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6 ways to find the holiday spirit in Bend, Oregon

Holiday Lights Paddle in the Old Mill District Bend Oregon
The lovely Christmas tree in Drake Park near Downtown Bend.

The lovely Christmas tree in Drake Park near Downtown Bend.

Post updated December 8, 2021


It’s that time of year again. The convergence of a zillion holidays ranging from Hanukkah to Christmas to Kwanzaa to others I probably can’t spell. The result is a sweet surge of holiday spirit, and we feel it in Bend.

Want a bonus boost of holiday spirit? Here’s how to get an extra dose in Bend right now!


Go dashing through the Old Mill District

Every December, Bend’s Old Mill District transforms itself into a holiday wonderland. You’ll find holiday decorations, roving carolers, and a dropbox for letters to Santa. You’ll even meet up with jolly Old St. Nick, who’s standing by to hear your kids’ Christmas wishes.

Holiday lights paddle Old Mill District Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe

Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe’s annual Holiday Lights Paddle is happening in the Old Mill District on Dec. 10, 2021.

That’s handy, considering how much shopping you’ll get done nearby. Go here to scope out the Old Mill’s schedule of holiday events, and here to scan a list of shops to plan your shopping adventure.

Even if you’re not in the mood to shop or sit on the big guy’s lap, it’s a great time to plan a dinner date at one of the Old Mill restaurants. Ask for a spot by the window so you can do some people-watching or scope out the twinkle of holiday lights on the Deschutes River. 

If you’re watching this weekend, you may catch the annual Holiday Lights Paddle sponsored by Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe. It’s set for December 10, 2021 from 4 p.m. to 5:30, and open to all if you’d like to participate. Go here for meet-up info and details.


Walkin’ in a winter wonderland in Downtown Bend

Another spot worth wandering during the holidays is Downtown Bend. It’s especially magical after a snowfall, but even if there’s not a speck of white stuff on the ground, it’s still a spellbinding place to meander around looking at lights and pretty shop displays.

downtown bend snow

Even when it’s not snowy, downtown Bend makes an awesome winter wonderland.

Grab something warm to sip before you set out for your stroll. I’m a big fan of the chai at Thump Coffee. They make it themselves, and it’s nice and spicy without being too sweet. Bellatazza has a unique array of flavored syrups to add to your latte or steamed milk, and my personal faves are cardamom and lavender. If you’re one of those weirdos who loves ice cream on a cold day (aka my spouse) hit Bontá Gelato for a seasonal scoop.

With your treat in hand, get busy sipping, snacking, strolling, and shopping, with a detour through scenic Drake Park if the mood strikes. That’s where you’ll see the Community Christmas Tree all lit up near The Commons. Pause, drink it all in, and feel the holiday spirit coursing through you. Or maybe that’s caffeine?


Scope out the Christmas lights

Unlike some cities, Bend doesn’t have a certain neighborhood where all the residents go crazynuts with Christmas lights. That’s actually a plus, since it gives you the excuse to explore freely and discover your own favorites (plus you’ll escape the congestion you see in places like Portland’s famous Peacock Lane).

Why not pick a part of town you don’t know well and use your Christmas light quest as an excuse to explore someplace new?

If you want a sure thing and you don’t mind a bit of a drive, head northwest to Eagle Crest for their mile-long famous holiday light display, Starfest. To the south, you can hit Sunriver Resort for their annual Holiday Light Show happening three times a night through January 2.

Starfest at Eagle Crest holiday lights

The annual Starfest holiday light display at Eagle Crest is worth the drive from Bend.

There’s also a Holiday Light Experience at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds through January 1. It’s an exciting walk-through light show with 100,000 square feet showcasing more than three million dazzling lights and a stop at Santa’s Village.


Boost your spirits with local spirits

Merrylegs Gin from Oregon Spirit.

Merrylegs Gin from Oregon Spirit.

If you fancy a splash of something boozy in your holiday cocoa, now’s the time to pick up some made-in-Bend spirits. Oregon Spirit Distillers makes a terrific Spiced Coffee Rum that adds a lovely nip to coffee or other hot beverages. I’m also fond of their Merrylegs Genever Gin mixed up in an orange-cranberry gin and tonic.

Hazelnut Espresso Vodka from Bendistillery.

Hazelnut Espresso Vodka from Bendistillery.

Bendistillery’s Crater Lake Spirits have a starring role in my liquor cabinet, and I always restock this time of year. Their Pepper Vodka pairs perfectly with pineapple juice, or their Sweet Ginger Vodka tastes scrumptious in cocoa or lemonade. Their concoctions make especially awesome gifts. My literary agent gets a bottle of their Hazelnut Espresso Vodka for Hanukkah each year, and my sister-in-law loves seeing their sample pack in her stocking each Christmas. 

Er, should I not reveal holiday gifts in a public blog?


Tackle that last-minute gift buying

Still scrambling to get those stocking stuffers purchased? The aforementioned Old Mill District and Downtown Bend make great starting points for your shopping quest, or go here for a handy rundown of shopping districts in Bend.

Ineffable Volume III Cover on Table

The photo book Ineffable makes an excellent holiday gift.

If you’re seeking something super-unique, check out this blog post from 2020 where we rounded up more fun gift ideas. 

Another awesome option? A collection of Bend photography featured in the coffee table book, Ineffable. 2021 marks the third year for this spellbinding selection of 100 images from 33 local photographers showcasing Central Oregon’s landscapes, people, recreation, and urban settings. The book sells for $15 with 100% of the proceeds going to the Bend Sustainability Fund

You can purchase Ineffable at the Ticket Mill in the Old Mill District, all Backporch and Thump Coffee locations, Outside-In, and the Bend Visitor Center downtown. Insider tip: If you’re purchasing at the Visitor Center, ask about the special package that includes all three volumes of Ineffable from 2019, 2020, and 2021, all tied up with a red ribbon for $30. That’s a $15 discount over buying all three separately, and you can split them up for easy gift giving. 


Do a snow dance in your snow pants

Real talk, guys: It’s not an awesome snow year yet in 2021.

Mt. Bachelor has delayed its opening date a couple times, while tour companies and businesses who count on fluffy white stuff to make a living are biting their nails a bit.

Mt. Bachelor skiing mask

Get ready for a great season at Mt. Bachelor!

You know what you need to do, friends. It’s on all of us to step up and do a snow dance for the common good. Consult this goofy blog post from 2014 (man, I’m old!) for ideas, or simply step out in your yard and shake your snowmaker to the beat of your own drum.

All jokes aside, we will get snow. We always do, and it’s always freakin’ glorious.

Why not plan ahead by buying gift certificates for a snowshoe adventure with Wanderlust Tours or a package of lessons from Mt. Bachelor? They could use the boost, and we could all use something to look forward to.

For more ideas on planning your future snow play in Bend, go here.

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