(This article may or may not contain affiliate links. What does that mean?)
Unhappy people move to Bend, Oregon, but they don’t stay that way. Seduced from the crush of city life to a culture built around food and the outdoors, visitors won’t be able to tell when they meet these transplants that they ever lived with dissatisfaction. Whatever Bend does to these people, by the time out-of-towners arrive, they’d never suspect they were anything but the smiling humans they meet on their arrival. That’s the magic Bend casts over its residents that they happily share with whoever stumbles into their domain.
Over winter break, we flew to central Oregon to look for the best family things to do in Bend and neighboring Mt. Bachelor. It takes a lot to entertain my two teen boys, so we had to scramble to keep their bodies moving so their minds stayed engaged. Here is what we discovered were the best things for families to do in and around Bend.
NO TIME TO ENJOY THIS ARTICLE NOW? PIN IT OR BOOKMARK FOR LATER!
One of our favorite family things to do is play in the snow. The boys couldn’t wait to jump on the mountain and show off their snowboarding skills. Find the entire detailed experience of our two days of finding the best things to do for families in Oregon’s largest ski resort, Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, in the article below.
Words like charming and quaint spring to mind when families wander the cobblestone sidewalks of Downtown Bend. Hundred-year-old buildings mark the downtown area, comprised of two one-way streets, Bond and Wall, intersected by four others. Small shops selling clothing, art and outdoor equipment line the walkways along with generous helpings of trees spread around the concentrated business district. Restaurants, some fancy and some chill, are filled with chatty patrons and talented chefs. There’s also a vintage movie theater.
Parents can enjoy the Bend Ale Trail in the craft beer capital of the west. Use the app to get the map or stop by the visitor’s center for a souvenir paper version. Kids will love the Vector Volcano Arcade and Cravin’s Candy Emporium, which also has gelato (Italian ice cream!)
Old Mill District
In 1916, the pine timber industry in Bend was the second largest in the world. The clear-cut areas became neighborhoods. The mill that processed the trees is now a modern retail shopping area along the Deschutes River called the Old Mill District. Easily spotted by the three smokestacks towering over the area. Teens will love the contemporary options, and outdoor lovers will want to stop by the REI.
Just outside the city is a great place for those who seek what lies beneath the surface. Our tour guide from Wanderlust Tours told us the vast Newbury National Volcanic Monument has more miles of caves than anyone has ever completely been able to survey. We took the Lava Tube Cave Tour through the Lava River Cave. The only modification to this natural landscape is the addition of stairs to lead visitors down into the mouth of the earth. The light disappears about 20 feet from the drop. If explorers aren’t wearing headlamps, they will not be able to see their hands in front of their faces. Initially, the cave stretches about 50 feet in all directions but quickly cubbies of rock separate the chamber, and hikers must navigate the short paths between boulders, scampering over the bigger ones.
My mamma knees, full of history, held out until we got to the section that demanded business. There, travelers snake their way through a mile long lava tube on their tummies. Unless there was a magical oasis at the end, I had no interest in getting that dirty. Or working so hard. But the boys were up for it, so off they went while I got to sit on a rock and contemplate the evolution of my body from where I would have rushed off like my boys to sitting on a cold rock by myself. But when the boys came back, full of cheer and stories, it was fine, a thing I enjoyed in another way.
If you happen to try this on your own, a great thing to do is to stop by the Lava Lands Visitor Center to get a free orientation.
Other Fun Outdoor Activities
- Adventurous families will love the Elk Lake Resort’s Snowcat that runs along the Cascade Lakes Highway.
- Want to keep the snowplay light? Try the Wanago Sno Park sledding hills! Perfect for the whole family.
- If winter isn’t complete without ice-skating, head to the Pavilion to get your glide on or watch a local hockey game.
- Spend the whole day exploring Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Smith Rock State Park, Deschutes National Forest, Tumalo State Park, Riverbend Park, Drake Park and Mirror Pond,
- Not in the winter months but during the summer months try rock climbing on Mt. Bachelor!
- One of the best things to also do is visit Tumalo Falls!
The Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory is a great time for kids of all ages who love birds and amphibians. During the day, explore wetlands, the pine forest, and the botanical garden. At night, gaze to the stars to discover or solar system.
Fun Indoor Activities
- Visit the High Desert Museum for a look at the history and evolution of the area.
- The Sun Mountain Fun Center is a great afternoon of diversion. This indoor and outdoor facility has bowling, bumper cars, laser tag, arcade games, a rock climbing wall and hot pizza.
- For fun indoor sports try the mountain air trampoline park.
With Mt. Bachelor casting its shadow over Bend, OR, and the Deschutes River close by, there are countless fun family things to do!
Although it didn’t feel like we arrived unhappy, our family definitely felt more joy after spending time in Bend. We hadn’t really heard too much about Bend before our visit but as we left, we felt a connection with the kind people and the healthy outdoor culture of the community.
Best Places To Eat In Bend
The Victorian Cafe might be my favorite breakfast place of all time. The boys didn’t want to leave their cozy beds so Howard and I went exploring and found this charming restaurant. It’s busy and eclectic and we sat by the outdoor fire while we waited for our table.
The menu is filled with the most varieties of eggs benedict I’d ever seen. There are pages of creative dishes to choose from. We also shared the most over-the-top bloody mary.
Cascade Lakes Brewing Co
With an open, casual layout, the tables held groups of families enjoying another restaurant with tons of options at the Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. We really enjoyed dinner here and this incredible brewery also donates its profits to charitable causes that support stewardship, conservation, and animal welfare efforts. It’s the first and only non-for-profit brewery in Central Oregon.
Zydeco Kitchen and Cocktails
Who says parents can’t have a date night on a family trip? After wearing the kids out on Mt. Bachelor, we enjoyed a quiet evening at this swanky restaurant. Zydeco Kitchen and Cocktails. We shared the Citrus Marinated Beet Salad, and I had the Winter Mushroom Risotto, and Howard had the grilled redfish with crab, spinach and mashed potatoes.
When You Go
Getting To Bend From Los Angeles
United flies nonstop to Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM), which is about a 20-minute drive from the town of Bend, where you’d most likely stay. Alaska, Delta, United, and American all fly nonstop to Portland International Airport (PDX), which is about three hours from Bend. In both cases, it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour flight from LAX. Either way, you’ll need to rent a car.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!
Bend Oregon Hotels
We stayed at the modestly priced LOGE Bend which hosted us. This is perfect for the outdoor enthusiast and an affordable family vacation options. There are hammocks in the room and a bike rack (inside the room!). Our room had bunkbeds for the boys and that’s perfect for kids who aren’t taller than their parents! They also have mountain bikes you can borrow and wheel around the woodsy property. The boys tried this in the snow and didn’t get very far. There are lights strung up over Adirondack chairs and firepits. There’s a community area in the lobby with board games and a coffee shop that serves snacks, which is a great way to meet other travelers. Sometimes they have live music. At night, there are adult beverages, and people hang out and process the excitement of their day. We enjoyed the indoor hot tub after our icy adventures. They have a seasonal outdoor pool but no indoor pool.
DON’T MISS! Room Reveal: LOGE Bend
Riverbend on the Deschutes
Riverbend on the Deschutes has spacious contemporary rooms with a two minute walk to the Deschutes River. There are connecting room options and even bunk beds. This hotel has an indoor pool, a fitness center, and a restaurant and bar. Dogs are welcome at this property. Walking distance to the Old Mill District, families who stay here won’t have a lack of activities, even during downtime.
Sunriver Resort is a year-round playground for families. Located minutes from both Mt. Bachelor and Bend, the resort has condos, pools, and a whole slate of family–friendly activities. There are four restaurants and bars and a full-service spa.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT!