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Five things you can ONLY experience in Bend, Oregon


We all know Bend has great skiing, beautiful scenery, fabulous beer—pretty much the same things most mountain towns have.

But plenty of things make Bend extra-special, and a handful of those things can only be experienced right here. Allow me to share five of my favorites:


Pet a porcupine

Guess who you’ll get to meet at the High Desert Museum?

Okay, you don’t really get to touch them. But you can come pretty darn close at the High Desert Museum, where their wildlife exhibits are so interactive, you feel like you have your own pet badger. And owl. And skunk. And turkey vulture. But you don’t have to clean up after them, so isn’t that better?

The animal exhibits at the High Desert Museum are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Through April 7, you can meander through their Butterflies & Hummingbirds display and have the little winged creatures actually land on you. So cool!

Their special programs are amazing, too, and I’m especially excited about the one coming up November 17-24 twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. For one week only, you can enjoy the Survivor: Animals Adapt! program for just $6 on top of your admission fee (members pay only $4 plus admission). The program will demonstrate how animals have adapted to the high desert climate. See a Harris hawk and barn owl fly right over the audience, and watch as the owl follows the high-pitched squeak of a mouse to find his dinner. Get a close look at a porcupine and learn how he’s uniquely built to thrive in a high desert environment. Check out the skunk as he sniffs for grubs, and get a good look at a turkey vulture and a peregrine falcon (the world’s fastest animal!)

I’m planning to hit opening day of this awesome program, and while I’m pretending it’s for the educational enrichment of my gentleman friend’s two children, I’ll be honest—it’s totally for me.


Take a bath with strangers

It’s the quintessential Bend experience—cap off a day of frolicking in the snow by heading to McMenamins Old Saint Francis  for a hearty dinner and a good beer, followed by a soak in their breathtakingly gorgeous soaking pool. The pool is semi-enclosed in shimmering turquoise tile, with an open-air ceiling. In the wintertime, few things are more thrilling than sitting in the steamy, warm water while snow drifts down around you.

The pool is filled with soft, non-chlorinated saltwater, which makes for a more environmentally friendly (and a more bouyant!) soak. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight for hotel guests, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the general public. Kids are permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

What’s really cool is that your soaking experience can be anything you want it to. When we were there a few nights ago, a couple was tucked in one corner in a romantic embrace behind a veil of steam, while a group of adults sat in another corner discussing a football game. In the middle of the pool, my gentleman friend’s kids giggled and paddled laps through the fountain. No matter how you enjoy it, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget, and for just $5 a person, it’s worth every penny.


Smell weird things

When I visit family on the other side of Oregon, there’s a moment during the drive home when I actually start to smell Bend. It’s a unique perfume of juniper, sage, and ponderosa pine, and I love it so much I roll down my window and breathe it in no matter how cold it is outside.

Bend is one of the most fragrant places I’ve ever been, and it’s something I’ve heard guests remark on over and over. Though the juniper/sage/ponderosa scents are most unique, you’ll pick up other fragrant notes depending on which part of town you visit. Strolling through Downtown Bend or the Old Mill District, you’ll pick up hints of river water mixed with the scrumptious aromas wafting from local restaurants.

When you’re in Bend, be sure to breathe deeply!


Watch a river appear by magic

The Metolius River where it emerges from under a mossy hillside.

For the purists among you, I’ll acknowledge this is not technically in Bend. But since we encourage people staying in Bend to venture out and see sights in surrounding areas, I’m going to claim the headwaters of the Metolius River as one of the amazing, don’t-miss sights you should see when you’re here.

Just a bit west of Sisters, the Metolius River emerges like magic from beneath a mossy hillside. Technically, you’re looking at a cluster of two springs about 300 feet apart and bubbling up from underground. The river flows north from there, before turning sharply east and heading toward Lake Billy Chinook. It’s a tributary of the Deschutes River from there, so there’s your Bend connection.

There are some great hikes in the area, or you can just stand there and stare in awe at this magically appearing river and all the gorgeous scenery surrounding it. Truly one of the loveliest sights you’ll see in Central Oregon!


Drink like no place else

Sure, plenty of towns have great breweries. Plenty have wineries and distilleries, too. But there are some pretty unique things about Bend’s mix of all three, which is one thing Wanderlust Tours set out to capture when they created the Local Pour tour.

Sip some wine at Volcano Vineyards, which boasts the world’s smallest production facility among wineries.

Your guide will pick you up at your hotel or home and take you on an educational tour through one micro-brewery, one winery, and one distillery. You learn about three different artisanal practices, and get plenty of samples along the way. Best of all, your tour guide is your designated driver!

So what makes the whole thing unique?

  • Volcano Vineyards—the winery stop on the agenda—is the smallest winery in the world, with a production facility of only 228 feet. Not bad, considering the quality of the wine they crank out, not to mention their famous sangria.
  • Your distillery will be one of two places—Oregon_Spirit_Distillers or Bendistillery. Both make amazing spirits, but a couple things set them both apart. Oregon Spirit is the only distillery in the world making a marionberry cordial (the Black Mariah, a signature cordial distilled from grain spirit and blended with a puree of fresh marionberries, Oregon hazelnut and other Oregon botanicals). And Bendistillery is famous for being America’s most award-winning small-batch distillery.
  • Did you know Bend has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon? That’s a whole lotta great beer! You’ll sample some great beer and learn a bit about the brewing process no matter which tour stop you hit along the famous Bend Ale Trail.

So there you have it—five things you can only experience in Bend. Now get out there and enjoy a few of them!

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