A few weeks ago, I had a business trip out to a city in Oregon called Bend. Having never heard of it prior to the trip, I had no idea what to expect. It was a feeling perhaps best described as an anxious excitement stemming from the facts that one, this would be my first required travel for work and two, I’ve always loved the charm of small cities I’ve seen captured by others (my own experience with them has been quite limited in recent memory).
With only two nights to spend, I quickly built a list of places to check out while waiting for my flight out (making use of the fact that I have been trained from an early age to arrive at least 2 hours early to every flight). Not knowing how much free time I’d have there, I sampled my destinations out of sheer convenience - anything that was a 15 minute walk from our hotel would be fair game.
Little did I know how many gems I’d miss by limiting myself to that requirement, but based on how much I ended up loving my stay there, I’m certain I’ll one day be back to check those remaining places off my bucket list there.
But first, a few photos from the flight over. The 40 minute flight from Vancouver to Seattle was entirely spent by gawking out the window and admiring the sights, as I typically favour aisle seats (due to a combination of a perchance for drinking lots of water, having a small bladder, and not wanting to bother somebody to leave their seat every 20 minutes as a result of it all).
A 3-hour layover in Seattle later, we were off on a propeller plane to Redmond (no, not Microsoft Redmond, there’s also one in Oregon too). For those of you wondering, yes, a propeller plane is safe. Just watch anything you place on the seat table as there’s a chance the constant micro-vibrations will make them fall.
After a quick stroll through the most adorable airport I’ve ever been to (it has only three gates!), we made our way over to our hotel in Bend, making a pit stop at a Ross because somebody forgot to bring dress shoes. After a good night’s rest in the Signature Bend Motel, we got up early to make a quick pit stop at one of the prime attractions in Bend, located conveniently just a minute away from our motel.
90’s kids, eat your hearts out: this is the final Blockbuster in the world. We didn’t actually go inside so I can’t tell how much of it held true to my memories, but perhaps it’s a metaphor for all of our childhoods. If we examine them from our adult minds in detail, the simple things that used to make us happy become meaningless as our expectations and standards have dulled out our senses of joy and wonder.
Looking at the memories from a high level though, we can still appreciate the symbols of our childhoods for what they represented. And yes, I felt no shame dragging my co-worker out here and getting ecstatic over seeing the iconic blue and yellow logo.
After our first day on site, we decided to explore Bend’s downtown area. Downtown is a relative term - what we saw evoked images of Vancouver’s Kerrisdale more than the conventional busy streets and skyscrapers. While it usually doesn’t rain in Bend (it’s a high desert climate), we brought a little gift over from Vancouver and got to enjoy a distinctly different ‘fresh rain smell’.
Downtown Bend is situated right next to a river, so as we were waiting for our dinner plans, we took a stroll and played “pick your future home” to kill time.
For a town where Asians are an actual minority, I was skeptical to try the next two places. The first was a spontaneous visit as my curiosity got the better of me, and the second was from the recommendation of one of our clients.
Townshend’s Bend Teahouse
We were looking for a place to pick up some loose leaf tea in town, and on the window, I saw a big “Bubble Tea” sign. My morbid curiosity brought me in, as I wondered what the bubble tea would be like in a place where it’s right next to kombucha on the menu. Colour me surprised, as I was quite impressed. Both the marrionberry and jasmine milk teas were sublime, with the perfect blend of tea, milkiness, and sweetness. The pearls were a bit off, but still palatable. Try the lavendar option as well, as it was the barista’s drink of choice.
After my expectations were blown away, they were also set high for our next destination: a Thai restaurant. When the client first suggested it, I was honestly not expecting much. Given the amount of good Thai places in Vancouver, what were the chances Bend would be able to surpass my usual standards?
Even my newly raised expectations did not capture how delicious of a meal I was in store for.
Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats
This was hands down, one of the best Thai restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. No exaggeration. The dishes were quite unique as Northern Thai food isn’t typically represented in typical fare, dishes were bursting with flavour, and the interior was totally beautiful. Of particular note were the tumeric clams (order them with the Yum Khao Tod, the waitress suggested to us), avocado with prawns, Gang Hoh, and Kow Pad Boo. Honestly, anything here will likely be good, although the iced coffee I had was a bit weaker than I’d like.
The pictures I took here don’t do the food justice, as I was extra enough to take a few, but not enough so to pull out an actual camera in front of clients.
After a way-too-big meal, I set off to explore the sunset-stricken riverside, while my coworkers went off to explore one of the breweries.
Bend has a disproportionate number of craft breweries considering its size. While I can’t give much advice about them as they’re far outside my forte, let’s just say it’s a great place to go on a bender - they apparently even have an app guiding you through a barcrawl of the now 14 breweries sprawled across the city.
The next day was our final one, so I hoped to see the riverside one more time in daylight. We woke up early to follow a scenic route into downtown for coffee.
Yup, we confirmed it wasn’t just golden hour making the city look magical. By this point, we were both chatting nonstop about how we wanted to one day live here.
As an aside, we learned from many uber drivers that there’s been a mass migration of people from California - San Diego in particular. Many have been retreating from the high property costs there and have in turn driven the property rates in Bend to full multiples in recent years. Their opinions of these new bend-ians (I think that’s what they called them) varied, but there was definitely a divide between the two sides.
Who could blame them though, for the same price as a closet in Vancouver, you could likely still buy a reasonably sized home (we saw few condos here) and live like a king, taking riverside strolls every morning plucking huckleberries along the way.
After our final day on site, we said our goodbyes and prepared to take one last stroll around downtown.
Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe
The quaintest little bookstore/cafe exuding a ‘grandmother’s house’ vibe. With two levels, new/used books, and some delicious chai tea, it was a nice place to unwind for a bit and research a few places to add to our future Bend Bucket list. Speaking of, here’s a quick little compilation I put together based on suggestions from our client and Uber drivers:
Lake Billy Chinook
The Painted Desserts
Floating down the river on a raft
Pilot Butte Viewpoint
Concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater
If any of us could drive and realized sooner that we’d be surrounded by all of these gems, you would have definitely seen the adventurous side of Bend - it’s totally surrounded by natural wonders! The research and realization that we were so close, yet so far from these parks made us sad and requiring comfort, so we decided to visit the one suggestion we were close to.
Bontà Natural Artisan Gelato
We may have gone a bit overboard and shared 6 flavours between two people. I made this sacrifice so that I could share the standouts, of course. Orange/almond and cinnamon/marrionberry were my two favourites by far - I will search far and wide for an equivalent in Vancouver…
In our final moments, we took one last short walk around before catching an Uber back to the Redmond airport.
I’ll admit that it’s difficult to get the true feeling of a city when only staying for a couple of days and by only touring around a curated selection of locations. It’s like the trailer for a movie: the highlights without the potential downfalls.
However, the trailer left me utterly spellbound with this impossibly charming city.
Although this journey had come to its (b)end, I know that I’ll be back in this wonderful gem of a city to see more of the full picture.