Scenery, solitude, shops, sun — Bend has it all

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Friday, October 16, 2009 3:13pm
  • LifeCommentary

Bend may not seem like a go-to getaway for people in Snohomish County.

It’s a whopping seven hours from downtown Everett, and that’s if you don’t stop on the 375-mile drive to the middle of Oregon.

But if you really need to get away this fall, far away, Bend may be the perfect place for your next long weekend.

Nestled in the heart of Central Oregon at about 3,600 feet, Bend sits at a crossroad of landscapes, sagebrush-strewn high desert to the east and Ponderosa pine forests to the west.

Numerous magazines have hailed Bend as a top destination — the new Boulder, Colo. — as well as a great place to live. Last year, Sunset magazine warned, “Whoever visits Bend, moves to Bend.”

Indeed, in the past decade it’s become one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, jumping from about 50,000 in 2000 to more than 80,000 today.

It’s easy to see why someone would want to own a vacation home here, where locals report an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.

Bisected by the winding Deschutes River, Bend is a veritable gold mine for outdoorsy types seeking a commodity rare in the greater Seattle area: solitude.

It’s far enough from Portland to be free of persistent crowds on pristine rivers, lakes and trails, and yet close enough to the city’s urban influences to offer one-of-a-kind restaurants, appealing lodging and cool shopping.

Bend is a starting point for a great many day trips, including Mount Bachelor to the west, Smith Rock State Park to the north and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument to the south, where visitors can explore obsidian flows, lava caves and alpine lakes.

That said, you don’t need to leave the urban charms of Bend to enjoy your visit here.

Bend’s core offers the best of all worlds, a historic downtown, a modernized Old Mill District and arterial roads dotted with national chains, just in case you need them.

Downtown is filled with mom-and-pop shops and other homey attractions, including the historic Tower Theatre and a McMenamins hotel and brewery housed in a restored 1936 Catholic schoolhouse.

Restaurant options downtown include multiple Thai, Mexican and Italian places, and cozy hometown haunts such as 900 Wall, where even the cheese plate and burger menu items feature big and surprising flavors. For the extra-hip and trendy, Marz bills itself as “A Planetary Bistro.”

If you like to drink, you’ll be at home downtown, with the Bendistillery Martini Bar, the Deschutes Brewery and Public House and, among many other wine stops, the Volcano Vineyards tasting lounge, featuring award-winning vino made with grapes from southern Oregon.

If all that isn’t enough, simply take a walk, about a mile south of downtown, toward the Old Mill District, a quasi-upscale outdoor mall reminiscent of University Village in Seattle.

Make a stop midway at the Strictly Organic Coffee Co., a joint with a genuinely local vibe, tasty, simple food and sustainability with a smile.

Stroll just a bit further south and you’ll be in the center of the Old Mill District, complete with three decorative smokestacks.

Popular chains — Gap, Red Robin, a 16-screen Regal Cinemas, Anthony’s and REI — dot the scene along with local shops, art galleries, restaurants, a children’s museum and an outdoor amphitheater.

If you love the squeaky-clean feeling of the Old Mill District, there’s plenty of lodging nearby, including vacation rentals and the 96-room AmeriTel Inn offering weekend rates of $120 a night.

Then again, it doesn’t matter so much where you stay: Bend, thanks to the scenic river and mountain vistas everywhere, is a pleasure to walk.

It doesn’t hurt that the city has 2,375 acres of public parks and open spaces. That includes seven dog park areas, plus public playgrounds, riverfront trails and a 51-mile urban trail network.

Drake Park, right downtown, is a must-see destination, as is the Farewell Bend Park, also on the Deschutes.

When you’re done, you can hit one of many day spas in and around Bend.

Remember, this is where you come to get away from it all.

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037,

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