On the master list of my favorite childhood vacation memories, more than half are in Bend.
For a kid growing up on the rainier side of the state, there’s something magical about the bright desert sun, towering mountain peaks, and sage-scented air in Central Oregon. It’s the perfect spot for a family vacation whether you’re herding toddlers or corralling rowdy teens.
Here are some of my favorite ways to explore the kid friendly side of Bend for families.
Find yourself some family-friendly digs
Bend offers hundreds of amazing hotels, motels, vacation homes, resorts, campgrounds, and more that cater to families. You’ll find a great starting point here.
I recently got the opportunity to play tourist in my own town with a stay at Brasada Ranch. The luxury cabins made the perfect home base for all the hiking, biking, and horseback riding we could handle, and the kids went nuts for the massive swimming pools and waterslide. Our highlight was a romantic dinner for two at Range while the kids were busy roasting s’mores and riding horses at the Cowboy Cookout.
Mt. Bachelor Village is another nice option for families craving the amenities of a resort. For families who prefer the privacy of a vacation home in Bend, you’ll find dozens of Bend rental homes offering perks ranging from hot tubs to bikes to barbecues.
If you like the ease and simplicity of a hotel, you’ll find tons of great Bend hotels and motels catering to families. Enjoy the free hot breakfast buffet each morning at Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center, or let the kids splash in the indoor pool at the Doubletree by Hilton in the middle of Downtown Bend.
And for families who want a unique spin on camping, check out the luxury camper trailers available from Cricket Rentals.
Go play outside
Now that you’ve got a place to lay your head, it’s time to get serious about the real reason you came to Bend—frolicking in the great outdoors.
Water play is a popular activity in the summer months, and you’ll find plenty of that around Bend. To cool off like a local, rent a float tube from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe or Sun Country Tours (don’t forget your free life vest rental for the kiddos). Then learn everything you need to know about floating the river here.
The High Cascade Lakes are another great place to splash in the summer months. Elk Lake and Cultus Lake are my personal favorites with kids, since both offer great picnic spots, easy beach areas for swimming, and plenty of rental gear like boats and standup paddleboards.
If swimming pools are more your scene, the on-site pool at Brasada Ranch is great fun for guests there, or take a short day trip to enjoy waterslides and kid-friendly pools at SHARC (in Sunriver) or Kah-Nee-Ta Resort (in Warm Springs).
If there’s an adrenaline junkie or two in the family, try a whitewater rafting excursion from Sun Country Tours for the perfect blend of “bragging-rights-scary” and “not-going-to-kill-me-scary.” Even little ones can get in on the adventure, as the popular Big Eddy Thriller is great for kids 6 and up.
Once you’ve had your fill of water, head out for another form of family recreation. Cog Wild offers family-friendly mountain bike outings for riders of all ages and experience levels. If you’d rather get the whole family on a single bike together, try a surrey outing with Wheel Fun Rentals and use the opportunity to explore Bend’s stunning Old Mill District. (Insider tip: Don’t try to squeeze through the posts designed to keep cars off bike paths or you’ll end up banging the pedals. Um, not that I’d know anything about that).
Prefer a guided adventure where someone else does all the driving, navigating, and answering questions about geographic features and which bugs you can eat? Wanderlust Tours offers unique outings ranging from cave tours to moonlight canoeing to volcano exploration.
There’s a limit to how much outdoor activity you can pack into a Bend vacation. Sometimes the limit is determined by sunburn, and other times by your offspring’s short attention span. Whatever the case, there’s plenty of indoor fun to be had in Bend, too.
The High Desert Museum offers a great chance to explore Bend’s culture, history, and wildlife. While you’ll have to set foot outside to get to a few exhibits like the otter and the birds of prey, you’ll find plenty of kid-friendly areas in the main part of the museum (including Vivi the bobcat who seriously looks like she needs a belly rub).
I told my 12-year-old stepson I was on the fence about including Sun Mountain Fun Center in this post because parents might not like the idea of their kids playing video games on vacation, but he reminded me they also have bumper cars, batting cages, mini golf, go-carts, bowling and more. Smart kid. Or a kid who’s angling to go there again, which isn’t a bad idea now that temps are soaring and a little air conditioning can be refreshing.
For families with a sweet tooth, Bend-based Goody’s Chocolates offers factory tours with samples of candy and ice cream that will give your kids enough of a sugar buzz to fuel them for the next activity.
Frugal families seeking a couple hours of respite from the pitter-patter of little feet might enjoy the Regal Cinema Movie Express program in the Old Mill District. Every Wednesday and Thursday from late June through mid-August, the young’uns can catch a kid-friendly flick for just $1 at 10 a.m.
Get ‘em some culture
Bend’s arts and culture has gotten a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason. It’s one of the most approachable, down-to-earth art scenes around, with public art like the Tin Pan Alley collection and the Roundabout Art Route (both of which make fun opportunities for kids to check out paintings and sculptures in Bend’s great outdoors).
My own step-kids are big fans of live music, and Bend is an amazing spot for that. Freebie concerts like Munch and Music, Alive After 5, and Free Summer Sundays are all family-friendly and fun for all ages. Bring your low-backed chairs and a picnic, or buy tasty food and drinks on-site.
The lineup of summer concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater always includes several shows that are great for the whole family. My stepdaughter and I got to groove on-stage with Pink Martini last summer, and Michael Franti’s shows are always a kick for young’uns. Coming up later this summer, Amos Lee’s July 18 show looks like it should be a fun one for families to enjoy together. Go here for ticket info.
Feed the beasts
It’s been brought to my attention that children occasionally need sustenance. Luckily, just about any place you go in Bend is happy to cater to people who can’t legally vote.
One of our favorite family-friendly dining spots is Flatbread Community Pizza. The kids get to assemble their own pizzas and watch them bake in the wood-fired oven, while grownups can enjoy a cocktail, beer, or wine and munch on gourmet pizzas and salads. My personal favorite is the maple fennel pizza with a side of their brand new chopped kale salad (grilled stonefruit, golden beats, chevre goat cheese, candied walnuts, blood orange vinaigrette). They even have a wine flight specially created to pair with pizza.
Another reliable option in the Old Mill District is Red Robin. People with a chip on their shoulder about chain restaurants might turn up their noses at this option, but parents who’ve reached the end of their rope and just want a reliable dinner spot with a menu guaranteed to please cranky kids will be happy to know it’s there (and has some pretty terrific salads to boot!)
Families craving fine dining will find plenty of delicious fare at 900 Wall, with the added bonus of a kids-eat-free special starting at 5 p.m. on Sundays (excluding holidays).
One thing we hear a lot from parents is that they fervently wish to enjoy the Bend Ale Trail, but assume they can’t do it with kids in tow. Au contraire! Quite a number of Bend’s breweries have terrific family-friendly options. Bend Brewing Company has one of the best kids’ menus in town, and Crux Fermentation Project has an incredible outdoor patio with a huge field where kids love to frolic.
One of the most kid-friendly spots along the Bend Ale Trail is Deschutes Brewery. Beer fans of legal drinking age will appreciate the opportunity to sip suds at the birthplace of Bend’s craft brew scene while enjoying gourmet eats like tangy baby back ribs, or my personal favorite, Mirror Pond Mac & Cheese (made with spinach, roasted shallots, house-cured tasso ham, Tillamook cheddar, and bread crumbs, served with a side salad). The hearty kids’ menu features the usual fare like pizza and mac & cheese, and there’s a huge gluten-free selection for those who need it.