An abundance of family-friendly fun in Bend, Oregon!
My whole life, I’ve been certain of one thing – I have zero desire to birth offspring.
That’s why I appreciate the irony of finding myself at age 37 in an unexpected and amazing relationship with a guy who just happens to have created the most fabulous six-year-old girl and ten-year-old boy on the planet.
Funny how life works.
One thing I’ve learned in a year of hanging around kids is that you can do a lot of super cool things for the sake of entertaining them. Here are some of my favorite family-friendly activities in Bend:
Explore and discover!
The first time I suggested the High Desert Museum to my gentleman friend’s offspring, they said they’d been there a week before. I assumed they’d have no desire to return right away, but realized my mistake when they ran to the car and shrieked, “let’s go!”
The kids never tire of watching the otter, scouting streams for fish, pointing at snakes in terrariums, or learning about the culinary habits of the lynx and bobcat. Creatures aside, there’s always a cool selection of new exhibits designed to appeal to visitors of all ages.
If organized tours are more your family’s speed, there are several great options available. In the winter months, Wanderlust Tours offers moonlight and starlight snowshoe tours perfect for active kids ages 8 and up. The $65 price tag includes snowshoes, instruction, transportation, and most importantly, hot chocolate.
Another great Wanderlust trip that’s awesome anytime of year is the cave tour. Kids will love donning headlamps and exploring the nooks and crannies of Central Oregon’s lava tubes, and Wanderlust’s professional naturalist guides do a great job with stories and trivia that appeal to kids 5 and up. The whole family can crunch wintergreen lifesavers in the pitch-black cave and watch the light show that ensues! The cave tour is $55 for adults or $50 for kids under 12, which is the same price as Wanderlust’s volcano tour (which I haven’t tried, but can’t wait to book this summer!)
For families with an interest in food, farms, critters, or just an old-fashioned good time in the Central Oregon outdoors, The Well Traveled Fork offers the Farm & Ranch Tour. Kids of all ages will love getting up close and personal pigs, sheep, chickens, cows, and alpacas. Owner Chef Bette is passionate about teaching kids where food comes from, and many of her cooking classes are geared toward families.
For families with an artsy side, the Roundabout Art Route is a great way to check out Bend’s amazing collection of public art. Pick up a map at the Bend Visitor Center and do a self-guided tour at your own pace, or head out with GETIT Shuttle for John Flannery’s fabulous Bend Art Safari tour. The $25 per person price tag will be money well spent for awesome art insights from one of Bend’s most engaging and entertaining tour operators. Earn a special chocolate prize for answering trivia questions about 10 of the 20 roundabout art displays!
If you’re willing to travel just a few short miles east of town, Petersen Rock Garden offers an eclectic sightseeing option. Kids will love crawling around on rock creations, inspecting crystals in the on-site museum, and admiring the peacocks that stroll the four-acre property. Admission is based on the honor system with donation boxes at the entrance.
Run ‘em ragged!
For families with a taste for outdoor adventure, Bend is a veritable paradise. If your kids are 13 or older, Cog Wild offers incredible mountain bike tours ranging from half-day trips to multi-day adventures packed with great food and all fresh air and gorgeous scenery you can handle. They have a huge fleet of bikes to rent, and offer tours that range from expert to brand new newbie.
If you fancy sliding around with strange footwear strapped to your feet, consider roller skating at Cascade Indoor Sports. The $8 general admission includes skate rental, or skate for just $5 if you bring your own equipment. Kids 5-8 skate for $5, or it’s free for those under 5. My gentleman friend’s offspring particularly enjoyed choosing between rollerblades and regular four-wheeled skates. During winter months, there are oodles of ice skating options around Central Oregon. We hit the ice at the new rink in Redmond on New Year’s Eve, and within an hour, both young’uns were sliding along with minimal assistance while giggling like fiends.
If you’re craving indoorsy activity, check out Sun Mountain Fun Center where you can choose from bowling, arcade games, billiards, or bumper cars. The warmer months offer outdoor mini-golf, go-karts, or batting cages. The bumper cars are one of our favorite attractions here, though the experience left me dreading the day the kids obtain their drivers licenses.
Bouncing Off the Wall is another great option indoor exercise. This inflatable family fun center even offers special discount nights every first and third Thursday, with a large pizza, pitcher of soda, and admission for a family of four for only $20.
There are oodles of options for family-friendly hikes on Visit Bend’s hiking page, but my personal favorite is Pilot Butte State Park. This 500-foot cinder cone juts up from the center of the city, and offers 360-degree views from the top. It’s an easy hike even for the six-year-old (who prefers to undertake the endeavor with a Ziploc baggie of apple slices).
Feed the beasts!
At some point, children inevitably require fuel. Flatbread Community Oven in Bend’s Old Mill Districtis an awesome option for kids who enjoy playing with their food. For $5.25, kids 12 and under get a soda, dessert, and the opportunity to make their own mini-pizzas. My gentleman friend’s offspring had a great time smearing their dough with the perfect amount of sauce, arranging the cheese and pepperoni just-so, and watching as the chef shoved their creations into the wood-fired ovens. Parents will appreciate the gourmet pizzas and salads, along with the fabulous beer and wine selection.
Those with a sweet tooth won’t want to miss the Goody’s Ice Cream Factory Tours. It’s a great chance to see the inner-workings of this Central Oregon sweet-spot and sample a variety of candies and ice cream. At $2 for anyone over 3, it’s a pretty sweet deal. The ten-year-old suffers from nut and egg allergies, and we were impressed our tour guide went out of her way to make sure he got extras of the non-allergen items to make up for what he missed.
Because I’m an admitted cheapskate, I’m always scouting for kids-eat-free specials. One of my favorites is Longboard Louie’s, where kids eat free on Saturdays and Sundays when parents purchase a meal. The young’uns love picking between the quesadilla, nachos, a burrito, or fish & chips all served with chips and a drink. From now though the end of ski season, Kayo’s Dinnerhouse (another local hot-spot with terrific happy hour specials) offers a kids-eat-free deal when you bring in your lift ticket or season pass.
No matter what family-friendly adventures you choose when you here, we can promise you this much – you’re going to have the time of your life in Bend!
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