You’ve all been planning for months, right? I mean, the biggest day of the year happens in just a few weeks, so clearly you’re looking for the perfect way to celebrate?
OK, fine. It’s possible the world does not revolve around me and my impending 39th birthday. But since I know my Bend-centric birthday wishes might be shared by others with a fondness for this fair city, allow me to share my list of six cool gifts and experiences your loved one might enjoy for your next special occasion in Bend.
You know that cliché about the way to someone’s heart being through the stomach? Totally true. And while I love scouting Bend for cheap lunches and happy hour cocktail deals, I’ll admit I like commemorating special occasions with a dining experience that’s above-and-beyond.
One of my favorite splurgy dinner spots is Ariana Restaurant. When an editor for Travel & Leisure magazine visited several months ago and asked me to name two Bend restaurants he should sample, this was one I suggested. The atmosphere is romantically cozy, and the menu is centered around Northwest cuisine and unique twists on classic dishes. I love grabbing a seat on the sunny patio near their herb garden and sipping a glass of wine from their expansive list.
The second restaurant I recommended to the aforementioned editor is Trattoria Sbandati. 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.
If you’re looking for a special dining experience that goes beyond incredible food, consider an evening drive to Mt. Bachelor followed by chairlift ride to their Pine Marten Lodge. You can watch the sun set over the Cascade mountains while enjoying a gourmet meal and a glass of wine. Then take a moonlight chairlift down the mountain while snuggled under a blanket with your loved one. Reservations are mandatory and available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 5-8 p.m. July 5 through September 1.
For another scenic dinner option right in Bend, make a reservation at Zydeco. Besides amazing food, they have a romantic rooftop patio offering the most incredible sunset views you can imagine. Seating up there is extremely limited, and while you can make your dining reservation way in advance, you need to call back around 3 p.m. the day of your meal to make sure weather will permit rooftop dining. The restaurant is open seven days a week, but rooftop dining is only available Wednesday through Sunday.
Take me dancing
Bend is awash in amazing live music this time of year, so it’s easy to commemorate a special occasion with a little toe-tapping. On Thursday evenings through August 15, check out the free Munch & Music concert series in Drake Park. Shows kick off at 5:30 p.m. and are packed with great food, killer scenery, and fun activities for kids.
On Wednesdays in the Old Mill District, catch the Alive After Five free music series from 5-8:30 p.m. through August 7. Shows take place on the grass near the shops, which makes it a great opportunity to grab dinner or drinks at one of the fabulous Old Mill District restaurants.
If your special occasion falls on a Sunday, plan an afternoon picnic around the Free Summer Sundays concert series at Les Schwab Amphitheater. This is another family-friendly event that kicks off at 2:30 each Sunday through August 4. Bring a cooler packed with treats and a bottle of wine. Then kick back on your picnic blanket or kick up your heels with the other folks groovin’ near the front of the stage.
If you’re willing to shell out a few bucks for your musical experience, check out the Les Schwab Amphitheater’s lineup of ticketed concerts. Upcoming shows include Michael Franti & Spearhead, MGMT, Los Lobos/Los Lonely Boys, and Steve Martin + Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell.
Make me see stars
Every year, the universe holds a meteor shower in honor of my birthday, spanning the period between August 9-14.
Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a birthday meteor shower, Bend is still an awesome place for stargazing.
Wanderlust Tours offers wonderful moonlight canoeing, starlight canoeing, and a fabulous moonshine canoe & beer tour. The tours are available late-June through mid-October, and your $65 fee includes transportation, gear, guides, dessert, a hot drink, and all the breathtaking views you can handle.
If you’re up for a bit of a drive, the Pine Mountain Observatory is located 26 miles southeast of Bend. It’s operated by the University of Oregon physics department, and offers telescopes with apertures of 15, 24, and 32-inches. The facility is open to visitors Friday and Saturday evenings from late May late September. Be sure to go on a clear night, and get there early to snag a seat for the program. Keep in mind the facility is at 6,500 feet, so bring a hat and gloves.
Let’s get arty
There’s something about art that makes it an extra-special gift or travel souvenir. Bend has oodles of amazing art galleries scattered throughout historic Downtown, the Old Mill District, and beyond. Go here for a great reference guide.
If you’re lucky enough to visit August 23-25, you can catch the incredible Art in the High Desert event on the banks of the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District. It was ranked by as one of the top 15 art shows in the nation, and for good reason. You’ll find tons of amazing paintings, photography, pottery, metal art, and much more. Bring your credit card, and prepare to find a souvenir you’ll treasure for years to come.
Feeling sentimental and a bit creative? Visit Earth Fire Art in Downtown Bend and paint a ceramic masterpiece of your own. Pick out a piece of pottery ranging from mugs to vases to salad bowls, then get to work creating your own unique design.
Woo me with Oregon Sunstone
If bling is your thing, why not go for something that commemorates your Bend visit in a special way? Douglas Fine Jewelry Design offers tons of unique pieces made with a variety of materials, but their specialty is Oregon Sunstone. This Oregon state gem ranges from green to champagne to shimmering coppery “schiller” stones, and it makes gorgeous and unique jewelry. Peruse their selection of rings, pendants, earrings, and more, or have them create a custom piece just for you. If you just want a quickie souvenir, the Bend Visitor Center sells a small selection of their sunstone studs and Bend-logo earrings and charms.
Let’s be cheap and easy
It’s not necessary to drain your wallet to commemorate a special occasion, and there are plenty of ways to celebrate in Bend without spending a fortune. One of the best birthday meals I’ve ever had was prepared by my gentleman friend two years ago. He sliced up juicy chunks of sausage with hunks of red pepper and onion, mixed in a little
Dijon, folded it into tinfoil bundles, and stuck them in our campfire. Go here to find a Bend campground where you can enjoy your own inexpensive and romantic meal under the stars.
My favorite summer treat is an afternoon spent floating the Deschutes River on an air mattress. Bring your own from home, or rent deluxe float tubes from Sun Country Tours or get your river tube rentals from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. Then go here for all the details on where to put in and how to float safely.
Another great option is a summer hike on one of the scenic trails surrounding the Bend area. Pick from lakes, rivers, mountains, caves, lava fields, forests, and more. For ideas on hiking around Bend, check out the Visit Bend hiking page or this awesome site from Cascade Hiking Adventures offering hiking suggestions for the area.