I’ve just returned from a dreamy vacation in New Zealand, and I’m pondering something a few kiwi locals said to me during my travels.
“Oh, you don’t want to do that . . . it’s too touristy.”
The first time was in reference to visiting a popular beach, and I quietly blew off the advice and had a fabulous time. The next time I heard it, I had to speak up. “You know, I actually am a tourist.”
Then I felt guilty, because how many times have I thought that about popular Bend attractions? But in most cases, these things are popular for a darn good reason. While there’s a certain charm in trying offbeat adventures during your Bend vacation, many tried-and-true Bend activities are worth putting on your bucket list no matter how “touristy” they might seem.
Doing an organized tour
The very idea of “booking a tour” sounds touristy, right? But since a chief purpose of vacation is to relax and experience new things, there’s no better way to do that than with the help of a professional.
During our three weeks in New Zealand, my husband and I paid pros to drive us around wine country, take us to remote landmarks, and introduce us to culinary highlights of the region. I can’t tell you what a relief it was not to hassle with rounding up specialized gear, studying road maps, or arm wrestling my husband over who’d skip wine to be the sober driver. Every tour we booked was worth ten times what we paid for the relaxation factor alone, and it’s no different in Bend.
If you’re planning to hit the Bend Ale Trail, there are oodles of options to not only give you a designated driver, but a great behind-the-scenes experience. The Bend Brew Bus is an excellent option that includes pickup and drop-off from your Bend hotel or vacation rental, or opt for a super-unique tour option with Cowboy Carriage (a beer tour in a horse-drawn wagon!) or Cycle Pub (a bicycle bar with sober driver provided). For more Bend Ale Trail tour ideas, go here.
Awesome Bend tours aren’t limited to the Bend Ale Trail. Want to do some snowshoeing, canoeing, or cave exploration without the hassle of packing all the gear and figuring out the best spots? Wanderlust Tours offers a huge array of offerings, with a naturalist guide that’ll give you much cooler insights than you’ll find in any guidebook. Ditto that for the folks at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe, who will be delighted to take you kayaking or SUPing on Bend’s rivers and lakes. And speaking of water, you really don’t want to attempt whitewater rafting in Bend without professionals like Sun Country Tours guiding the way.
Need a tour with a little less adrenaline? Learn about Bend’s culinary scene with a foodie tour from the Well Traveled Fork, or get to know the city in a unique way with an Art Safari or a Segway tour from The Bend Tour Company.
You’ll find more Bend tour offerings on this page.
Hiking Pilot Butte
I know, I know. Everyone and their dog (literally!) hikes this 500-foot cinder cone in the middle of Bend. But there’s a good reason folks love Pilot Butte, and it goes beyond the exercise benefits of hoofing it to the top. You get KILLER views of the whole city, which is invaluable when you’re trying to orient yourself in a new place.
Amble to the top on your first morning in Bend to get the lay of the land. If hiking’s not an option, the road is open to motorized vehicles in warmer months (usually May through October). Reward yourself at the end with a tasty breakfast or lunch at Pilot Butte Drive In.
Visiting Deschutes Brewery
We’re beer snobs in Bend, and locals love to boast about swilling some new limited-release beer that’s only available if you knock six times with your left hand on the back door of the brewery hidden in a cave under the secret ponderosa in Drake Park.
But everyone knows about Deschutes Brewery. The fifth largest craft brewery in the United States, you’ll find their beers in more than 30 U.S. states and around Canada. I’m not exaggerating when I say Bend’s beer scene would not exist if Gary Fish hadn’t started that first little Bend brewpub back in 1988.
And although they’re big, Deschutes Brewery is still family-owned and operated. Want to know the reason you see their beer everywhere? It’s because it’s darn good. Few things taste as magical as a Black Butte Porter on a snowy winter evening, and just one sip of their Deschutes River Ale will always take me back to the first time I tasted it after whitewater rafting with Sun Country Tours.
So go ahead and embrace the granddaddy of craft beer in Bend. Do a brewery tour at their impressively massive production facility, then head to the downtown pub for a family-friendly dinner. Order extra hot wings for me in case I decide to join you.
Stopping by the Visitor Center
The internet has made it easy to get all your travel information with a few mouse clicks.
But there’s something to be said for stopping by a visitor center in person. You can talk directly to locals who know all the best restaurants and sights worth seeing. You can grab maps and brochures and learn about activities you didn’t know existed. Heck, you can even use their wifi connection (invaluable when you’re traveling!) Best of all, it’s free.
Luckily, I went to New Zealand already knowing this, so I had the good sense to hit local visitor centers immediately upon arrival in a new town. Armed with maps and advice, I could tackle the city’s best attractions more efficiently instead of bumbling around town wondering when the shops would open or how to find a gas station.
Bonus: The Bend Visitor Center has an amazing array of unique souvenirs and gift ideas, so it’s a terrific spot to grab a few things for the folks back home. The Bend Visitor Center is located on the corner of Lava and Oregon in Downtown Bend, and it’s open 9-5 weekdays and 10-4 on weekends.
Dining at Pine Tavern
Built in 1936, the Pine Tavern is one of Bend’s most famous restaurants. It’s best known for the iconic ponderosa pine trees jutting through the center of the restaurant (one’s alive, one’s not).
And while it’s popular with the tourist crowd, it’s worth making a reservation there so you can see firsthand what’s kept this place in business for 80+ years. It might be the sourdough scones with honey butter, it might be the killer views of the Deschutes River, it might be the stellar happy hour, or it might be a combo of all three.
Peddling around in a bike surrey
For years I’d seen families peddling around on a bicycle surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals and thought, “Oh, that’s a cute thing for tourists to do.”
Then I tried it myself with my own family. You guys, this is seriously more fun than you can legally have in most states. The kids loved it, the grownups loved it, and it was a great way to check out the beautiful Old Mill District and the Deschutes River.
We weren’t sure at first if a one-hour rental would be enough, but it turned out to be just perfect. Insider tip: Go slowly when you’re threading the needle between the concrete barriers that keep motorized vehicles off paths. Otherwise, you’ll bang a pedal and possibly your foot (er, not that I’d know).