Where to go and what to eat when you plan a picnic in Bend
This time of year, I find myself clinging fiercely to the final days of summer. I want to be outside constantly, which means eating outdoors every chance I get.
With warm temps still in the forecast for a few more weeks, it’s the perfect time to head out for a picnic in Bend. Here are three ideas for planning your own special outdoor dining experience in and around town.
Throw down your picnic blanket in the park
Bend boasts about 70 parks in the city limits, ranging from sprawling, riverfront green-space to tiny playgrounds tucked in neighborhoods. You’ll find a list of parks here, or a handy map here. There’s a park for every sort of picnic you can envision, from family-friendly outings to small, romantic trysts.
One of my personal favorites is also one of Bend’s most beloved landmarks. Drake Park spans 13 breathtaking acres along the Deschutes River in Downtown Bend. Its rolling hills and grassy expanses are perfect for your picnic blanket, or nab one of the tables or benches scattered throughout. You can admire the river from just about any spot, and restrooms are conveniently located just uphill from the footbridge.
I eat my lunch here nearly every day in warmer months, which makes it a great excuse to snag something quick, tasty, and portable from one of Bend’s amazing downtown restaurants. If you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, grab a to-go box from Taj Palace and pack it full of delicious offerings from their lunch buffet for just $8.95. If Thai food is your thing, you can’t beat the daily specials at Toomies. They have 35 choices on their lunch menu ranging from soups to noodle dishes to curries, and most feature hearty portions with a side salad and phat thai for $6.50-$8.50. If you’re hankering for something a bit lighter, check out Sally’s Super Salad at Barrio (quinoa, black beans, romaine, greens, avocado, pepitas, citrus, cojito, jalapeño vinaigrette) or the Ahi Poke Salad at 5 Fusion (marinated tuna atop a bed of seaweed, mixed greens, and avocado, sprinkled with crispy wanton bits and tossed with sesame dressing).
And while DrakePark’s tables and benches are nice, I usually opt to kick off my shoes and sprawl on the lawn to savor the grass under my bare feet.
Head for the high lakes
There’s nothing quite like following Century Drive toward Mt.Bachelor to the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. As you might’ve guessed from the name, it boasts a whole lotta lakes. Some require a bit of a hike to reach, but many like Sparks Lake, Cultus Lake Resort or Elk Lake Resort are easy to access by car and offer plenty of great spots for picnicking. This Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway Map is an excellent resource to get you started finding the lake of your dreams.
An afternoon at the lake is a great chance for the sort of grazing picnic where you skip the organized meal and just nibble all day. My favorite way to do this is to pack a cooler with ice and arrange to meet friends at Newport Avenue Market before we caravan to our lake of choice. We browse together, selecting fresh deli sandwiches, handmade sushi rolls, pasta salads, and a variety of other goodies to share. Newport also has a great selection of unique sodas, juice, wine, and local beer.
Two Bend-based breweries—Worthy and GoodLife—now sell their beer in cans, which is super handy for picnicking. Throw a six-pack in your cooler and prepare for the ultimate day of sunshine and relaxation!
Hike for your supper
Maybe you feel like making yourself work a little for your meal. Maybe you just want to nosh atop a mountain or beside a remote lake. Whatever the reason, there’s something to be said for planning a lightweight picnic meal you can stuff in your backpack and enjoy at your destination.
Once you’ve selected your spot, it’s important to be strategic with your picnic planning. If you’re scaling a mountain, this is probably not the time to stick a bottle of wine in your pack (though in the interest of full-disclosure, I should admit I’ve done that). The best option I’ve found for the hiking picnic is a small, insulated lunch bag we bought at Trader Joe’s on the north end of town. We slide in a lightweight ice pack and voila! A small space to keep a few things cool until we reach our destination. We usually fill the lunch bag with sliced meats, cheeses, and carrot sticks or apple slices. Then we fill Ziploc baggies with lightweight nibbles like nuts, crackers, or a few cookies.
Your best option for having chilled beverages on hand is a bottle from Bend-based Hydro Flask. These double-wall insulated, BPA-free bottles are made with stainless steel and absolutely, positively will not leak or sweat in your backpack. That’s key, whether you’re filling it with water, wine, or beer (all of which I’ve done at one time or another, so I know for a fact this baby will keep your drink chilled for HOURS). You can buy online, in the Bend Visitor Center, or at a variety of retailers around Bend.