Though I live in what’s arguably one of the best vacation spots in the country, I do sometimes venture beyond the Bend city limits.

As I was planning a road trip for late September, it occurred to me I’m spending a lot of time pondering how to make wise use of my money. I fret over which activities are worth a splurge, and which I’d be better off skipping.

You'll never catch me without this in my purse.
You’ll never catch me without this in my purse.

How will I know?

I can’t say for sure when it comes to my vacation spot, but I can give you the inside scoop on my hometown. Here are seven things I think are well worth the splurge when you vacation in Bend.

 

The best water bottle you’ll ever buy—seriously!

For years, friends gushed to me about Bend-made Hydro Flask water bottles. For years, I rolled my eyes and said, “how can a @#$% water bottle be worth $28?” Now that I pack one with me every day, I get it. I can toss in a handful of ice cubes and some water in the morning, and I’ll still have ice water by 10 p.m. Friends who use it for hot beverages report the same thing.

The bottle doesn’t sweat or leak, so I can pack it all day long without gunking up everything in my purse or backpack. The Hydro Flask is double-wall insulated, BPA free, and stainless steel. I’m partial to the 24-ouncer we sell at the Bend Visitor Center for $28, but you can get a smaller 18-ounce size for $25, a 40-ouncer for $36, or a 64-ounce growler for $55. Worth every penny, and the ones we sell here have a cool Bend logo that make it an excellent souvenir.

 

Make memories with music

There's nothing like a concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.
There’s nothing like a concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.

Whether you’re chilling in the grass beside the river at the Les Schwab Amphitheater or catching a show at the historic Tower Theatre, Bend is a great spot to see a concert. It’s an experience you’ll not only enjoy in the moment, but will savor when it’s a memory (as in, “Hey, Honey, remember that time we danced barefoot in the grass while drinking Mirror Pond at the Counting Crows show?”)

Bend gets some incredible musical acts rivaling those in much larger cities. The lineup for the next month at Les Schwab includes MGMT (August 31), Los Lobos & Los Lonely Boys (September 7), and Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin—October 4). You can buy tickets here. At the Tower, catch Robert Earl Keen (October 1), Suzy Bogguss (October 6), or The Manhattan Transfer (October 29). Tickets are on sale here.

 

See Bend from above

Ever seen Central Oregon from the basket of a hot air balloon?
Ever seen Central Oregon from the basket of a hot air balloon?

There are plenty of ways to tour Bend on foot, by bike, or in a car, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, why not get an aerial view? Several companies offer tours and discovery flights departing the Bend airport by helicopter or small plane, including Professional Air and Leading Edge Aviation. There are even options that allow you to co-pilot the plane with help from an instructor. For a super-unique experience, head to the Redmond airport for a tour with Big Sky Balloon Company. They offer scenic balloon flights in a hand-painted balloon. For a list of all the tour operators and options, check out our Aerial Tours page on the Visit Bend website.

 

Nab a great growler

The coolest growler you'll ever fill.
The coolest growler you’ll ever fill.

A recently-passed Bend city law dictates there must be a growler fill station on every block. I might be exaggerating a little, but trust me when I say you’ll want a growler of your own for toting fresh craft beer here or back home. You can pick up a cheap one for $3-$10 at most breweries and growler fill stations, but for one that’s a true work of art and a cool souvenir, check out the one they sell at Deschutes Brewery.

This two-liter vessel sports an artsy metal handle referred to as “the drunken man” and a ceramic top with a rubber seal that keeps beer fresh for up to two-and-a-half weeks. You can order online for $30, but it’s much more fun to grab it when you visit the brewery and fill it up with something cold and delicious. If you crave variety in your beer, don’t worry about taking it to breweries besides Deschutes. I’ve dragged my Deschutes growler into almost every brewery along the Bend Ale Trail, and no one bats an eyelash about filling it with their own brew.

Explore the outdoors with a pro

The Volcano Tour is one of many outings you can enjoy with a naturalist guide from Wanderlust Tours.
The Volcano Tour is one of many outings you can enjoy with a naturalist guide from Wanderlust Tours.

This is always a tough one for me when I travel—do I hike or rent a canoe or explore the caves on my own, or am I better off paying someone to take me? For visitors to Bend, my answer is hands-down book an outing with Wanderlust Tours. Seriously, folks, this will be some of the best money you’ll spend during your Bend vacation. Yes, you can explore the outdoors on your own, and plenty of people do it. But it’s infinitely more rewarding to leave the driving, gear-hauling, navigating, and decision-making to someone who knows exactly how to give you the best outdoor experience possible.

Wanderlust’s naturalist guides are experts in explaining geology and landscape and wildlife and history and flora and fauna and a million other details you’d never get on your own. Their trips range from cave tours ($50 for kids, $55 for grownups) to moonlight canoe trips ($65 a person) to winter outings like snowshoeing ($65 a person). Gear and transportation are included, along with snacks on a lot of those trips. Totally worth it.

 

Indulge your foodie nature

Give your taste buds a treat with one of the Guest Chef dinners at Pronghorn.
Give your taste buds a treat with one of the Guest Chef dinners at Pronghorn.

I blogged previously about places to celebrate special occasions in Bend, and since you can read that post here, I won’t bother reiterating all my favorite splurge-worthy restaurants. For a super-unique dining experience that goes beyond dinner at a great restaurant, consider booking a seat at one of Pronghorn’s Guest Chef Series wine dinners. Each month, Pronghorn brings in a renowned chef to prepare a multi-course meal that showcases the unique talents and regional specialties of that chef. The food is exquisite, the wine pairings delightful, and the setting is gorgeous. For $100 a person, it’s a worthy splurge for foodie travelers.

Depending on the season, you’ll also find similar wine paring dinners at Tetherow and 900 Wall, so check with those restaurants for schedules and information.

For another twist on a memorable dining experience, consider booking a cooking class with The Well Traveled Fork. Upcoming topics range from Wood-Fired Cuisine to Italian Date Night. Prices vary, depending on the class you pick, but generally run anywhere from $50-100 a person. It’s a particularly fun experience for couples, and my better half and I still love fixing some of the dishes we learned to make in the Valentine-themed class we took last year.

 

Get teed off

Beautiful Tetherow golf course!
Beautiful Tetherow golf course!

I’m not a golfer, but considering how many people flock to Bend with their clubs in the trunk, I know this is a popular splurge for area visitors. I asked several of the golfers in our office to name the one course they’d pick for a vacation splurge. “Tetherow is the only links style course in Central Oregon,” explained our Operations Director, Valerie Warren. “The course was designed by award-winning architect David McLay Kidd, who also designed the original, world-famous Bandon Dunes course.”She’s not the only one to think this is a great choice for visiting golfers. Golf magazine named Tetherow the “#1 best new course you can play in the country,” and Golf Digest ranks it among the top 40 U.S. public courses. For non-golfers or those looking for a little post-game snack, the happy hour at Tetherow is outstanding, and their wine list is unbeatable. For prices and tee times, go here.

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