This week marks 20 years since I moved to Bend.
I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian who grew up in Salem, but childhood summers were spent frolicking in sagebrush-speckled canyons near my grandparents’ Central Oregon horse ranch. Even as a kid, I knew I’d move to Bend.
More than four decades have passed since my youthful summers of catching lizards and wading in irrigation canals, and two decades have gone by since I got my childhood wish and moved here. In the time I’ve lived in Bend, the population has grown from 32,620 in 1997 to 91,122 today.
A surge like that comes with plenty of change.
But there are tons of things about Bend that I love as much now as I did as a kid and as a wide-eyed, perpetually-broke 23-year-old. Here are ten of them.
What’s that smell?
From the time I was little, I was entranced by Central Oregon’s smells. Pine needles in the sun, juniper in the rain, the peaty scents of grassy lake shores—all of it seemed magical to me, and still does. It’s the reason I roll down my car window every time I return home after a long trip.
Hiking Pilot Butte
Bend is one of just a handful of cities in the U.S. with dormant volcano in the city limits.
Pilot Butte State Park isn’t just for admiring, either. You can hike it or drive it, and snap photos from its base or its summit. It’s one of the best places to get 360-degree views of the city, and a great way to orient yourself if you’re new to town. I never tire of hoofing it to the top and admiring the views.
Those first few snow days of winter
I’m not saying I don’t mutter curses in late-March when snow is still falling hard and I’m sick of shoveling my driveway. But those first few snow days of the season in Bend? Magical. Always. Every time.
Summer. Everything single thing about summer.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia of so many childhood summers spent here, or maybe it’s just that summers in Bend really are amazing. From hiking to biking to standup paddleboarding to rafting, there’s an endless supply of activities in Bend’s warmer months. While some folks don’t love the desert heat in mid-summer, I live for it. I bask in it. I could bottle it up and eat it for breakfast every single morning.
The dog-friendliest city
One of my first acts upon moving to Bend 20 years ago was adopting a dog from the Humane Society of Central Oregon.
Sadly, she passed away years ago, but I’ve continued having dogs in my life (and continued adopting them from rescue organizations) because Bend is best explored with a furry friend. My dog goes with me on hikes and on my paddleboard, and joins me on restaurant patios for meals. She’s even allowed to browse with me at many retail shops around town.
Arts and culture and music, oh my!
When I moved to Bend in 1997, I went gaga over all the great live music. There was Munch and Music (going strong for 27 years!) and a surprising lineup of talent performing at the Athletic Club of Bend. Those venues are still just as awesome, but Bend has added lots more options for live music.
There’s the Les Schwab Amphitheater and the renovated Tower Theatre, not to mention breweries along the Bend Ale Trail that frequently offer live music. Bend’s music scene has only gotten better over the years, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to blossom.
Twenty years ago, locals liked to boast that Bend had the most restaurants per capita in the United States. I never knew if it was true, but it did seem like Bend had an extraordinarily high number of awesome places to dine for a town this size. The foodie scene has only improved over the years, with tons of award-winning chefs flocking to town and oodles of added options like gluten-free dining and vegan dining.
One of my favorite parts of this job is entertaining journalists writing about Bend’s foodie scene. They always leave with bellies full and minds blown by how amazing the food is in our little desert mountain town.
Ease of cruising
I catch flak when I say this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Traffic in Bend is pretty awesome. I know, I know . . . there are times it takes longer than we’d like to get up to Mt. Bachelor over Christmas break, and certainly you’ll run into some traffic snarls on peak summer afternoons. But compare Bend’s traffic to what you’ll experience in larger cities like Portland or Seattle and it’s a breeze. I can make it from one end of town to the other in 15-20 minutes most days, which I absolutely love when I’m running late for work. Not that this ever happens.
Discovering new places
I think this is my single favorite thing about Bend: there is always, always someplace new to explore. Getting your hands on a great Bend guide book is enough to convince anyone of that, or simply asking around about people’s favorite hikes. Every season, I discover some new place to hike or SUP or snowshoe, proving there’s magic around every corner for those who make time for new adventures.