $3, and the heirloom tomato bruschetta is divine for just $6. My drink of choice here is the huckletini (a huckleberry martini) for just $6 during happy hour.

 

Drink up in the Old Mill District

  • The outdoor patio with riverfront seating make Anthony’sone of my favorite happy hour spots in Bend during the summer months. The ahi nachos made with sashimi-grade ahi tuna, wasabi, and pineapple chutney served on taro chips is my absolute favorite treat, particularly when combined with one of their $5 wine flights. Their cocktails are tasty here as well, especially the garden cocktail made with vodka, St. Germain, pineapple juice, bitters, Sprite, and plenty of fresh mint for just $5.
  • The lavender love cocktail at Level 2 is delicious and lovely.

    The lavender love cocktail at Level 2 is delicious and lovely.

    Another great Old Mill hotspot with killer river views, Greg’s Grill has the added bonus of offering their happy hour bar menu from 3-close anytime you dine in the bar. The wine selection here is especially good, so grab a glass to pair with their classic burger sliders with frizzled onions for just $5.95. The sweet potato fries with sweet chili aioli is another great choice for just $4.95.

  • Located in the second floor space above Saxon’s Jewelry, Level 2 Global Food & Lounge has a swanky, intimate vibe that makes it a great happy hour spot for couples. From 3-6 daily, choose from a fairly expansive happy hour menu that includes unique offerings like the dirty dog (a bacon-wrapped hot dog with caramelized onion, bell pepper, cheese, and fried jalapenos) for just $5. The grilled Caesar salad is another tasty option for $5, or get a pair of scrumptious fish tacos with smoked fish, black beans, Napa cabbage, salsa, and chipotle aioli for just $5. Draft beer is just $3.50 during happy hour, so that’s an excellent choice here, or try the lavender love cocktail (vodka, house-infused lavender syrup, and citrus juice) for $6.
  • Don't miss the maple fennel pizzetta at Flatbread Community Oven.

    Don’t miss the maple fennel pizzetta at Flatbread Community Oven.

    Flatbread Community Oven not only offers a terrific happy hour menu (3-6 daily and 9-close Friday and Saturday) but they’re also one of the most family-friendly spots in the lineup. While the kids assemble their own pizzas to stuff in the wood-fired oven, mom and dad can pick from an awesome array of cocktails like the strawberry basil martini or the cucumber sage cooler ($9). There’s also a terrific lineup of wine flights and draft beer (local drafts are just $3.50 during happy hour). The happy hour food menu has a great roundup of items starting at $3.50 for a cheese pizzetta or $4.50-$5.50 for some of their more specialty pizzettas like the chopped veggie or the maple-fennel (my personal fave).

  • Mio Sushi is a cozy little sushi spot offering a surprisingly terrific happy hour menu (4-6 weekdays).  The lineup includes a choice of five premium rolls for $6.95 (regularly $8.95 to $9.95) and a wide range of appetizers and salads, plus sake, beer, and wine ranging from $2.50 to $5. The sushi and roll combo for $6.95 is a great way to sample three kinds of nigiri (tuna, salmon, shrimp) plus a choice of California roll or spicy tuna roll. Happy hour is also a great time to sample sake for super-fab prices starting at less than three bucks.

Six ways a Bend vacation will help you achieve your New Year’s resolutions

January 3rd, 2014

The champagne is gone, the noisemakers are stashed, and it’s time to get serious about those pesky New Year’s resolutions.

Trail running in Bend is a great way to get a jump on your fitness goals.

Trail running in Bend is a great way to get a jump on your fitness goals.

Some good news: this is the year you’re finally going to achieve all those goals you set for yourself. Your secret weapon? A vacation in Bend, Oregon.

Here’s how a Bend vacation can help you achieve six of the most common New Year’s resolutions.

 

If you’ve resolved to get fit…

Dubbed “the outdoor playground of the west,” Bend is the place to be if fitness and recreation are part of your plans for the New Year. No matter what form of fitness you prefer, Bend offers the best playground to do it. Is snowplay your thing? National Geographic listed Bend as one of the world’s top 25 ski towns. Fond of hunting and fishing? Outdoor Life named Bend the nation’s #1 town for sportsmen. Both Competitor and Outside magazine named Bend the top town for trail running, while Mountain Bike Action spotlighted the city as America’s #1 mountain biking town.

If you’re new to fitness and all this sounds a little too expert-level for your taste, don’t worry! You’ll find plenty of help for newbies just looking to get started. Try a basic mountain biking tour with Cog Wild, or scope out Visit Bend’s hiking page or Cascade Hiking Adventures to choose a good starter hike that’s more your pace.

If you tend to be more goal-oriented with your fitness, skim our event calendar for upcoming races like the Pole, Peddle, Paddle in May, the Dirty Half Marathon in June, the Deschutes Dash in July, or the Haulin’ Aspen in August. Then start your training program now so you’re ready to compete on race day.

 

If you’ve resolved to spend more time with family…

When it comes to family fun, no one does it better than Bend. Grab a bottle of bubbles at the Dollar Tree before you head out for a family-friendly hike up Pilot Butte. When you reach the top, blow bubbles for the kids to chase.

A hike up Pilot Butte (complete with bubbles for the kids to chase) is a great way to get some healthy family time.

A hike up Pilot Butte (complete with bubbles for the kids to chase) is a great way to get some healthy family time.

If snow-play is your scene, Mt.Bachelor offers the ultimate family-friendly package with their kids ski free offer that allows kids 12 and under to ski free with the purchase of an adult lift ticket. You can also opt for an afternoon at the SnowBlast Tubing Park or a truly special experience with a family sled dog rides with Oregon Trail of Dreams.

For a guided outing you’ll all remember, try a cave tour or a snowshoe outing with Wanderlust Tours.

Feeling more indoorsy? Enjoy an evening of arcade games and bowling at Sun Mountain Fun Center. For the consummate Central Oregon experience, check out the High Desert Museum where you’ll enjoy artful exhibits, history, culture, and cool local critters like the bobcat, lynx, badger, and porcupine.

Do the kids still have energy to burn? Bend has nearly 70 public parks scattered all over town where you can run, cavort, slide, swing, and frolic ‘til everyone’s tuckered.

 

If you’ve resolved to have a better work/life balance…

This is what working from home looks like in Bend.

This is what working from home looks like in Bend.

In 2012, Entrepreneur magazine touted Bend as “the most entrepreneurial city in America.” If you’re tired of the rat race in your current city of residence, now might be the time to consider a move to Bend. As any HR director will tell you, employees are more productive when they’re happy, healthy, and inspired by the natural beauty around them.

If you’re thinking of relocating a business to Bend, the city has plenty of competitive advantages, including an affordable cost of living and business-friendly infrastructure. Bend also offers fast access to major business markets, with direct flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

Go here to request a business relocation packet and to learn more about moving your business to Bend.

 

If you’ve resolved to be smarter with money…

OK, I can’t claim you’ll actually save money with a Bend vacation if you’re choosing between that and staying home on your sofa. But if you’re scheduling a vacation anyway and considering options like Vail or Tahoe, Bend wins hands-down on the affordability scale.

Whether you’re analyzing prices on Bend hotels and vacation rentals or checking out the price of activities, you’ll find Bend to be one of the least expensive mountain destinations in the region. Just ask TripAdvisor (the world’s largest travel site) which recently analyzed the most popular ski destinations in the U.S. based on common ski trip expenses like hotel stay, lift ticket, rental equipment pricing, food, and beer. Bend was named the #2 value in all of the U.S. and Canada. Not too shabby!

Eating in Bend can be both healthy and inexpensive with meals like this pistachio seared king salmon salad at Broken Top Bottle Shop.

Eating in Bend can be both healthy and inexpensive with meals like this pistachio seared king salmon salad at Broken Top Bottle Shop.

For even more tips on saving money in Bend, keep your eyes on the Bend Buzz Blog. Posts like Cheapskates, Rejoice! Bend has great lunch options for $6 or less as well as Your guide to finding Bend’s best cheap eats for $3.50, $2.50, $1.50, or (*gasp*) FREE! can help you stretch your vacation dollars to the max.

 

If you’ve resolved to eat better…

No matter what your culinary resolutions entail, you’ll find a great support system in Bend. Going gluten-free? Bend is teeming with restaurants catering to your culinary needs, and you’ll find a roundup of them here. You can also check here for oodles of great ideas on finding vegetarian chow in Downtown Bend.

You’ll find a bounty of nutritious offerings at Sara’s Raw & Vegan Café, which features handcrafted smoothies, daily lunch specials, yummy vegan snacks, raw desserts, and more. If you’ve pledged to focus on locally-sourced foods, check out the selections at Chow or Jackson’s Corner, where they make it their mission to incorporate as much local food as possible into their meals.

You know that saying about giving a man a fish so he can eat for a day or teaching him to fish so he eats for a lifetime? If you want to learn to eat for a lifetime (and eat really, really well while you’re at it) check out the schedule of cooking classes offered by Well Traveled Fork. They’re designed to teach you everything from seasoning techniques to cooking with aphrodisiacs, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time while you’re at it.

 

If you’ve resolved to master a new skill…

There are plenty of things you can learn in Bend, depending on what interests you. Hook up with a local fly fishing outfitter to learn casting techniques or the best place to find big, fat trout.

A cooking class with the Well Traveled Fork is a great way to pick up a new skill in the New Year.

A cooking class with the Well Traveled Fork is a great way to pick up a new skill in the New Year.

If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing, Nature of Words often hosts creative workshops for adults and kids. You’ll also find an array of community learning classes offered through Central Oregon Community College. Choose from professional development classes like foreign language or computer skills, or opt for continuing ed courses ranging from yoga to art to gardening.

Want to try your hand at photography? Cascade Center of Photography offers a variety of workshops to nurture your inner shutterbug.

Believe it or not, winter is a great time to learn to kayak. Rather than dunking you in a frigid river, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe makes it simple for you to learn basic techniques in their shop and a swimming pool before you head out on the open water. Go here to learn about classes offered now, including their three-hour brace and roll class offered most weekends throughout the winter.

I already mentioned the Well Traveled Fork in the last section, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest their cooking classes here as well for those looking to pick up some new techniques or start from scratch as a newbie cook.

 

So what’s your New Year’s resolution this year? And more importantly, when will we see you in Bend so you can start fulfilling it?

 

 

The ultimate dog date: How to show your pooch a good time in Bend

August 22nd, 2013
Lovely views and good company at the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash area.

Lovely views and good company at the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash area.

I just realized it’s been nearly three years since I wrote this post about how to plan the ultimate dog date in Bend

Since then, Bend’s canine-friendly reputation has grown faster than an Italian Mastiff pup on steroids. Dog Fancy magazine named Bend the dog-friendliest city in the nation last summer, and Dawg Grog (a non-alcoholic beer for dogs invented by Boneyard Beer employee Daniel Keaton) became a national sensation with everyone from CNN to Conan O’Brien buzzing about it.

With new dog-centric businesses and events popping up all over town, it seems like a good time to revisit the notion of how to plan the best dog date EVAH for you and your pooch.

My dog date starts early with my canine companion, Bindi, a four-year-old Australian Kelpie. We kick things off with a sunrise walk along the canal in northeast Bend en route to the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash Area at Pine Nursery Park. It’s an 18 acre fenced dog park with oodles of trails to explore and plenty of wide open spaces for fetching and frolicking.

Now that Bindi’s burned off some energy, it’s time to get to work. Our favorite dog trainer, Bryan Castleberry of Cascadia Canine, swings by the house for a refresher course on house manners. His training has made Bindi one of those dogs everyone stops and watches and asks me, “how do you get your dog to walk so well on a leash?” For visitors to Bend, a quick one-hour Saturday session can be a nice way to give Fido a little help with trouble areas like jumping or leash pulling.

11-year-old Cedar frolics with Bindi on Elk Lake.

11-year-old Cedar frolics with Bindi on Elk Lake.

After our session, it’s time for a reward. Bindi and I head to Bend Pet Express for a handful of freshly-baked dog treats. Though their location near Costco is our preferred spot for its proximity to home, they have another location on Bend’s westside that’s convenient for folks en route to the mountains and lakes.

That’s our destination today, as Bindi and I are craving some time exploring the areas of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway. Both Sparks Lake and Elk Lake are great areas for swimming and picnicking, and my step-kids are happy to give Bindi a good workout with the aid of a sturdy stick. Lucky for us, Bin wears a waterproof, stink-proof collar from Bend-based Ruffwear. The Headwater collar is perfect for dogs that frequent the water, and the coated webbing is flexible, non-absorbent, and boasts a cute reflective pattern that’s handy on nighttime walks.

The collar may not be stinky, but Bindi kinda is. Off we go to Woof Neighborhood Dog Wash, which opened earlier this month on Newport Avenue. This u-wash dog station provides everything we need to get Bindi sudsed up and clean in their super-cute old fashioned clawfoot tubs. The $15 flat fee is worth every penny to avoid covering our own bathroom in hair and mud.

With Bindi clean and blow-dried, we make a quick stop at Healthy Paws on Newport Avenue to grab a few treats made by Polka-Doodle Dog Bakery. We also stop to browse the shop’s cool collection of doggy-themed art.

Tasty eats, great beer, and a dog-friendly patio at Crux Fermentation Project.

Tasty eats, great beer, and a dog-friendly patio at Crux Fermentation Project.

Souvenirs in hand, we head to one of our favorite dog-friendly breweries. Crux Fermentation Project has an amazing outdoor dining area with a big field for frolicking and plenty of water dishes on hand for four-legged companions. While Bindi snoozes under the table, we order a sampler tray of Crux beers and their to-die-for Grilled Cheesy sandwich—an asiago-cheese crusted panini with mixed ricotta, pepper jack, and white cheddar with diced bacon and spicy pickles on Italian country spent grain bread from DiLusso Bakery.

Of course, Bend has plenty of other dog-friendly dining spots to sample, so check out our listings of Bend restaurants. As you scroll through the grids for different restaurants and types of cuisine, you’ll see notations beneath many of the restaurant names indicating dogs are allowed on the patio. Pretty handy!

After dinner, we get to head home for some doggie snuggle time on the sofa. For those who aren’t Bend residents, there are tons of pet-friendly Bend hotels happy to roll out the red carpet for your four-legged friend. The Riverhouse offers dog treat bags, easy access to river trails, and no extra charge for pets, while The Oxford Hotel greets your pooch with a personal pet bed proportional to his size, two travel bowls—one is your gift to keep!—a map of dog-friendly trails and parks, and samples of goodies like pet salve and dog treats.

For more resources on traveling to Bend with your pooch, check out the Visit Bend Pet Travel page.

Then give your pooch a scratch behind the ears and tell him, “good dog!”

For a great resource on hiking around Bend, check out Cascade Hiking Adventures

August 15th, 2013
Tumalo Falls, one of many scenic spots you can explore with tips from Cascade Hiking Adventures.

Tumalo Falls, one of many scenic spots you can explore with tips from Cascade Hiking Adventures.

In 2012, 53% of Bend visitors went hiking.

As far as activities go, that’s second only to dining at 70%, and maybe nose-picking (which, to be fair, we didn’t actually survey people on because ew.)

Suffice it to say, hiking is one of Bend’s most popular activities. Visit Bend’s hiking page is consistently in our top ten for page views, which is a pretty good indication you guys are searching for tips and ideas.

Want more? Even if you’re already well-versed on local hiking hotspots, Cascade Hiking Adventures has something for hikers of all interests and experience levels. Created in 2013 by Bend resident Matt Landry, Cascade Hiking Adventures is a treasure trove of great Central Oregon hiking info. What’s so great about it?

It’s easy to browse

There are tons of ways to find the perfect hike when you use this site. Scroll through all the pages, reading details and checking out photos to find something that piques your interest. You can also reference their A-Z trail list to choose by the name of the hike or scroll for a specific area. Another option is to use their handy-dandy trail map to get an idea which Central Oregon landscape you might like to explore. You can even search by specific interests like family hikes or dog-friendly hikes or even overnight backpacking hikes.

 

So much good info, your head might explode

When you’re scouting for a good hike, it’s nice to have info like location, mileage, and difficulty. Cascade Hiking Adventures goes way beyond that, offering useful details like difficulty rating, best time of year to visit, suggested wilderness experience, required permits, and even the location of the closest restrooms. You can click through to download a free topo trail map, or pony up $3 to purchase GPS files for each hike. Best of all, the listing for each hike offers a photo album packed with great pictures of what you can hope to see.

Green Lakes Trail, another beautiful hike suggested by Cascade Hiking Adventures.

Green Lakes Trail, another beautiful hike suggested by Cascade Hiking Adventures.

 

Free is a very good price

I should have mentioned this sooner, huh? One of the best things about Cascade Hiking Adventures is that it doesn’t cost you anything to use it. You’ll pay a small fee if you want to download GPS files for a specific hike, but other than that, you’re not paying a dime for some of the best hiking info you could ask for.

 

 

Great hikes for all skill levels

Scoping out the wildflowers on the Cone & Iron Mountain loop.

Scoping out the wildflowers on the Cone & Iron Mountain loop.

The reason hiking is one of the most popular in Bend is that it’s fun for everyone from couch potatoes to expert climbers. The trick is to pick hikes that work for your skill level, and Cascade Hiking Adventures makes that super-simple. Hardcore hikers will appreciate learning the nitty-gritty details of hikes like South Sister and Lucky Lake Loop, while more mellow recreationists will enjoy learning about easier in-town hikes like Deschutes River Trail or Shevlin Park Loop Trail. The website makes it easy to find what you’re looking for in terms of length, difficulty, or suggested experience level.

 

My personal testimonial

Hiking Black Butte with my better half last summer.

Hiking Black Butte with my better half last summer.

I’ve lived in Bend almost 16 years, but I’ve been hiking in the area much longer than that as a fourth-generation Oregonian who grew up exploring Central Oregon. I’ve test-driven several of the hikes listed at Cascade Hiking Adventures, so I know firsthand how fab the info is.

I hiked Black Butte for the first time last summer, without the benefit of info from Cascade Hiking Adventures. While the hike went great, there’s oodles of info on the website that would have made things much smoother. Cascade Hiking Adventures offers great tips on how much water to bring (a lot!) and sections of the trail where there’s no shade (which means you probably shouldn’t hit that spot during the hottest part of the day). It also offers blow-by-blow details on what you can expect to see at different parts of the hike.

Since Cascade Hiking Adventures lists a number of cool hikes I’ve never tried, I set out a couple weeks ago to sample one of them. The Cone and Iron Mountain hike is a moderate 6.6 mile loop boasting oodles of wildflowers and great mountain views. While wildflowers were a little scarce in the heat of August, this was still an incredible hike in an area of Central Oregon I hadn’t explored before. (Sidenote: because I’m a moron who doesn’t follow directions   I have an acute sense of adventure, we ended up climbing Cone Mountain instead of Iron Mountain, which I do not recommend, since Iron Mountain has much clearer trails and a super cool viewing platform at the top). Overall, the directions were excellent, and I loved scoping out new hiking trails with a handy guide to point the way.

Another scene from the Cone & Iron Mountain hike a few weeks ago.

Another scene from the Cone & Iron Mountain hike a few weeks ago.

One tip: In addition to reading directions on the website before you set out, it’s a good idea to take a printout of the downloadable trail map for your chosen hike. Many of the most recent postes even have downloadable trail guides, offering a PDF version of the hike description. Plenty of wilderness areas won’t offer you a cell signal, so a printed version can come in handy. Downloading the GPS directions for your chosen hike would also be a smart idea for just $3.

It’s also worth noting that new hikes are added constantly, and there’s a form on the right side of the webpage where you can sign up to get an email each time a new one goes up.

Overall, Cascade Hiking Adventures offers one of the best resources I’ve found for planning a hike in or around Bend. Take a gander, and then come back to share details on YOUR favorite Central Oregon hike!

Four ways to beat the heat on hot summer days in Bend, Oregon

July 4th, 2013
How we float the river in DogTown USA (the nation's dog-friendliest city, according to Dog Fancy magazine).

How we float the river in DogTown USA (the nation’s dog-friendliest city, according to Dog Fancy magazine).

Raise your hand if you’re hot and sweaty in Bend.

On second thought, ew.

Bend’s been a bit on the warm side in recent days, which is nothing to complain about. Those of us addicted to Bend sunshine live for gorgeous summer days like this.

But every now and then you just want to cool off a little. If that’s the case, here are four ways to drop your body temp on hot days in Bend.

Get cool and slippery

Fun for the whole family at SHARC in Sunriver.

Fun for the whole family at SHARC in Sunriver.

Nothing cools you off as quickly as a plunge into a refreshing pool, chilly river, or crystal clear lake. My favorite summer pastime is a float down the Deschutes river on an air mattress. If you don’t have one, you can rent a deluxe float tube from Sun Country Tours  or Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. Then go here for all the details on where to put in and how to float safely. Those who prefer the confines of a swimming pool will appreciate the local Parks & Rec pool at Juniper Swim and Fitness – particularly the price tag of only $6 for out-of-district residents. For an extra big treat for the young’uns, drive 20 miles to Sunriver to enjoy the new SHARC aquatic center. It’s a bit of a splurge at $25 for adults and $20 for kids 4-17, but worth it for the huge indoor/outdoor recreation pools, hot tub, water slides, lazy river, tubing hill, and more than 2.5 acres of grass for lazing in the sun. You can splash, slide and sunbathe to your heart’s content!

Get up and away 

ElkLake

A relaxing afternoon on Elk Lake off the Cascade Lakes Highway.

There’s nothing like gaining a few feet in altitude to earn you a few degrees of cooler temps. On hot summer days, I love following Century Drive toward Mt. Bachelor until I hit the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. All along the road, you’ll see endless gems of lakes perfect for paddling, hiking, floating, swimming, or anything else you might like. The ones set a bit off the highway (like little-bitty Blow Lake, for instance) are perfect for solitude and a short hike with a picnic. For scenery and ease-of-access, Devil’s Lake is a nice choice. For beach access and amenities like paddleboard or boat rental, try Cultus Lake Resort or Elk Lake Resort. The fun is finding your own favorite lake among the dozens available. This Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway Map is an excellent resource to get you started. Once you’ve found your spot, just kick back, relax, breathe the fresh mountain air, and feel your temperature dropping. As an alternative in the opposite direction, head 26 miles southeast of Bend toward the Pine Mountain Observatory. Operated by the University of Oregon physics department, it offers an amazing array of telescopes, terrific stargazing, and an altitude of 6,500 feet to guarantee you a bit of chilly relief in the evening.

Get shoppin’

You'll find both indoor and outdoor shopping in historic Downtown Bend.

You’ll find both indoor and outdoor shopping in historic Downtown Bend.

While we know you visit Bend for the outdoor adventure, we realize you sometimes need a break from the great outdoors. When that happens, an afternoon of shopping is the perfect way to bask in some air conditioning while picking up souvenirs to take home. Bend’s Old Mill District offers a terrific array of familiar national shops like Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and Bath & Body as well as locally-owned favorites like Nashelle jewelry and Vanilla Urban Threads. You’ll also find oodles of great restaurants where you can stop for a cool drink and great views of the river, or catch a movie at bend’s largest cineplex for a couple soothing hours of air conditioned entertainment.  Then head for historic Downtown Bend to browse cool boutiques, unique art galleries, and an eclectic array of restaurants offering everything from Asian fusion to burgers. There’s plenty of cool AC to spare, and you can meander through Drake Park to dip your toes in the Deschutes River for an extra chilly thrill.

Get sippin’

Refreshingly citrusy Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery.

Refreshingly citrusy Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery.

There’s something about a cool drink that always seems to drop my body temperature a few glorious degrees. Since Bend is home to the popular Bend Ale Trail, you’ll find plenty of tasty craft beer guaranteed to quench your thirst and please your palate. My personal favorites for summer are Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery, and the new Swill from 10 Barrel. Both are citrusy and delicious and perfect for a hot day. If beer isn’t your thing, you’ll find tons of great spots around town for cool cocktails. Astro Lounge in Downtown Bend has oodles of creative creations and a great happy hour from 4-7. Their cucumber lavender mojito is a divine way to beat the heat. If you’re in the Old Mill District, both Anthony’s and Greg’s Grill have great wine lists and views of the river. Order a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and a cool salad, and you’ll feel refreshed and relaxed in no time. For a non-alcoholic option, Newport Market sells an amazing hand-squeezed lemonade that’s delicious on a hot summer day.

Whether you’re a jock, a couch potato, or something in between, here are 3 ways to tackle 3 popular Bend adventures

June 6th, 2013

 At the risk of messing up my hair, allow me to put on my marketing hat for a sec.

At Visit Bend, we do a lot of aspirational marketing. We like the idea of a guy channel surfing on his couch one rainy Portland afternoon and stopping to watch our commercial featuring fun-loving folks diving in sunny mountain lakes and shredding mountain bike trails. We want him to  think, “I could totally do that!”

This 30-second clip is a good example of what I’m talking about:

Admittedly, we don’t expect everyone who vacations in Bend to plunge over a waterfall in a kayak. We’d prefer it if you didn’t. Guts are tough to clean out of rivers.

But we do hope most of our visitors will enjoy some form of  Bend recreation. Here are three variations on three popular outdoor activities in Bend.

Hiking & Climbing: Not for the faint of heart. Or is it?

You see those videos of skilled Smith Rock climbers deftly maneuvering across stemming corners and slabs as they smear, jam, lie-back, and do a bit of nubbin-pulling.

I don’t know what any of that means.

If you do, awesome! Smith Rock is a great place to test your climbing skills. For those with visions of hardcore techno face climbs dancing in their heads, Smith Rock Climbing Guides can help you get your bad self roped up and scaling gnarly rocks.

Watching a thunderstorm come in from atop Pilot Butte a couple weeks ago.

Watching a thunderstorm come in from atop Pilot Butte a couple weeks ago.

That’s one way to get your altitude fix in Bend.

But if you’re looking to climb something a bit more mellow, why not tackle Pilot Butte? This 500-foot extinct volcano juts up in the middle of town, and offers incredible 360-degree views of Bend from the top. You can make this walk as hard or as easy as you like. I hiked it several weeks ago with a pal who wanted to run to the top. A good workout, to be sure, though I thought I might die halfway up. More often than not, I opt for a casual stroll to the top with my gentleman friend and his two young offspring (whose favorite Pilot Butte experience involves lugging a bottle of soapy water to the top so their father can blow bubbles for them to chase in the wind). There’s even car access to the summit between April and November for those not up to the hike.

Prefer your hiking on flatter surfaces with someone else leading the way? Check out the list of free guided hikes from Deschutes Land Trust. I joined them several weeks ago for one of their history walks at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and loved exploring local historic sites including Camp Polk Cemetery. The terrain was mostly flat, the guides’ stories were interesting, and the hike included frequent stops and a slower pace to accommodate an older demographic.

 

Out on the water: From class 6 rapids to lazy paddling

There aren’t many kayakers with the skill to tackle the class 6 rapids at Benham Falls. If you’re one of them, I tip my hat to you (and kinda want to watch sometime). If you lack the expertise but want to earn it, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe offers some amazing classes including their Full Immersion Whitewater Weekend. They can also hook you up with all the gear you never knew you needed.

SunCountryLR

Family fun on the river with Sun Country Tours!

Prefer a more family-friendly whitewater adventure? You’ll still get the adrenaline rush on the Big Eddy Thriller whitewater raft trip with Sun Country Tours, but it’s great for newbies and even young kids (who can choose not to paddle if they prefer). You’ll encounter lovely sections of flat water as well as class 3 rapids on this three-mile journey along the Deschutes. Be prepared to get wet, either from the rapids or the inevitable splash fights that break out.

Envisioning something a bit more mellow? Try a moonlight canoe trip with the good folks at Wanderlust Tours. Desert, drinks, and a chance to savor the moonlight shimmering on one of the high lakes – what more could you want? Perhaps a daytime outing if you’d rather see the sights in the sunshine. Tumalo Creek offers an awesome half-day kayak trip on the upper Deschutes. Check out cool lava formations and watch for birds in hidden little sloughs. Or accidentally tip your kayak and go for a little swim like I did last summer (which, for the record, was sorta fun).

BikeTown USA: There’s more than one way to peddle

If you haven’t already seen the recent viral video of this girl shredding rollers, tabletop jumps, and banked turns on Whoops Trail, check it out.

That was filmed on part of the Phil’s Trail Network, which is one of Bend’s most famous areas for mountain biking. You’ll find endless miles of singletrack to explore, as well as technical sections like C.O.D. and lower Grand Slam. Go here to find an excellent map of the area before you set out on your own for a day of serious mountain biking.

You can let someone else do all the heavy lifting when you head out with Cog Wild for a mountain bike adventure.

You can let someone else do all the heavy lifting when you head out with Cog Wild for a mountain bike adventure.

Craving a bit of hand-holding from a guide, combined with the ease of not dragging all your biking gear with you on the roof rack? Hook up with Cog Wild for one of their day tours. Grab the young’uns and head out for the popular Family Mountain Bike Tour aimed at beginners, or try the Bachelor to Bend full-day trip where you’ll enjoy miles f flowy trail, rocks, roots, creek crossings, and a tasty lunch with views of Mt. Bachelor.

Need something even mellower? Hey, I’ve been there. Check out Let it Ride for one of their fun electric bike tours. You can choose to pedal if you like, or just let the bike’s little motor do all the work as you enjoy the scenery along the river between Bend’s Old Mill District and historic Downtown. Choose from the fascinating Bend History Tour, or check out the Brewdie Tour for a look at Bend’s brewery scene.

So there you have it – three ways to tackle three popular forms of recreation in Bend’s great outdoors. Which one is your speed?

 

7 things you couldn’t do in Bend Oregon ‘til just now

May 8th, 2013

You don’t want to blink this time of year in Bend. Close your eyes for half-a-second and you’ll open them to discover everything is different. Well, different in a good way. Here are seven exciting new seasonal developments in Bend from the last few weeks.

Lava, lava everywhere!

Time to stop by the Lava Lands Visitor Center.

Time to stop by the Lava Lands Visitor Center.

The Lava Lands Visitor Center closes down during the icy months, but as of May 2, everything is up and running again. This bustling interpretive hub of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a great place for the whole family. Springtime is a particularly pleasant time to visit, since the mid-summer months can be downright scorching with acres of lava rock and obsidian acting as a big solar oven. The Lava Lands Visitor Center offers amazing insights on area geologic and cultural history, a cool gift shop, educational films, ranger talks, and a chance to drive to the top of Lava Butte for a spectacular view of Central Oregon. From now through June 10, they’re open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After June 10 they’ll be open daily for those same hours, which will last through early September.

Bask in the blossoms

blossomsIt was only a few weeks ago I had to scrape snow off my windshield before driving to the grocery store. There’s still white stuff falling from the sky, but none of it requires a shovel and sturdy boots. Bend’s flowering trees are in full bloom right now, sending cascades of fluttering blossoms adrift anytime the wind blows. It’s a lovely sight to behold, but it won’t last long. And we also can’t guarantee there won’t be one more real snowstorm before things heat up for the summer.

 

‘Tis the season for dining outdoors

Outdoor dining at 900 Wall.

Outdoor dining at 900 Wall.

One of my favorite things to do in Bend is enjoy a cocktail and some appetizers on an outdoor patio, so I nearly wept with joy a few weeks ago when local restaurants began dragging tables outside. I especially love 900 Wall in Downtown Bend. It’s a great spot for people-watching, and their happy hour menu is one of the best in town. Try the carpaccio and a greyhound made with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice. A bit east of that is Brickhouse, which just moved to a new spot a couple weeks ago. They’ve got a great area for outdoor dining, and their bacon wrapped scallops are out-of-this-world scrumptious (particularly when paired with their tasty cucumber martini). Crossings at the Riverhouse has an enormous deck overlooking the river, plus an equally enormous happy hour menu with oodles of tasty treats to choose from. If you’re in the Old Mill District, head to Anthony’s or Greg’s Grill, which both have amazing outdoor patios overlooking the Deschutes River. The views are spectacular from either spot, and both restaurants boast awesome happy hour menus and terrific wine lists.

Here, fishy fishy

Blogger Tawna takes a stab at fishing last spring.

Blogger Tawna takes a stab at fishing last spring.

If fishing is your scene, you might have danced a jig on April 27 when most of the great Cascade Lakes opened for fishing season. This includes Crane Prairie Reservoir, South Twin Lake, Little Lava Lake, Big Lava Lake, and Wickiup Reservoir. All of those spots are known for spectacular fishing (or spectacular lounging in the sun reading a good book while someone else does the fishing). For a little extra challenge, Cabela’s planted a specially-tagged fish in South Twin Lake. If you catch it, you could win a million bucks through their Fish for Millions promotion. That’s almost enough to make me consider buying a fishing pole.

 

 

Fun for the whole family

Fun on the Go-Karts at Sun Mountain Fun Center.

Fun on the Go-Karts at Sun Mountain Fun Center.

All I have to do is whisper the words Sun Mountain Fun Center and my gentleman friend’s offspring will sprint for the car. This is THE place to go for families looking to entertain the youngsters with bowling, billiards, bumper cars, arcade games, and more. What you may not know is that some of their super-fun outdoor activities don’t open ‘til the weather turns warm. The go-karts started running again several weeks ago, and you can ride Friday through Sunday through mid-June when they’re operating every day of the week. The batting cages opened in April, and the outdoor mini-golf opened a bit before that. The Water Wars area won’t open until the weather turns a little bit warmer, but based on the way spring is heating up, that could be sooner than normal. Save some water balloons for me, okay?

On the road again

Seasonal road closures are commonplace in the land of snowy winters, but with the snow receding, popular highways are welcoming traffic once more. The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway opened this week, making it easy for guests to reach spots like Devil’s Lake and Sparks Lake (though Todd Lake is still closed due to snow). Crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) have been clearing the McKenzie Pass Highway, and one lane is already open for cyclists and pedestrians. Gates should open soon for motor vehicles, so stay tuned for news.

A splashin’ good time

The Big Eddy Thriller with Sun Country Tours.

The Big Eddy Thriller with Sun Country Tours.

If a whitewater raft trip is on your bucket list this summer, you’ll be thrilled to know Sun Country Tours just started running their popular daily Big Eddy Thriller raft trips again last weekend.  The adventure features class III rapids on a three-mile journey down the beautiful Deschutes River. It’s great fun for families who don’t mind getting a little soaked, and young kids can opt not to paddle if they choose. You can easily fit the trip into a morning or afternoon, and all experience levels are welcome. The cost is $53 for adults ages 13 and up, or $46 for kids 6-12. Book early, and be prepared to get wet.

 

Cascade Culinary Institute offers a unique dining experience through its student-operated restaurant, Elevation

June 20th, 2012

The lovely dining room at Elevation.

For many years, I got my hair cut at beauty schools. It was partly for the cost-savings, but also because I’m convinced that students with instructors breathing down their necks are driven to strive for perfection.

Following that same philosophy, I was delighted when I heard the concept behind Elevation. This student-operated restaurant at Central Oregon Community College’s Cascade Culinary Institute gives culinary pupils hands-on experience, while offering diners a chance to enjoy sustainable local cuisine with a farm-to-table emphasis.

Sign me up!

That’s no joke, actually, since reservations are crucial. Lunches and dinners are served prix fixe style and the dining area is often filled to capacity. $19 at lunchtime or $25 at dinner gets you a three-course meal that includes a scrumptious starter like soup or salad, an entrée, dessert, and a generous basket of fresh bread and herbed butter to kick things off.

Student chefs at Elevation have a flair for gorgeous food presentation.

A key focus at Elevation is on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. That goes beyond just buying from local farms and ranches, and extends to the excellent beer and wine menu featuring a plethora of Northwest offerings.

The menu changes frequently with the seasons and with the students’ learning curve. It would be cruel of me to gloat about the deliciousness of specific dishes, since odds are slim you’d find the same thing on the menu if you walked in tomorrow.

Just as an example though, you’ll find starters like lacinato kale with Cada Dia feta, toasted hazelnuts, and sour cherry vinaigrette. Entrées might include things like sous vide heritage pork loin with juniper, sage, spruce notes, rhubarb-shallot confit, fava beans, wheat berries, and spring onion pilaf.

Should we all pause here and breathe a collective sigh of yumminess?

The prix fixe arrangement means the menu is a bit limited, which is actually a good thing. It means the students are focused on perfecting the handful of dishes offered at a given time. You can count on four or five different selections for appetizers and salads, and a similar number of offerings for the entrée. Both the vegetarian and the gluten-intolerant diner in the Visit Bend party were able to find menu items that met their dietary needs.

The Visit Bend crew enjoying a meal.

Each time I’ve visited Elevation, I’ve been blown away by the bread with herbed butter. It’s such a simple thing, but scrumptious and very fresh.

I said I wouldn’t gloat about specific dishes, but feel compelled to share a piece of feedback from one of the Visit Bend staffers as an illustration of how hard these students work to achieve perfection. “My onion soufflé was delicious and unusual, presented on a plate that looked like a work of art,” she noted. “The soufflés were little clouds of flavor heightened by an onion jus.”

Quite an enthusiastic recommendation, no?

Admittedly, not everything is perfect at Elevation. These are students, after all, so a certain amount of slow service or skewed timing can be expected. What’s refreshing, though, is how they handle it. When appetizers arrived at sporadic intervals for the large Visit Bend party, the servers recognized the awkwardness of having the earliest-served diners eating  in front of later-served colleagues. They quickly brought extra appetizers to make up for it. Win for everyone!

It’s no secret Bend is well-known for having oodles of great restaurants and terrific cuisine. What I love about Elevation is the opportunity to be part of the process of developing the next wave of young culinary professionals poised to keep the tradition going.

Mmmm. . .goat cheesecake for dessert!

You can make a reservation online, or call 1.877.541.CHEF to book directly with the restaurant. They also offer private dining options for special parties. Keep in mind, beverages aren’t included with the prix fixe price, so budget a little extra for that.

And save me a bite of dessert, will you? That’s the best part.
Elevation on Urbanspoon


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