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9 new things to try in Bend this year

Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder

Welcome to a new year filled with fab things to try in Bend. While COVID slowed some new businesses setting up shop in Bend, lots of newcomers flourished in these trying times. 

As we head into 2022, here are 9 new experiences from the last 12 months that deserve a spot on your Bend bucket list.

Bend Ghost Tour Tawna

Blogger Tawna (right) experiments with divining rods outside a historic downtown building on an outing with Bend Ghost Tours.

Bend Ghost Tours

I adore the haunted tours offered each Halloween by the Deschutes Historical Museum, and always wished for a year-round option. My wish came true in 2021 with Bend Ghost Tours rising from the crypt like a friendly zombie (cue spooky music).

Offering year-round tours in Downtown Bend, their Ghosts and Legends of Downtown Bend Tour covers a 1.2 mile loop with stops at Bend landmarks, businesses, and haunted sites for stories and history that’ll give you goosebumps. You’ll even get hands-on action when they lend divining rods to let you suss out paranormal energy in one noteworthy spot. 

What’s great about this tour is that there’s very little overlap with the one from Deschutes Historical Society. You can try both and not fret that you’ll hear the same stories. The cost is $25 and tours are available all year, with a handy online booking tool to make life simple.


FlyBend helicopter tours

With Big Mountain Heli temporarily closed, there’s been a hole to fill for folks craving a once-in-a-lifetime look at Bend from above. In December, Leading Edge Aviation stepped into the hole by launching a new aerial tour offering with their fleet of helicopters seeking out Central Oregon’s most epic views. 

FlyBend Leading Edge Bend helicopter tour

Tawna’s kiddo (left) gets a view of Bend from above on a helicopter tour with FlyBend.

Under the FlyBend umbrella, Leading Edge offers helicopter tours and charters that let guests see Central Oregon from a whole new vantagepoint. There’s a 30-minute tour for $399 or a 45-minute one for $599, with room in the little green chopper for three guests plus pilot.

Depending on your tour choice, you’ll have the chance to see mountains, lakes, waterfalls, Smith Rock, city views, or some combination of the above.

I was lucky enough to try a heli tour with my husband and 16-year-old several days ago. While choppy weather kept us from flying too far into the mountains, I was impressed by the pilot’s calm, cool control and clear communication about what was do-able. When we suggested re-routing over my teen’s high school for a view from above, he happily took us there with a pass over our house to boot.

Leading Edge has long had a stellar reputation for aerial instruction and operations in Bend, so you can book knowing you’re in solid hands for an unforgettable Bend experience.


Slay zombies at Zero Latency

Confession: I’m not sure I even knew what virtual reality was six months ago. Then I visited Bend’s new free-roam virtual reality experience that opened in early 2021. Zero Latency Bend boasts a 1,600 foot arena in their 6,000 foot facility with plenty of games to pick from, plus a viewing area and bar.

Zero Latency Bend

Zero Latency offers a unique virtual reality experience in Bend.

Novice zombie slayers should start with the Undead Arena game, though there are plenty of others, including games with no firearms at all. Participants are outfitted with roughly $6,000 worth of gear, including headset, goggles, microphone, and a wireless backpack containing all your techy goods. The system essentially takes over all your senses from hearing to sight, and you’ll spend 30 breathless minutes racing around utterly convinced you’re saving humanity from zombie invasion. With a 15-minute orientation beforehand, your 45-minute experience costs a buck a minute with a $45 price tag.

Guys, this is seriously one of the most exhilarating experiences in my family’s 2021 lineup (a list that includes snowmobiling at Elk Lake and ziplining in Costa Rica, lest you think we spent our year watching sitcoms on the couch). My teens laughed like I haven’t heard them laugh in ages. Our whole fam transformed into skilled zombie slayers clad in specialized armor firing weapons like expert marksmen. We squealed, we sweated, we raced around like lunatics yelling, “cover me!” or “nice headshot!” as zombies swarmed. 

While Bend’s an outdoorsy town, this makes a great activity for those days smoke or sleet or wind make the indoors a better place to be.


Try a new restaurant

Eateries struggled through pandemic closures and restrictions, so seeing new ones pop up over the past 12 months warmed both my heart and belly. 

Interior bar of Bosa Food and Drink

The interior bar of Bosa Food and Drink in Bend.

Some of my personal faves among newcomers are BOSA (yummy Italian and French cuisine!), Salute (more yummy Italian!), Sen Thai Noodles and Hot Pot (Thai cuisine from the same owners as Wild Rose), and The Grove (a collection of eateries in a food hall setting in NW Crossing). 

I’m also gonna go ahead and throw Chomp Chomp and Bend Izakaya Ronin on the list because even though they opened right before the pandemic started, they kinda got the shaft with that timing (plus they’re awesome!)

The number of new food carts popping up in Bend this past year is worthy of its own blog post (coming soon!) In the meantime, scope out this page to see which ones you’ve missed and want to try.

If none of those sound like what you’re craving, check out Visit Bend’s restaurants page for a dining spot that’s new to you. Bend’s culinary scene is pretty epic, so you owe it to your taste buds to sample something you haven’t tried before.

Do keep in mind that COVID restrictions remain in place at all Central Oregon dining spots. Masks are required to enter, and there are still limitations for how many folks can fit inside any eatery. Have patience with staff and servers, and be generous with both smiles and gratuities. 


Sip some vino in a new wine bar

If you found yourself imbibing more during the pandemic, you’re not alone.

Domaine Serene Wine Lounge

One of the cozy seating areas at Domaine Serene Wine Lounge in Bend.

Bend’s wine culture got a big boost at the end of 2021 with the opening of the new Domaine Serene Wine Lounge in Downtown Bend. Besides their divine wine and fantastic food, the setting here will blow your mind. This Dundee-based winery outdid themselves preserving and restoring the building’s historic features with original brick walls and a basement speakeasy lined with local lava rock.

Another new addition to Bend’s wine scene is Flights Wine Bar. Located in the space that formerly held Birdie’s Cafe, they offer full lunch and dinner along with wine tastings, glasses, and retail bottle sales. They even have coffee and beer, plus happy hour from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays.

And don’t forget some of Bend’s other newcomers on the wine tasting scene, including the Stoller Wine Bar in the Box Factory and Bledsoe Family Winery just down the street. 

Go ahead and make it a wine-tastic Bend vacay. Cheers!


Tackle the new Bend Ale Trail

While we’re on the subject of Bend’s adult beverage scene, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bend Ale Trail got a total revamp in its eleventh year.

Because Bend’s beer culture exploded since the original six breweries featured in a flimsy paper brochure, we dropped a bomb on the program and started from scratch with a booklike passport featuring not just Bend breweries, but outlying territories spanning to Sisters, Redmond, and Prineville. Each territory has its own prize, and once you collect your prize tasting glass for each, you get a cool custom taster tray to hold them all. 

Bend Ale Trail Passport Stamp

Heading out on the Bend Ale Trail with your passport in hand is an excellent start to a new year.

Besides breweries, the new Bend Ale Trail includes cideries, distilleries, wineries, and kombucha brewers as part of the Drinkable Diversions program. There’s also Perfect Pairings––a collection of hikes, scenic landmarks, and other attractions in each territory to round out your Bend Ale Trail experience.

Purchase a passport in the Bend Visitor Center for $5 or grab the app to get going today. Here’s to finding your new favorite brewery in the coming year!


Catch a new exhibit at the High Desert Museum

Bend’s High Desert Museum opened in 1982, and my first visit wasn’t long after. Some things like animal exhibits and Native American history displays remain pretty constant, but the great thing about this gem of the high desert is how often they shake things up.

The High Desert Museum Exhibit

The High Desert Museum is a great spot to scope out exhibits both new and old.

The Rethinking Fire exhibit features artwork that explores valuable questions about catastrophic fire and climate change, and your last chance to see it is this weekend, January 9. Another great limited-time exhibit is Carrying Messages, which continues through April 3 with stories of indiginous runners and the causes they support.

Don’t fret if you miss these, though. There’s never a shortage of amazing exhibits cycling in and out of the museum. Go here to see their lineup of both evolving and permanent exhibitions, and scan this page for a calendar of special events worth making a trip even if you’ve hit HDM a hundred times before.


Ride the Gravel Scenic Bikeway

I’m cheating with this one, but hear me out.

The Cascades Gravel Scenic Bikeway launched just before the pandemic as Oregon’s first (and only?) cycling route devoted wholly to gravel riding.

Gravel cycling

Gravel cycling on seldom-used Forest Service road is one way to get fresh air while still practicing social distancing.

For those not in the know, gravel cycling combines the best of road and mountain biking with cycling routes covering unpaved Forest Service roads and other less-traveled routes. It’s a way to get some cycling in while avoiding crowds and seeing some of the most stunning scenery Central Oregon has to offer.

Visit Bend partnered with Dirty Freehub, the experts on gravel riding in our region, to create a collection of six different routes ranging from beginner-level rides to more technical ones on challenging terrain. There’s something for beginners, intermediate, and advanced riders, with a chance to explore areas you’ve probably never seen before.

Since Visit Bend was one of the first destination marketing groups in the country to halt outbound marketing at the start of the pandemic, we couldn’t scream from the rooftops to national media when it first launched to the public. But it’s an excellent pandemic-era activity given the natural social distancing built into gravel cycling.

Scope out the routes and learn more about this fun activity. Maybe this fun hobby could be your New Year’s resolution?


Get your spa fix

Anyone else desperately need some pampering after the year we just had?

Taproot Bodywork

Taproot Bodywork offers couples massage classes and individual massage sessions.

Bend has long been home to some of Oregon’s most creative and decadent day spas, and you’ll see lots of your old favorites on our spa page.

If you’re itching for something new, first…um, maybe get checked for a skin condition? But once the itching’s stopped, you’ll find a wide range of spa services at Bella-Nuova on Newport Avenue. From a focus on organic beauty products to a massive menu of services, this new day spa is worth a visit to the 100-year-old historic home that houses it.

Another newcomer to the spa scene is Taproot Bodywork. Operated by longtime massage therapist Michelle Poirot, Taproot offers everything from couples’ massage classes to hot stone, deep tissue, and Swedish massage.

No matter where you choose to treat yourself, it’s a fine time to be kind to your mind and body. Happy New Year, everyone!

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