Several times a day, visitors rush into the Bend Visitor Center in a big hurry. “We’re passing through and only have two hours,” they pant. “What should we do?”
It’s a common enough inquiry that it seemed smart to share a few options. While truly seeing Bend takes several days at least, here are four ways to get a taste in just two hours.
The Drake Park stroll
The most common response offered to someone standing in the Bend Visitor Center with two hours to kill is a suggestion they stroll Drake Park.
That’s partly because it’s just a few blocks away, but mostly because it’s one of the prettiest spots in Bend. This 13-acre park features nearly a mile of riverfront walking trails, gobs of gorgeous trees, acres of open lawn, an outdoor stage, restrooms, and picnic tables.
Stroll the paver pathway and make your way to the footbridge, which is a nice spot for snapping a few photos. If you’ve got time for a picnic, swing by Newport Avenue Market for grub or hit one of the Downtown Bend restaurants for some takeout to enjoy in the park.
If a meal isn’t on the agenda, a hot cup of coffee or an icy cup of gelato will give you something to savor while wandering. If you have a little extra time en route to the park, stop to browse the shops and galleries around historic Downtown Bend.
Get the view from above
Pilot Butte is a 500-foot cinder cone that gives Bend the distinction of being one of the only cities in the U.S. with an extinct volcano in the middle of town.
Between May and October, you can drive a vehicle to the top for epic views of the whole city and beyond. There’s even a map at the top that points out the different mountain peaks and geological features on the horizon.
If you opt to drive, you can knock out the whole thing in 30 minutes or less and still have time to eat at historic Pilot Butte Drive-In when you get back down.
But the best way to experience Pilot Butte and all the sights and smells of this high desert cinder cone is by hiking to the top. Hiking trails are open year-round, and a moderately fit person can get up and down in an hour with a few minutes at the top for snapping pictures.
If you’re less fit or unaccustomed to Bend’s high altitude and dry climate, budget a bit more time for pausing to rest on one of the benches scattered along the trail.
Old Mill marvel
Just like historic Downtown Bend has its own unique vibe, so does the Old Mill District. It’s a riverfront oasis filled with restaurants, shops, art galleries, and entertainment.
Even if you have no interest in dining, shopping, scoping out art, or being entertained in any way, shape, or form, it’s still an awesome place to stroll along the river watching happy kayakers and the occasional river otter paddling along the mighty Deschutes.
It’s the perfect juxtaposition of sightseeing and shopping, with paved pathways and bridges making it easy to get around. If you want an extra-fun way to enjoy the sights, spring for a one-hour surrey bike or tandem rental from Wheel Fun. You’ll cover lots of extra ground while getting some exercise.
Got time for a bite? Ask for a river view table at Greg’s Grill or Anthony’s, and enjoy the soothing flow of the Deschutes while you chow down. If you can forego the river views in favor of a truly spectacular meal, check out Boxwood Kitchen (tucked behind Jimmy John’s).
Take a boozy break
Want to focus your two-hour visit around the legendary Bend Ale Trail?
If the Bend Visitor Center is your starting point, you’re within easy walking distance of Deschutes Brewery and Bend Brewing Company, which are both just a couple blocks away. Grab a few tasters and a snack at each, and you’ll get a good sampling of Bend’s craft beer scene.
Got a little more time? Silver Moon, Boneyard, and McMenamins Old Saint Francis are also walkable from Downtown, so grab a Bend Ale Trail atlas and gather passport stamps as you go. You probably can’t hit the 10 you’ll need for a prize, but save the passport for your next visit and keep going. Plenty of visitors take years to complete it.
If beer isn’t your jam, focus your efforts on distilled spirits. Bendistillery has their Crater Lake Spirits tasting room Downtown, and you can sample a mini-cocktail and snag bottles to take home as souvenirs. If your journey out of town carries you west on Highway 20, you’ll be able to hit their distillery for a more in-depth tour. Don’t miss Oregon Spirit Distillers as well, which will give you a glimpse of Bend’s trendy Maker’s District as well as another awesome sampling of local spirits.
Pro-tip: If you stop by the Bend Visitor Center and ask, odds are good we’ll have vouchers for some free tastings!