Bend Oregon Blog | The Bend Buzz by Visit Bend
It turned out to be pretty popular, which makes sense since the venue itself can draw up to 8,000 patrons per show.
But there’s more than one concert venue in Bend, a fact I’ve been reminded of over the last couple weeks as I’ve purchased tickets to see The Wailin’ Jennys at The Tower Theatre, Lord Huron at the Athletic Club of Bend, and Band of Horses at Century Center.
Every single one of those venues has different rules for seating, purchasing tickets, and what you’re allowed to bring inside, and I encourage you to check their websites for specifics.
But I wanted to offer a bit of broader advice to help you (and everyone around you!) enjoy your concert experience to the fullest.
Where can I park my butt, and where can I shake it?
Some concerts are hard-rockin’ parties where everyone smooshes together to dance like some big multi-headed groove monster. Other concerts have attendees sitting quietly in their numbered seats with their hands folded in their laps.
Since you’re not likely to see “multi-headed groove monster” on a venue’s website, you need to do some homework.
First things first. Check the website not just for the venue where the concert is being held, but for that specific artist. A Phish concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater might not allow blankets or chairs at all, while a Jackson Browne concert at the same venue might have separate areas for numbered seats, dancing zones, and the general admission zone where folks stake out spots with blankets and low-backed chairs. Find out what’s allowed at that exact venue for that exact show.
But that’s only half the story.
Every concert has its own vibe and its own unspoken rules, so this is where you’ll have to do some people watching. Once you’ve purchased your tickets and arrived at the show, study the folks around you. See that couple seated on the blanket? Don’t put your tall chair in front of them. That’s bad concert karma.
Go find a nice spot in front of some other folks with chairs. (Sidenote: Make sure you measure the height of your chair beforehand to be sure it conforms to the venue’s rules. I’ve seen many-a-concertgoer get turned away for a chair that’s too tall).
Okay, so now what? Well, you’ve gotta wait for the music to start. If everyone around you stays seated, you should do the same. But if you’re itching to shake it like a Polaroid picture, odds are good you’re not alone. Watch the crowd to spot your fellow boogie buds. If they start popping up like prairie dogs to dance in place, go ahead and do the same. You’ll likely spark a big wave of happy feet.
But if the dancers start streaming to a spot at the front of the stage or off to the side, go join them there. That way the folks who want to stay seated can do that, while you and your new dance pals rock it hard in your own little dance zone.
Shhh! No talking
It doesn’t matter if you’re watching an opera performance at the The Tower Theatre or a hip-hop performer in the middle of the street at the Bend Fall Festival. Carrying on a conversation that lasts the whole concert is soooo not cool. A few quiet remarks to your buddies is fine. A whispered observation to your spouse is no problem.
But yammering at your friends through the whole show is a good way to add “enemies” to the list of souvenirs acquired on your Bend vacation.
About those assigned seats…
Some shows are general admission and some have ticketed seats. Some have a mix of both. You’ll know which kind of ticket you’re holding before you walk into the venue.
But there’s a funny thing I’ve seen happen at ticketed shows. Folks with several people in their party will go shopping online and realize there aren’t enough seats all together in the row they want. “I’ll just buy these three single seats in row two,” the concertgoer thinks to himself. “We can ask everyone to shuffle around so we can sit together.”
Guys, no. This isn’t an airplane. The folks who’ve purchased front-and-center seats in that aisle did so because that’s where they wanted to sit. And the guy a few seats down isn’t too eager to scooch to a spot that requires him to crane his neck for a good view of the stage.
If your concert ticket has a seat assigned to it, please sit in that seat. You can meet up with your pals along the Bend Ale Trail after the show to talk about how much the experience rocked.
Kids and concerts
Just because you have a couple mini-mes in tow doesn’t mean you should miss out on your favorite concert.
But it does mean you have to pay extra-close attention to the whole “assessing the vibe around you” stuff I mentioned above. It also means you have to check the concert website extra-super-duper close to make sure it’s not an 18-and-older or 21-and-older show.
But assuming you’ve done that, here’s the deal: I’ve taken my step-kids to oodles of shows at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. Sometimes there’s a big mob of kids doing cartwheels off to the side, and as long as they’re not bugging anyone and you’re watching to make sure they’re safe, it’s cool to let your offspring join the fun.
Where problems arise is when you park screamy, squirrelly kids in front of that childless couple who just wants to sit quietly and watch the concert. That’s no bueno. Keep your eyes peeled for other families at the venue, and go sit nearby. Folks who don’t want to sit near kids will know to steer clear, and your youngsters might even make new friends.
It’s also worth noting there are tons of Bend concerts that are super-duper kid-friendly. Check out the Free Summer Sundays concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater on Sundays, or the Wednesday shows in Drake Park for the Munch & Music concerts. Those are great places to let your young’uns get up and groove while you enjoy the live music in your own way.
Preferably with a glass of wine in hand.
August is here, so it’s officially my birthday month in Bend.
Thank you, thank you . . . you can go ahead and send gifts to the Bend Visitor Center.
In all seriousness, just being in Bend right now is a gift for me. The weather is warm, the nights are starry, and there’s an air of festivity that (much to my amazement) has little to do with strangers wanting to celebrate the month of my birth.
Here are five reasons I love August—my birthday month—in Bend, Oregon.
A high-altitude dinner
One of my favorite summertime rituals is dining at the stunning altitude of 7,800 feet above sea level. If you think the views would be incredible, you’re absolutely right. If you think August (with its warm temps and getting-earlier-every-evening sunsets) would be the best time to enjoy it, you’re also right.
Each year, Mt. Bachelor serves up sunset dinners at their Pine Marten Lodge beginning in July and going through early September. It’s a narrow window of time, and reservations go super-quick, but oh, what a view!
The food is spectacular, the wine and beer list impressive, and did I mention the views?
Visit their website for dates, times, and reservation info. Also, remember to bundle up and bring extra layers. It gets chilly up there!
The sunsets, oh, the sunsets!
Sunsets are spectacular all year long in Bend, but there’s something about sunsets in August that makes them extra colorful.
Okay, fine. That “something” might be smoke from forest fires around the Pacific Northwest, which turns normal sunset hues into Technicolor glory. Reds, oranges, pinks, purples . . . you’ll see all the colors of the Crayola box in August’s evening skies.
Check out this post for ideas on the best spots to catch a summertime sunset in Bend.
Wanna get fresh?
Our growing season is short in Central Oregon, which can be tricky for local restaurants that specialize in locally-sourced food. But August is a time of bounty, so it’s a great time to hit dining spots with on-site gardens or a reputation for snagging the best local produce.
Chow has a glorious array of garden beds on their property, and their menu reflects it this time of year. Ask your server what’s fresh that day, and choose your meal based on what’s being harvested just a few feet away at that very moment.
Worthy Brewing is another spot with on-site gardens that yield much of the restaurant’s produce. They also have their own hop growing yard, which doubles as a research facility for Oregon State University. That means you can eat and drink the best of what’s fresh and local.
Some like it hot
I’m perpetually freezing, which might be attributable to a low-functioning thyroid or to my co-workers’ great love of air conditioning. Take your pick.
But since August brings some of the high desert’s toastiest temperatures, I absolutely revel in it. I could spend all day out on my standup paddleboard letting the bright sun beat down on me, and then head to happy hour at Anthony’s or Greg’s Grill or one of Bend’s other amazing riverfront dining spots (there are 11 of them!) to soak up the last rays of sunshine.
If you share my fondness for long days with glorious, warm sunshine, you’ll love August in Bend.
What’s got everyone so giddy?
There’s a noticeable jubilation in the air when it’s August in Bend. People are skipping along hiking trails or dancing at concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. They’re strolling hand-in-hand around Downtown Bend, and they’re splashing on the beach at Riverbend Park.
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of people in Bend when August rolls around. It’s peak tourist season, and that means a whole lot of bodies are packed together.
But the happy, smiling, laughing faces attached to those bodies? Priceless.
I’m currently on a family vacation in Mexico, and as you might imagine, there was a whirlwind of packing chaos in the days before the trip. Should I squish sunscreen into TSA-approved 3oz bottles, or just buy it when I get there? Do I need something fancy to wear, or will a simple sundress suffice?
While I don’t yet know the answers to those questions, I do know what you should pack for a Bend vacation. In fact, I blogged a whole packing list a couple years ago.
But the flip side of that is equally important. What are the things you shouldn’t bother packing? The stuff that’ll only take up space you should be saving for all those souvenirs you’ll bring back?
Here are six things that made my do-not-pack list.
Let me be clear that I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear sunscreen. You definitely should, even in the dead of winter. Bend’s altitude and high desert climate make you extra susceptible to sunburn, so be sure to grease up whether you’re lounging by the pool or hitting the slopes at Mt. Bachelor.
But there are tons of places to load up on SPF once you arrive in Bend, so there’s no sense risking a ruptured bottle in your duffle bag or a frustratingly crammed TSA-approved baggie in your carry-on luggage.
Consider it an opportunity for you to scope out Bend’s shopping scene while supporting the local economy. Try a great locally-made product like T’s Tonics SPF 30 Sunscreen or the variety of sun care products from Angelina’s (which has a shop in Downtown Bend). Both companies’ goodies are made with all-natural, organic ingredients and will leave your skin feeling oh-so-nice.
I love throwing on a cute sundress and strappy sandals for a summertime date night, but you know what? It’s not necessary. Walk into any Bend restaurant—even the fanciest ones—and I guarantee at least half the people will be wearing shorts or jeans.
All that to say that if you like to be dressy, rock on with your fancy-pants self. But if you’re wondering whether you need to cram in a pair of khakis or a little-black-dress for that dinner at 900 Wall or Zydeco or Jackalope Grill or Ariana or one of countless other amazing restaurants in Bend, the answer is “not unless you want to!”
This sounds counterintuitive, since I most definitely encourage you to fill a growler while you’re out swilling beer on the Bend Ale Trail.
It’s mostly that I know how cool it is to have a souvenir growler from someplace I’ve visited and want to remember fondly. So many local breweries have super-unique growlers (Deschutes Brewery and Crux Fermentation Project spring to mind). You can also splurge on a deluxe growler from Hydro Flask or DrinkTanks to ensure your brew stays icy cold and fresh. That means you can take some home, along with your sudsy memories.
I’ll admit I’m guilty of cramming my purse and carry-on with snacks when I travel. Like I honestly think there won’t be food where I’m going?!
While little kids and low blood sugar certainly warrant a snack or two tucked away in a bag, don’t make the mistake of bringing so many crackers and cookies and mixed nuts from home that you neglect to get out there and sample Bend’s local cuisine.
By all means, bring gadgets to keep the kids occupied on the road trip, or toss in a pack of playing cards to enjoy around the campfire.
But make sure you encourage the little darlings to set down the iPad and spend time looking out the window at the amazing natural beauty en route to Bend. Ditto that for the grownups in the group. There’s so much to do in Bend’s great outdoors that you won’t want to spend even a minute holed up in your hotel room playing Cards Against Humanity. I promise.
If you clicked through on my link above about what you should bring on your Bend vacation, you’ll notice I encouraged you to bring your laptop, sketch pad, musical instrument, or camera. There’s something about Bend that fosters great creativity, and as an author who spent part of her honeymoon working on a book with a tight deadline, believe me—I’m the last person in the world to tell you not to bring work on your vacation.
But do it in moderation. If you’ve promised your boss you’ll do a little work on vacation, consider the amount you think you’ll do and cut it in half. Seriously. Don’t shortchange your Bend vacation by spending too much time keeping up on work email. It’ll still be there when you get back, but your time in Bend is precious and short. Use it wisely.
Is there anything more serene, more inspiring, more enchanting, than an evening spent gazing up at the stars in wonder?
While you can check out the astral wonders almost any time of year in Bend, summer is primo season for stargazing, with warmer nights and clear skies. Here are 6 spots in Bend and Central Oregon to get your star fix.
Pine Mountain Observatory
The crème de la crème when it comes to Central Oregon stargazing, the Pine Mountain Observatory is located 26 miles southeast of Bend at an elevation of 6,500. To put that into perspective, Bend is at 3,600 feet, so even during the warmest months of summer, you’ll want to pack a few extra layers to avoid freezing your butt off.
But oh what a view you’ll have once you get there! Since this observatory is part of the University of Oregon Physics Department, they have the biggest and best equipment you could possibly imagine. You can try out a telescope of aperture 15, 24, and 32-inches, or just wander around staring up at the sky with your naked eyes.
The facility is open to the public May through September, and hours are limited. Go here for schedule info, directions, and more useful details.
The Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center
The stargazing in Central Oregon is so awesome, we have not one, but two observatories within 30 minutes of Bend!
Like Pine Mountain, the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center (which you’ll also see referenced as the Sunriver Observatory) requires a little drive time to reach. Located at the Sunriver Nature Center, the Observatory is about 19 miles southwest of Bend. They boast the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the entire country, which is pretty impressive. There are too many to describe them all, but you can go here to see a complete list of both lunar and solar telescopes.
The Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center also boasts a nice, long season, with a schedule that spans from spring through fall and even offers some occasional wintertime hours. Their website has up-to-date info on everything from scheduled hours to private parties to school programs and more.
Bonus: Daytime viewings and solar telescopes give you a chance to scan the skies long before the sun sets.
Nighttime adventures with Wanderlust Tours
Looking for a way to combine outdoor adventure with a chance to be dazzled by the night sky? Wanderlust Tours has you covered whether it’s the height of summer or the chilly days of winter!
During the summer months, head out on one of the high Cascade Lakes with an epic Starlight or Moonlight Canoe Tour (the difference being the phase of the moon, of course). Your naturalist guide will point out constellations and planets, and pack your brain full of awesome information about everything from trees to animals to the geology of Central Oregon.
In the wintertime, take your pick between the Moonlight or Starlight Snowshoe Tours, or their ever-popular Bonfire on the Snow snowshoe tour. Both are a terrific way to revel in glittery fields of snow underfoot and glittery blankets of stars overhead.
No telescopes are needed, but they do provide all the gear you’ll need for canoeing or snowshoeing, plus snacks, transportation, and the best education you could possibly ask for on Bend’s natural wonders.
High Desert Museum
While there’s no planetarium or permanent exhibit devoted to the stars, you’ll frequently find programs and temporary exhibits celebrating the night sky at the High Desert Museum.
For instance, next week (July 25-29, 2016) there’s a Kids’ Camp for second and third graders called Out of This World. Kids will learn about Sir Isaac Newton, investigate zero gravity, explore the solar system, and even launch a rocket. While next week’s camp is full, there’s currently a wait list, so contact them if your little astronaut would like a shot at getting called up.
And in the meantime, keep your eyes on their website for more amazing programs and exhibits being added to the schedule constantly.
Set out on your own
Prefer to have a little privacy for your stargazing adventures? There are lots of spots to throw down your blanket and gaze heavenward for a clear view of the night sky.
If you want to stick close to the center of Bend, just seek out spots a bit removed from the bright lights of downtown or surrounding neighborhoods. Sprawl out on a soccer field at Pine Nursery Park, or don your headlamp for a sunset hike up Pilot Butte (uh, you’ll want to switch off that light for the best star views!)
Willing to drive a bit? The Oregon Badlands Wilderness just east of town is a nice wide-open area away from the city lights. Keep in mind you’re venturing into a wilderness area at night, so be smart about staying on the trails and sticking close to your vehicle.
Other primo spots for solo stargazing include the Dee Wright Observatory, anyplace east of Horse Butte, and any campsite up at the high Cascade Lakes.
Also, Brasada Ranch makes an excellent spot to enjoy a nice dinner and a bit of stargazing on the lawn before you head back to your Bend hotel or vacation rental.
Coming soon to Worthy Brewing
I’m jumping the gun a bit with this one, but I’m so freakin’ excited that it’s worth including!
Worthy Brewing is known for its killer beers, fabulous food, and unique location on the Northeast edge of Bend. It’s the unique location that puts them in a primo spot for stargazing, so the powers-that-be decided to do something about that.
Earlier this summer, they began construction on a brand new Hopservatory. The dome was installed earlier this week, and the brewery has ordered a state-of-the-art telescope that customers will be able to use.
The Hopservatory is expected to be complete sometime in the fall of 2016, but for those who want to scope things out a little early, Worthy has partnered up with the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center. From 8:30-10 p.m. on Monday, July 25, and Mondays August 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, Observatory staff will be on hand with a telescope for customers to use. They’ll also offer solar viewing on Saturdays from 12- 2 p.m. July 16, 23, and 30 as well as August 6, 13, 20, and 27.
Keep an eye on the Worthy Facebook page for news on grand openings and special star viewing parties. In the meantime, you’d better start sampling some Worthy beers so you know which pairs best with a heaping scoop of stars.
I was taken aback. Was he cuckoo? Was he on his phone? Was he smiling at me?
The answer seemed to be “no,” though I did smile back and he waved and we went our merry way in opposite directions.
But it got me thinking about how often I see people around Bend grinning from ear to ear for no apparent reason. Well, there’s one apparent reason. They’re in Bend.
So here are a four specific things about Bend that make me smile on a regular basis.
There’s a reason I thought the aforementioned guy might be smiling at me, and it’s not that I’m too sexy for my shirt.
Strangers smile at each other all the time here, whether they’re passing one another on a mountain biking trail or while shopping in the Old Mill District. I’ve traveled a lot in my 41 years on this planet, and I haven’t been too many other places in the world where people are this outright friendly to folks they don’t know.
It’s one of the things I love best about Bend.
I’m not talking about the smells emanating from the backseat when you’re on a road trip with kids (those are rarely smile-worthy). I’m talking about the unique-to-Bend olfactory triggers that make you breathe a little deeper, then sigh and say, “Man, I’m glad to be here.”
My two personal faves are the smell of desert sage warming in the sun and the oh-so-Bendesque scent of juniper after a rainstorm. And speaking of rainstorms, few things smell more amazing than the ozone in the high desert air when a mid-summer thunderstorm hits.
And let’s not forget food smells! Stroll around Downtown Bend or the Old Mill District about an hour before dinnertime to have your senses filled with the most delectable aromas wafting from dozens of award-winning restaurants lining the banks of the Deschutes River or dotting the quaint, historic downtown streets.
If one of our local breweries is working up a fresh batch of beer (which is pretty much always) stop and savor the hoppy, malty fragrance drifting along the breeze. Consider it your own little reassurance that it’ll be even better once it’s poured into a pint glass and set down in front of you.
If you’re ever having a bad day, drive to one of Bend’s eight off-leash areas, sit yourself down on a bench, and observe. If you’re not smiling after five minutes of watching that parade of tail wagging, butt sniffing, giddy-doggy happiness, you’re probably dead inside.
Bend is a dog town (as evidenced by Dog Fancy naming us the nation’s dog-friendliest city) so you’ll probably witness canine glee even if you don’t visit a dog park.
Not really a dog person? No problem! You’ll find plenty of fluffy and not-so-fluffy critters all over Bend, and their antics are sure to make your cheek muscles twitch. Scope out otters at the High Desert Museum, or ogle pigs and cows on the Farm & Ranch Tour from the Well Traveled Fork.
For a roundup of 10 places to get your critter fix in Bend, go here.
I was running late for work the other day and got caught at a traffic light. As I sat there in my car muttering to myself about slow drivers and my own inability to dress myself in a hasty fashion, I caught sight of the mountains shimmering in the distance beyond the stoplight. I stopped muttering and thought, “Man, I’m lucky to be here.”
Plunk yourself down virtually anywhere in Bend I guarantee there’s a breathtaking view within a few hundred feet of where you’re standing. From the big things like rivers and mountains and sunsets, to the small things like the small, hopefully-bright wildflowers poking through a fissure in some lava rock, there are a million beautiful things in Bend that will put a smile on your face for no cost whatsoever. It’s the cheapest form of therapy around.
Now get out there and enjoy it.
There’s something about a good fish taco that just screams “summer.” This is probably why I love eating them even when it’s 30-degrees in the middle of December.
Despite being nearly 200 miles from the ocean, Bend has a deliciously abundant selection at fish tacos in fine restaurants, breweries, and little taquerias around the city. Here are eleven of the best.
This is the fish taco that sparked this whole blog post. A friend recommend the blackened steelhead tacos at Worthy Brewing, I ordered them, and life has never been the same.
You get three tacos with your meal and a generous side of tropical fruit salsa. Both the salsa and the hearty slabs of avocado help tone down the spiciness just a touch, and the flavors blend together in a perfect medley of creamy, tangy, and peppy. The blackened steelhead is moist and flavorful and surrounding tortillas are made with a blend of corn and flour. The cilantro-kale slaw and chipotle aioli rounds out the flavor profile perfectly.
Use your Worthy time wisely by pairing your fish tacos with a tasty Worthy beer. The menu recommends the Coeur de la Peche Saison, which is a fine choice, but I was partial to the hoppy dimensions of the Tower Encode IPA. If the weather allows it, nab an outdoor table on Worthy’s expansive patio.
Ask any crowd of Bend locals to name their favorite fish tacos and I guarantee you’ll hear at least a couple votes for Parilla Grill. There’s a good reason for that.
Parillla’s fish tacos are a carnival of textures and flavors that’ll make your mouth happy. There’s the crunch of the hand-breaded fish filets, the pillowy softness of their fresh flour tortillas, the zip of the corn salsa, and the creamy zing of their famous fish sauce. Add a sprinkle of cheese and a generous helping of spinach and cabbage, and you’ve got a meal that’s not only pleasing to the palate, but to your mother (who always reminded you to eat all four food groups in one sitting).
You can pick and choose your condiments as you move through the line, but I suggest just answering “yes” when they ask if you’d like the recommendations. That’ll ensure your tacos are served up exactly the way nature (or at least Parilla) intended. Personally, I sometimes request they go a little light on the fish sauce, since that flavor can dominate when applied too generously.
Since these are some of the largest tacos in the roundup, make sure you plan according to your appetite when deciding whether to order the trio or individual tacos. Leave room for the killer kombucha they have on tap, or better yet, one of their famous margaritas.
I’m so in love with the tacos at El Sancho that I don’t even know where to begin singing their praises. Is it the tender mildness of the mahi mahi they use? Is it the perfect, simple freshness of their cabbage slaw with cilantro dressing? Is the creamy goodness of their fresh crema and avocado salsa? Is it the fact that they’re perfectly sized for easy eating with little risk of toppings glopping out onto your lap?
It’s all of those things, of course. But it’s also the friendly, bustling casual atmosphere of the place itself. Their taco menu is simply staggering, and everything on it is scrumptious. Though the focus of this post is fish tacos, the fact that you can order everything individually means you should leave room in your belly for a few other options like barbacoa, mushroom, or even lengua (yes, beef tongue) tacos.
But don’t fill up entirely on tacos. You haven’t lived until you’ve sampled their to-die-for candied yams, which make a great side dish for everyone to share. Pair it all with their refreshing passionfruit limeade, and you’ve got yourself a meal that’ll make your whole summer.
By now you’ve noticed everyone has a different opinion about which type of fish goes best in fish tacos. At Barrio, you’re not limited to one choice. Pick between salmon and grilled rockfish, or round out your taco trio by getting one of each, plus a third taco of your choosing.
This may be a silly detail to praise so heartily, but one of the best things about Barrio is the way they present their tacos in a spiffy little server that holds all three upright. Taco connoisseurs will appreciate how this keeps all the fixins’ in place and makes everything easy to eat.
Barrio tends to be extra-super-generous with the fish, so if you like the dominant ingredient to be of the finned variety, this is your go-to spot. If you’re looking to pair it with a cocktail, try their Tamarindo Whiskey Sour (a particularly good option when it’s discounted during happy hour).
Two varieties of fish tacos wasn’t enough for you at Barrio? How about THREE choices at Longboard Louie’s?
Their expansive fish taco menu includes rockfish, halibut, and salmon, and you can order individually or try all three (though make sure you have a hearty appetite if you go that route).
The rockfish is breaded, but the salmon is not. You have your choice between breaded or grilled with the halibut. All three are served in corn tortillas with pico de gallo, fish sauce, and generous helpings of cabbage and/or lettuce. I sampled all three and went back and forth swooning for different reasons. If pressed to pick a favorite, I’d have to vote for the breaded halibut. The fish is rich and flavorful, and a moist contrast to the crispy breading and the abundance of flavorful veggies.
You can opt to hit their famous salsa bar for an extra flavor boost, though I found these to be perfectly dressed already. Also, if you happen to be dining at the eastside Longboard Louie’s, you’ll find an infinite variety of customizable fish taco options in their build-your-own line. Both locations also have shrimp tacos, and depending on the season, I’ve occasionally been lucky enough to see crab on the menu.
I very rarely state my favorite when I do these “best of” blog posts for Visit Bend. But if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose only one set of fish tacos, I’d probably narrow it down to Spork and El Sancho. Then, after gauging the size of the gun and the proximity of the shooter, I would glance lovingly at the grilled sweet corn side dish and say, “Okay, Spork—you win this round.”
Setting aside from the nirvana that is the grilled sweet corn at Spork, the fish tacos here are mighty tasty. Made with battered and fried catfish, they’re piled with a scrumptious blend of cabbage, radish, cilantro, green onion, and a chili mayo that’s guaranteed to make your toes curl. You can add more spice if you like with the generous pile of jalapeño on the side, or squeeze on some extra lime for added zing. The grilled tortilla adds an extra smoky dimension that ties the whole thing together perfectly.
The fish tacos are made even tastier with a one of their creative cocktail concoctions. I fancied the Smoky Sunset made with rye, Townshend’s Tea Spirit Smoke Tea Liqueur, fresh lemon and orange juice, and a hint of sugar.
Did I mention the corn?
El Rancho Grande
This north-end option is a good choice for families shopping at the Cascade Village Shopping Center or returning from an afternoon of hiking at Smith Rock State Park.
The fish tacos here are made with top-quality halibut, which is a point of pride for the staff at El Rancho Grande. The fish is sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, wrapped in soft corn tortillas, dipped in red sauce, lightly fried, and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. The whole thing is topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo.
If you’re thinking that sounds like a taco you’d need to eat with a fork, you’re right. If you’re thinking parmesan sounds a little odd on a fish taco, you’re wrong. It actually lends a unique flavor to these gooey, hearty tacos that come with a generous serving of beans and rice.
This restaurant is one of my step-kids’ favorite spots for family-friendly dining, and they make a fun presentation out of birthdays. Order the fresh guacamole (made right at your table) for an extra treat!
If you’re a sucker for grilled food, Hola! is the spot for you. Both the halibut and the soft corn tortillas are grilled here, which lends a scrumptious, smoky flavor to the dish. The pico de gallo is fresh and flavorful and serves as a zingy contrast to the creaminess of avocado and sour cream.
There’s a handy convenience factor with Hola!, since they have five locations around Central Oregon. Swing by the Old Mill location if you’re shopping or watching a movie there, or stop at the Downtown Bend restaurant when you’re strolling Drake Park or hitting the historic Tower Theatre.
If you’re a cocktail aficionado, make sure you have a designated driver lined up. Unique offerings like the Vanilla Mango Mojito, the Pisco Sour (Peru’s national drink), and the Capirinhas (Brazil’s national drink) are sure to be palate pleasers and a tasty complement to your fish taco binge.
Real Food Street Bistro
This is one of two food carts at The Lot that offers fish tacos (the other is A La Carte, but more on that later). When polling local pals on their favorite spots for fish tacos, Real Food Street Bistro is one of the names I heard pretty frequently.
Panko-breaded Pacific cod is the centerpiece, and the panko adds an extra-crunchy dimension that’s a lovely contrast to the mildness of the cod. The tacos are rounded out with a chipotle avocado aioli, cilantro, feta cheese, and a pickled veggie blend that showcases this food cart’s flair for fermented food (they’re famous for their kimchee).
My favorite part of ordering at Real Food Street Bistro is their fondness for itty-bitty sides that let you try a few different things without filling up. The tacos come with a side of Himalayan red rice and black bean salad that’s a delicious accompaniment to the main dish. For an extra couple bucks, you can add another little side salad like the cucumber/carrot/sesame one I chose.
Insider tip: I found the double tortillas a little overkill here, so ditch the outside one if you prefer more focus on the taco guts than the taco wrapper.
A la Carte
While you’ll occasionally spot fish tacos on the specialty menu at A La Carte, they’re not a regular menu staple here. But don’t let that stop you from hitting this tasty little food cart and grabbing an order of their shrimp tacos to keep your tastebuds on their toes.
Served in a smoky grilled tortilla, these tacos feature a handful of plump shrimp nestled in a flavorful blend of pineapple salsa, cotija, sweet onion, cilantro, radis, cabbage, and a drizzle of their tasty citrus sour cream. The overall flavor profile is very tropical, so go here if you’re feeling extra beachy.
Bonus: A La Carte sells the most deliciously sinful fries you’ll ever taste. If you’ve hit the Bend Ale Trail a little too hard, get your grease fix with their gorgonzola bacon fries cooked in peanut oil and served with gorgonzola aioli, chopped bacon, green onions, Cajun seasoning, and fresh gorgonzola.
Bend Brewing Company
Bend’s second-oldest brewery has long been one of my favorites for their proximity to the Deschutes River, their super-awesome kids’ menu, and for Ching Ching (their oh-so-yummy sour beer). But their brand new, recently-unveiled menu featured something I hadn’t seen there before—fish tacos!
Bend Brewing Company’s version features sriracha-seasoned mahi mahi in white corn tortillas with cabbage, cilantro, lime sour cream, and pineapple pico de gallo. The pineapple is what really makes this dish, plus the perfectly-petite size of these tacos makes them a lovely lighter lunch fare. They’re served with a side of chips and locally-made O’Hana salsa.
And since you’re on vacation anyway, go ahead and pair that lunch with a 22-ounce bottle of Ching Ching (since it’s only available on draft at certain times of the year) or a pint of their tasty Elk Lake IPA. Cheers!
There’s a reason Travel + Leisure just named Bend one of America’s best towns for 4th of July.
Actually, there are about a million reasons. From old-fashioned pancake feeds and sack races, to bountiful opportunities to hike, bike, paddle, and explore the great outdoors, Bend has everything you could possibly want for an Independence Day celebration.
If you’re lucky enough to spend Independence Day 2016 in Bend, here’s what you need to know!
Q: Where can I watch Fourth of July fireworks in Bend?
A: Each year, fireworks are launched from the top of Pilot Butte at 10 p.m. If you have any friends who live in an elevated area of northeast Bend, try to procure an invitation to their Independence Day barbecue. Bring beer.
If that’s not an option, you can see fireworks from just about any spot in town with a view of Pilot Butte. City parks are popular viewing spots, so check the Parks & Rec site to find one near you. Al Moody Park (near the base of Pilot Butte) is a locals’ favorite, but you’ll want to get there early with a blanket or chairs.
Q: What special events are happening for July 4?
A: Bend’s old-fashioned 4th of July celebration is like something out of a Normal Rockwell painting. Watermelon-eating contests, dunk tanks, scavenger hunts, and sack races will keep you hopping (so to speak) all day long.
Things kick off early with the annual Pancake Breakfast in Drake Park sponsored by the Bend Sunrise Lion’s Club. This all-American meal is served from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and proceeds support local charities.
Once you’ve stuffed your face with hotcakes and bacon, stroll into Downtown Bend for the annual Pet Parade. It’s Bend’s largest parade, with 8,000 spectators and participants, and it’s been happening since the 1930s. Starting at 10 a.m., the parade winds its way through downtown with a kooky array of humans, canines, and farm animals, many of whom will be attired in bizarre costumes.
If you or your kids want to march in the parade, the lineup and decorating party takes place at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot between Bond and Wall across from the Deschutes Public Library. Temps will likely be in the 80s this year, so keep your kids’ and pets’ comfort in mind when planning costumes.
If you just want to watch, you can park your chair pretty much anywhere in Downtown Bend. Streets will be closed from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and parking can be tough to find, so get there nice and early.
After the parade, head over to Drake Park for the aforementioned Old Fashioned July 4 Festival. From 11-4, enjoy games, live music, a variety of food booths, kids’ activities, and more than 130 artisan booths.
Craving a more intimate celebration? Brasada Ranch (just 16 miles northeast of Bend ) is hosting a variety of Independence Day events including a traditional county fair and old-fashioned barbecue. You can enjoy great food, live music, lawn games, and panoramic views of three (yes, THREE) firework shows across the region. Go here for pricing and event schedule.
Q: Uh-oh…Tumalo State Park is full. Where can I camp?
A: Independence Day is typically one of the busiest times of the year in Bend, and 2016 will be especially crazy with the holiday falling on a Saturday. A good starting point is Visit Bend’s complete roundup of campgrounds and RV parks. While we can’t guarantee availability on a busy holiday weekend, these might be worth trying if you strike out elsewhere:
- The area around the Cascade Lakes has several options, including Gull Pointand Crane Prairie.
- Near Newberry Crater, try Cinder Hill campground.
- Want to stay near Sisters? Try Perry South or Sisters Creekside Campground.
- State Parks are another option for those willing to drive 20-40 minutes. Smith Rock State Parkhas great spots for tent campers, while La Pine State Park, Cove Palisades, and Prineville Reservoir can all accommodate both RVs and tents.
- Some tent campers might enjoy the solitude and primitive experience of dispersed campingin the Ochoco or Deschutes National forests.
- RV enthusiasts will also find hookups and bathrooms with showers at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds RV Park. Though Bachelordoesn’t have hookups, they do offer bathrooms and showers in the Guest Services building for those who want to park their RVs in the designated area at the mountain.
Q: What about hotels?
A: Bend has tons of amazing hotels, but the odds of you scoring a last-minute room for 4th of July weekend are about the same as the odds it will snow that day.
Luckily, there are a number of neighboring towns that may (emphasis on may) have rooms available. Try Redmond (20 minutes away), Sisters (25-30 minutes away), Sunriver (25-30 minutes away), La Pine (45 minutes away), or Prineville (45 minutes away).
Q: Where can I play in the Deschutes River?
A: We have a whole web page devoted to this! Find out about canoeing, kayaking, standup paddling, and river float trips in Bend. To get the inside scoop on floating on the Deschutes River the way the locals do it, check out this blog post.
Q: What hikes are open?
A: This page from the Forest Service offers up-to-the-minute trail conditions and closure info. You can also refer to Visit Bend’s hiking page for ideas about where to go. Cascade Hiking Adventures is another terrific resource for hiking ideas.
Q: What things are open on July 4?
A: Mt. Bachelor will launch their official summer operations on July 4 this year. That’s a great opportunity to head up there for scenic lift rides, lunch at Pine Marten Lodge, disc golf, and downhill mountain biking off the Sunshine Accelerator Lift. The sunset dinners and sled dog rides will open the following week on July 8, 2016.
Though the High Desert Museum is closed on Independence Day, be sure to stop by on a different day during your trip. The newly-renovated otter exhibit opened recently, so it’s a good chance to get a look at these playful creatures in their brand new habitat. You should also check their schedule and time your visit for one of their stellar Raptors of the High Desert shows.
And of course, the Bend Visitor Center will be open on Independence Day from 9-5 for all your visitor information needs (and to redeem Bend Ale Trail atlases, of course!)
Q: We enjoy the Bend Buzz blog so much that we’d like to buy you a beer. What kind do you like?
A: Why thank you! I’ll take anything from around the Bend Ale Trail, but my personal faves are Hop Venom from Boneyard Brewing, Off Leash from Crux Fermentation Project, Pinedrops from Deschutes Brewery, Ching Ching from Bend Brewing Company, and pretty much any sour they happen to be serving up at 10 Barrel.
The first day of summer arrived earlier this week, with Summer Solstice ushering in Bend’s sunniest season on June 20, 2016.
I’ve admittedly been celebrating the arrival of a new season for several months already (occasionally while wearing mittens) but there are a few undeniable signs that summer has really, truly arrived in Bend. Here are five of ‘em.
Everyone’s playing on the Deschutes River
The most devoted river floaters started hitting the water before the icy edges were melted, but now you can stroll the Old Mill District any day of the week and see happy inner-tubers drifting along beside kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards, and the occasional random dude riding in his recycling bin (yep, I saw this once). Visit our website to get the inside scoop on floating the river in Bend.
But there are other ways to play on the river if floating doesn’t float your boat (so to speak). Sun Country Tours is off and running for the season with their whitewater rafting trips. If you prefer a mellower form of water recreation, try a canoe outing with Wanderlust Tours or call Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe about their kayak adventures.
Got your doggie’s costume ready?
Fourth of July is my favorite holiday of the year, and the buzz has already begun for Independence Day 2016 celebrations in Bend.
There are tons of cool things scheduled for this year, ranging from Old Fashioned 4th of July Festival and pancake feed, to the annual fireworks display launched from atop Pilot Butte at 10 p.m.
But my very favorite event of all is Bend’s annual Pet Parade. It’s Bend’s largest parade, with 8,000+ spectators and participants, and it’s been happening since the 1930s. Critters and humans of all shapes and sizes march the route in costume, and it’s a display of small-town awesomeness guaranteed to warm your heart whether you’re participating or just watching. Make sure you arrive early for a good spot!
Catch a killer sunset
Bend’s sunsets are great all year long, but they take on an almost otherworldly magnificence in the summer months. Some of that is due to the prevalence of forest fires around the west throughout the summer and the way the light filters through drifting smoke.
Regardless of the reason, you haven’t truly experienced Bend until you’ve watched (and photographed!) at least one summer sunset in Bend. For ideas on the best spots to enjoy one, go here.
Hike at higher altitudes
But getting a look at high-elevation trails without the aid of snowshoes is a treat reserved for the warmer summer months. While you’ll still see chunks of snow dotting the ground the higher you get, now’s the time to visit favorite destinations off the Cascade Lakes Highway, including Devil’s Lake, Sparks Lake, Elk Lake, and more.
Don’t forget sunblock, extra layers, and a Hydro Flask of water to keep you hydrated!
Sip your suds and nosh your nibbles under the sun
Outdoor tables began popping up all over Bend a couple months ago, but now you can stroll past almost anytime and see people sitting at them in short sleeves and sundresses instead of winter coats.
Outdoor dining in Bend is one of my all-time favorite indulgences, with the smell of juniper wafting on the breeze and the high desert sun warming my shoulders. My favorite outdoor dining spots in Bend include Crux Fermentation Project and 900 Wall (which recently reopened after an impressively massive renovation). Ditto that for Currents, (the restaurant formerly known as Crossings at the Riverhouse) which just got an amazing renovation of the restaurant, lounge, and riverfront patio.
And speaking of riverfront dining, make sure you scope out my roundup of 11 great spots for riverfront dining in Bend.
Now get out there and enjoy your Bend summer!
I love animals. The fact that I live with nine of them (not counting children) should tip you off, as should the pet fur on my clothes.
But my beloved city of Bend offers more than cats and dogs and aquarium fish for the animal lovers among us. Here are 10 places you can easily get your critter fix in Bend.
The High Desert Museum
If you love animals, make sure this Central Oregon landmark is on your bucket list. Otters, porcupines, raccoons, fish, owls, eagles, hawks, tortoises, and even a bobcat are just a few of the creature highlights at the High Desert Museum.
Be sure and check their online schedule so you can time your visit with special presentations like their Raptors of the Desert Sky demo, the reptile encounter, carnivore talk, and more.
Birdwatching in the Old Mill District
If feathered friends are your thing, the Old Mill District makes it easy for you to fit a bit of birdwatching between shopping and your dinner reservation.
Stop by the Ticket Mill to pick up a free birdwatching guide and a pair of rental binoculars (also free!) Consult the schedule to find out about seasonal Nature Walks and Bird Walks with local experts who can help you identify all the little birdies you’re seeing.
Alpacas at Crescent Moon Ranch
Located less than 30 minutes north of Bend, Crescent Moon Alpaca Ranch has ranch visiting hours seven days a week in both winter and summer. This is your chance to scope out one of the largest alpaca breeders in the U.S., and to get up close and personal with these adorably fuzzy creatures.
Watch for cria (that’s a baby alpaca) in the springtime, then stop by their on-site boutique to shop for alpaca wool socks and sweaters.
The Farm & Ranch Tour with The Well Traveled Fork
Admittedly it might seem weird for an animal lover to go out and meet the creatures he or she intends to eat. But as a carnivorous animal lover myself, I love the Farm & Ranch Tour from The Well Traveled Fork precisely because it sets my mind at ease just a little.
The tours hit 3-4 farms and ranches around Central Oregon where you can see animals raised in humane, kind, compassionate environments. You also get a glimpse at organic farming practices in this tricky high desert climate.
Home on the range at DD Ranch
This beautiful ranch northeast of Bend is often one of the stops on the aforementioned Farm & Ranch tour, but if time is short or you prefer exploring alone, you can check out DD Ranch all by yourself.
This is a working ranch that’s home to cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and more. It’s known for seasonal events like the annual pumpkin patch and Easter egg hunt. They even have options for birthday parties and field trips. There’s an on-site café that’s open seasonally, along with a petting zoo the kids will love.
Check their website for visiting hours and seasonal happenings.
Visit a Fish Hatchery
While fish aren’t cute and cuddly like some of the other animals on the list, they’re still an important part of Bend’s ecosystem and pretty entertaining to boot. There are a couple different fish hatcheries in Central Oregon, including the Fall River Fish Hatchery and the Wizard Falls Hatchery.
My personal fave is Wizard Falls for the opportunity to scope out the spellbinding turquoise water on that section of the Metolius River. If you go, consider parking at the West Metolius Trailhead and hiking along the river to reach the hatchery. Don’t forget a pocketful of quarters so you can buy fish food to toss into the pond.
Visit a dog park (whether you brought Fido or not!)
Bend was named the nation’s dog-friendliest town by Dog Fancy magazine, and one of the reasons was the city’s abundance of off-leash dog parks.
Even if you don’t have a pooch of your own on vacation, it’s still fun to swing by one so you can watch the pups frolicking in the water or scampering around in grassy fields. Go here for a list of dog parks in Bend.
Scope out the Sunriver Nature Center
The Sunriver Nature Center is worth a drive any time of year for their awesome birds of prey exhibit, nature trail, and creature cave that includes snakes, frogs, lizards, and toads. But the big highlight right now is a pair of brand new baby swans (called “cygnets”) that just hatched last week.
The romance author in me loves the backstory of two hard-luck swans, Chuck and Gracie, who seemed destined to remain single forever. Chuck was known for years as a curmudgeonly biter who chased away humans and other swans. Gracie was a bit of an outcast among swans on the Deschutes River who routinely picked on her. She was found one frigid winter morning with a fishing lure stuck in her tongue, and went through surgery and rehab to save her life. To make a long story short, the two were introduced and it was (almost) love at first sight. Chuck doesn’t bite anymore, and their new swan babies are the cutest things ever. Plus there’s a live webcam so you can keep tabs on the little family after you’ve returned home.
Saddle up for some horseback riding
Want a little giddyup in your Bend vacation? There are several spots around Central Oregon where you can take in the stunning landscape from atop your trusty rented stead.
My step-kids particularly loved taking lessons at Rhinestone Ranch, and it’s conveniently located just a little east of Bend. For a more scenic outing, Brasada Ranch offers some of the most stunning 900 acres filled with mountain views and curvy trails.
Check this link for a complete roundup of horseback riding in Bend and all around Central Oregon.
Keep your eyes peeled on an outing with Wanderlust Tours
While Wanderlust Tours outings aren’t billed as animal-viewing adventures per se, their naturalist guides are experts in all kinds of critters around the high desert. If you let your guide know you’re especially interested in hearing about animals, you’ll be regaled with all sorts of info on everything from otters to owls to pine martens.
During the summer months, there’s always a good chance you’ll encounter otters, beavers, hawks, and osprey on one of their canoe tours. In the wintertime, they’ll show you how to study the snow for animal tracks when you’re out on one of their snowshoe tours.
My office in the Bend Visitor Center is roughly two kayak lengths from the front desk, which means I spend all day eavesdropping on conversations positively dripping with great Bend tips.
There’s an endless wealth of great Bend knowledge in my co-workers’ brains, so I asked them to crack those noggins wide open and share some of the best tips they have to offer. Below is very likely the best collection of insider information you’ll ever find about playing, eating, and navigating your way around Bend, Oregon.
- If someone is giving you directions and they say, “Just jump on Highway 97 and head north . . .” it means nothing, because there are two versions of Highway 97 that run north/south. They are referred to as The Parkway, and 3rd street. The distinction clears up a lot of confusion when giving newbies directions around town.
- If you can see the mountains, you are looking west.
- Make reservations for your summer trip to Bend. Otherwise, you may be pitching your tent on a dusty road in the BLM or spending your evenings in a motel 15 to 45 miles out of town.
Group Sales & Special Projects Manager
- Hiking and exploring with young children is a great way to introduce them to the great outdoors, but it’s important to plan ahead. I fill my day pack with the usual essentials like water, bug spray, and extra layers/jackets for changes in weather. It’s especially crucial to have lots of sunscreen, since the high elevation here requires frequent and careful application. Snacks are important not only to fuel little bodies, but as motivational tools for kids. Other kid-friendly hiking essentials include hats, sunglasses, and a way to clean grubby hands for snack time.
- It can be disheartening to see garbage left behind on trails and at picnic areas, and it makes me feel better to be part of the solution. I always stuff a garbage sack or dry bag into my day pack and make an effort to collect trash as I’m hiking. This is also a great way to teach my daughter about sustainability and leaving a place better than you found it.
PR & Communications Manager
- Wall and Bond are the two main streets that run parallel through Downtown Bend, and I spent at least a decade confusing the two until someone told me to remember the “W” in “Wall” is a memory jogger for “water.” In other words, Wall is the street closest to the Deschutes River, while Bond is one street over.
- When floating the river, DO remember shoes (particularly if you plan to hoof it back to your car) but DON’T wear flip-flops, as they easily slip off or get stuck in a muddy river bottom. Keens, Tevas, or water shoes are best!
- If you’re tackling a bunch of Bend Ale Trail breweries in one day, order a schooner instead of a full pint. You’ll still get to enjoy the beer (and you won’t feel like a cheapskate the way you might if you just stuck with free samples) but you won’t end up tipsy after two stops.
Vice President of Operations & Policy
- Don’t attend an evening concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater without bringing a winter jacket—even if it’s a warm summer day when you head out!
- Bend is a surprisingly easy place to dine with special dietary needs, and most restaurants know how to accommodate requests. It’s also smart to check the Bend Buzz blog for ideas on things like gluten-free dining or vegan/vegetarian food in Bend.
Visitor Center Manager
- In addition to Tawna’s idea of ordering a schooner, I also tell folks just starting the Bend Ale Trail to share a flight and hang out at their favorite afterwards.
- A great time to paddle on Sparks Lake is late afternoon to early evening. Most folks are leaving by then, and you almost have the lake to yourselves. Even better is going out just before a full moon pops up! Early morning out on the lakes is also a quiet time to paddle. Usually the wind picks up in the early afternoon.
- In the summer heat, it’s best to visit Smith Rock State Park first thing in the morning.
- When exiting our plethora of roundabouts, ALWAYS signal—it makes the traffic flow much smoother. (We all have many skills, but mind reading isn’t one of them).
- Many of the streets, particularly in midtown, are in alphabetical order (starting with Alder and ending with Xerxes). Along that line, streets typically run north/south, whereas avenues run east/west.
- Here’s a tip to use in Bend (and just about everywhere in the US with a few exceptions): Highways running north/south are named with odd numbers (Hwy 97); east/west highways have even numbers (Hwy 20). So if you find yourself a bit turned around, remember this rule.
- When heading up to the Cascade Lakes Highway, make certain to take with you: extra layers, hat, sunscreen, water, and extra snacks. Temps drop dramatically when the sun sets. Gas up before you head out. Also, don’t make headlines because you were “one of those” who was unprepared. Depending on your cell phone for directions isn’t a good idea, as coverage can be spotty up there. Stop at the Visitor Center for area maps.
- Be nice, you’re in Bend!