In the last few decades, Bend has really blown up. The city, which was once just a little resort town in the desert, has added about 50,000 residents since the 1990s. And while the growth has been quick, Bend has handled it in stride, carving out a special niche for itself.
A combination of rustic and up-and-coming, Bend’s beautiful landscape, budding arts and cultural scene, and recently-affordably housing market has attracted plenty of young thinkers, outdoorsy types, retirees, and young families, all of whom have heard tell of this not-so-secret secret.
Still, Bend isn’t for everyone. Before you pack up your ski poles and tent stakes and head for the hills, consider the elements:
trekkyandy via Flickr
If you know only one thing about Bend, it’s that the city loves the outdoors. Located in the high desert at the foot of multiple mountains, there are outdoor activities in Bend year-round. Hiking, fishing, boating, skiing, cycling, running, snowshoeing, camping—it’s all there, right in your backyard, and everyone is jealous of it.
Of course, if you’re someone who isn’t into winter sports, Bend’s climate can be a problem. Though summers are sunny and warm (with the occasional hard frost because it’s a desert) and almost always stretch well into September, the winter in Bend can really drag on. Look for close to two feet of snow per year, and—gardeners beware—a super-short growing season.
szapucki via Flickr
Plenty of handcrafted beer brewers have sprung up in Oregon over the last decade, but Bend has truly led the charge with their immensely popular Deschutes Brewery, which was founded in 1988. Deschutes, which is now the fifth-largest craft brewery in the world, is in good company; with 24 craft breweries (and growing) in Central Oregon, you never have to go a day without a pint of the finest locally-sourced IPA available.
Beer gets top booze billing in Bend, but the proximity to the Willamette Valley means wine enthusiasts have plenty of Oregon-grown goodness to sip, too. Just head to the Wine Shop (that’s really a place) and ask for the best local varietals. Or, look into one of the dozens of tasting rooms located in and around town.
Bend, which is one of only three US cities to have an extinct volcano in its city limits, is largely built on the remains of centuries-old volcanic activity. Which means there’s pokey lava rock all over the place and also a lot of historical information about volcanos and even a pretty rad theater/bar called the Volcanic Theatre Pub.
If you’ve never lived in Oregon, there are two things you need to know: There’s no sales tax, and people really are very laid-back. Bend is almost prototypically Oregonian, both statistically — in terms of median income and housing value — and culturally. Which unfortunately means…
…Is a problem. Oregon isn’t a super culturally diverse state, and Bend is no exception. According to the last census, Bend was well over 90% white. And while that is changing slowly, if raising your kids in an area with a lot of different populations represented is your goal, this may not be your place.
Man, people in Bend love their dogs. In 2012, Bend was rated the Dog Friendliest City, according to “Dog Fancy,” a publication that really knows dogs. The city earned the distinction thanks to its many off-leash dog areas, as well as pet-friendly businesses and establishments. Those who love dining alongside their neighbor’s dachshunds will get a kick out of the perpetual presence of pets.
photologue_np via Flickr
Like a lot of cities under 100,000 residents, Bend doesn’t boast a ton of industry, which can make finding a job hard. The city’s unemployment is higher than the national average at just over 8%. However, if you’re into the outdoors and work as a medical professional or automotive mechanic, Bend can be the place where you achieve perfect work/life balance. The largest employers in town are the hospital, Les Schwab Tire Centers, and the many resorts and hotels in the region, which serve Bend’s sizable tourism industry.
Speaking of tourism, it really is a big deal in Bend. Resorts like Sunriver and Mt. Bachelor employ thousands of area residents, and serve the many more thousands of visitors who come to this desert paradise to escape city life. And while welcoming temporary masses of people can get a little tense, it’s worth it to get to experience events like Bend Oktoberfest and Central Oregon Beerfest.
Here’s the thing about cities without much industry—they have great potential. For years, optimistic economists have been predicting that Bend could be the next big place for entrepreneurs. Already, startups have begun to crop up, employing all the smart young folks in high-paying, emerging tech jobs. As the population tops 80,000 and housing prices continue to drop, Bend could be the next Silicon Valley. Maybe.
Bend is all about retirees. The city goes out of their way to make it easy for folks to spend their finest years among the lava rock, enjoying the seasons and taking in the culture. And even though the median age in Bend is under 40, the retirement population is sizable at over 12%.
Living on the other side of any mountain range can make for tricky travel, and Bend is no exception. Located on the East side of the Cascades, visitors to and from the more populated side of Oregon can have some real trouble navigating snowy, icy highways like 26 and 20. If you do move to Bend, you’ll need a ride that can handle it. Be prepared to rely on your all-wheel drive.
There are geese everywhere in Bend. They will terrorize you.
Matthew Hickey via Flickr
You don’t need to watch “Portlandia” to know that DIY Fever is sweeping the nation (or at least, the nation’s young people)—and Bend is no exception. But instead of storefront after storefront of expensive handicrafts, Bend boasts a burgeoning arts community, centered around creative hubs like the Workhouse and the Belfry in nearby Sisters.
U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr
Smokey Bear says forest fires are a legitimate concern for Bendites and visitors. Train closures, traffic delays, and even evacuations aren’t unusual in this dry, desert area. And while Bend doesn’t struggle with the air quality issues of large cities, controlled burns and wildfires can cause lingering smoke in the summertime.
Interestingly, Bend is home to multiple local periodicals, including The Source Weekly, Cascade A&E, and Central Oregon Magazine, so you’ve always got some way to find out what’s going on. When, you know, the internet is down or whatever.
Big city folks may crave a place to occasionally escape — which can be hard to do, when the nearest town of over 100,000 people is Eugene. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of proximity; Portland is about three hours (and a sometimes-dangerous pass) away, which can make getting some things (like new supplies for your MacBook) kind of a challenge. However, for some folks who wish to live a more off-the-grid life, it’s really, really nice.
DonkeyHotey via Flickr
Oregon has a reputation for liberalism — thanks, Eugene — but truthfully, it’s actually a fairly conservative state. Most voters in Oregon are registered republicans, and the same is true of Deschutes County voters; in 2012, Deschutes County went for Romney. However, the city of Bend is pretty evenly split, politically speaking, meaning that lots of issues, ranging from development to the treatment of the city’s water, can get contentious, quickly. Expect to overhear a lot of prolonged (and sometimes heated) conversations about industry vs. the environment while out and about.
fredsharples via Flickr
No one can seem to agree on whether or not the housing market in Bend is in recovery or not. Due to an abundance of growth in the last decade (you’re not the only one thinking of packing up and moving to Bend!), the market experienced its own bubble, causing housing prices to soar. They’ve begun to come back down substantially, making now a pretty good time to buy, though some realtors are wary about the slump. Click HERE to check out houses for sale in Bend.
Urban Growth Boundary
trekkyandy via Flickr
If you’re not familiar with UGBs, you’d better get with the program. These sprawl-limiting lines in the sand are the law of the land in Oregon — though Bend’s population boom has created a need for expansion. They’ve even got a task force for the proposal to change or alter the UGB, which is a big topic in town.
leesean via Flickr
For a small-ish place, Bend has a surprisingly great restaurant scene. Hopping on food trends like mobile dining (read: food carts) and local, sustainable sourcing, Bend is replete with places to eat. In fact, the Huffington Post noted that it was one of the top cities when it comes to restaurants per capita. The city’s official website touts some of the top spots.
via Bend Sux
For years, one 25-year resident tirelessly documented his many complaints about Bend on the blog Bend Sux. Naturally, folks wondered why he stuck around so long if he hated it so much, but he was something of a local joke/celeb, so most of the city tolerated him. Or maybe they were just happy to see someone — anyone! — writing about Bend on the internet. Either way, rumor has it that H. Bruce Miller has finally left for fairer weather, which seems to be the case, as he hasn’t updated the site in over a year.
SHOPPING FOR A HOME IN BEND
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