Before I moved to Bend, Oregon a little over a year ago, I wrote a list of the 15 reasons I thought I’d love Bend. Here’s my updated list of the reasons I actually love living in Bend Oregon. Bonus: I’ll cover four things that also surprised me about this lovely little mountain town.
For the record, the old list holds up pretty well… Bend is definitely NOT Los Angeles. It’s a charming, vibrant small town, and while there are dog haters who will yell at you (or simply give you the stink eye) if you flout the law and let your well-behaved dog off the leash, it’s still pretty dog friendly. It’s a gorgeous place, the seasons are breathtaking, though they take some getting used to (you can never ever leave the house without layers; the temps vary so much that I’m constantly adjusting: sweater on, sweater off, why am I wearing boots now that it’s 68 degrees? Oh, because it was 34 degrees when I left the house this morning…) Active outdoorsy town? Check. And check and check. Affordable? Yep, though the recent real estate frenzy is a little troubling. Still, I love seeing my out-of-town friends’ faces when our 10 Barrel brunch bill arrives. They usually assume it’s a mistake. Indulgent mimosa Sunday feast for 3 for under $50? What? Really? Yes, really. All the rest of the stuff on the original list holds up, so let’s dig into the four things I most love about living in Bend Oregon right now.
1) People are friendly in Bend
I’ve learned to smile (a genuine smile, by the way) at strangers since moving Bend. It’s a simple, lovely ritual, and part of living in Central Oregon: acknowledging your fellow humans with a nod and a smile and maybe even a greeting as you pass. If you’re not in motion, there may be chit chat too. Nothing terribly deep, but pleasant nonetheless. People here move at a slightly slower pace, so there’s almost always time to chat, unless chatting might get in the way of your cardio, or whatever sporty thing you may be doing. Smiling at strangers has become such a habit for me (mind you: a conscious habit, I actually feel the joy that spreads across my face when strangers return the smile), that when I’m in a bigger city, I find it jarring that people don’t look at each other and take a moment to connect. Living in Bend has made me a little more present, a little more conscious of, and connected to, the people around me.
Surprise: Don’t expect to be invited over for dinner in Bend
I feel more connected to the people around me in small ways, but also a little more isolated on a deeper level. Every day kindness abounds, but true hospitality isn’t really our thing, apparently. I’ve discussed this ad nauseam in other places on BGTB, so I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, if you’re considering moving to Bend, either bring your own network of close friends, or bring a couple year’s supply patience. Finding your circle may take some time. I still haven’t found mine, but I’m not discouraged. I might be a special case anyway (no kids, no outdoorsy obsessions, not a social butterfly), but I’ve met a ton of really interesting and lovely people and even a few who have invited me over for dinner… so I’m pretty confident it’ll all eventually click into place.
2) Bend is a casual, lifestyle kind of place
Oh, how I love the pace of this place. It’s rare to see people in a mad rush, or to have to contend with hidden agendas that involve climbing any sort of ladder (other than a literal latter to, say, clean gutters or trim trees). Ambition certainly exists in this town, but it is more of the exception than the rule. Most residents are more interested in hitting the trails after work than in burning the midnight oil at a desk to get a promotion or jump up to the next tax bracket (sometimes those things are not even possible in Bend). I find myself sitting in the slow lane in “traffic” all the time, when it would be easy to switch lanes to get to my destination like a minute earlier, but why? I’m in my little Bend-mobile (Suuubaruuuu!) singing along to The Sea The Sea, and changing lanes is just too much effort. Bend has a way of doing that to you.
Surprise: Bend’s casual, lifestyle vibe may annoy big-city types
If your blood pressure rises when you have to wait more than 10 minutes to place your order or when you have to track a server down to pay your bill in an understaffed restaurant, Bend might make you a little crazy. Service is almost always warm and friendly here, but it’s definitely laid back. No use rushing. We’ve got plenty of time, right? If you’re in a hurry, go to a chain restaurant. But it’s not just the restaurants in Bend that embrace the low gear in life. Because ambition isn’t the chief motivator in this town, sometimes it’s hard to get stuff done, to make things happen as quickly or as efficiently as you’d like. If you’re a hard-core type-A personality accustomed to being surrounded by driven people, Bend will take some getting used to. We’re driven in our own way, but our “drivers” are more about the life we want to live than the success we want to attain. And of course, If you need to get to a literal destination in a big hurry in Bend, you will certainly be annoyed. Don’t bother honking, I’m too busy singing along and daydreaming about my next hike to even pay you any mind.
3) Bend has a thriving arts community
There are so many talented artists, craftspeople and musicians doing their thing around town, it’s inspiring. Whether as a hobby or a profession, blacksmiths, luthiers, seamstresses, painters and banjo players aren’t hard to find around here. In a town that is so focused on the doing physical stuff, there are a surprising number of artists and musicians and makers. The Workhouse is an awesome example of a physical location that has become a sort of epicenter for creative types, where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Don’t miss their last Saturday events. Serious fun. And when it comes to live music, we’ve got a decent amount. Between The Tower, Les Schwab amphitheater and some other smaller venues, a few decent acts roll through town. Oh, and during summers in Bend, you can see live music outdoors almost any night of the week.
Surprise: Bend is not a music town
Yes, you can see live music in lots of places, BUT the Bend community is not committed as a whole to being a music town. Music is noisy. It sometimes attracts rowdy drunk people. It may mean less parking in your neighborhood. All of this means that the person whose alarm is set for 6 a.m. for that morning paddle, run, hike, skate, or ski probably doesn’t give a damn about the local music scene, and will actively campaign against it if the scene interferes in the smallest of ways. I’ve lost count, but in the year I’ve been here, I can recall at least four music venues that have closed thanks to difficult neighbors. I get it. I do. But it also breaks my heart a little, because selfishly I really want Bend to be a thriving, attractive place for musicians of all stripes, and it just isn’t. I know no place is like Austin, but I love the vibe of a town where you can wander into a bar at 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon and see a studio musician and his/her band tearing it up on stage just for the hell of it (and don’t even get me started on the dancing).
4) Bend is indeed a great place to heal a broken heart
Maybe it’s the Deschutes River, or the 71 parks in roughly 30 square miles, or the story-book cloudscapes, or the snow-capped mountains you can spy from the Safeway parking lot, but Bend is an amazing place to simply be and work through whatever is troubling you. It’s a beautiful town if you take the time to slow down, stop worrying, look up from time to time and explore a bit. It’s a peaceful gentle place, where you can relax and join in the bazillion events that are going on around town, or you can hike and bike and ski and paddle to your heart’s content in the company of friendly strangers. I post on Instagram frequently, and recently an LA friend said I was kind of cheating at Instagram since I live in such a gorgeous locale. She’s right. There are a thousand gorgeous photos to take every day. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by so much beauty and living under the Central Oregon skies.
Surprise: Bend is not the best town for singles over 30.
Most Bend residents seem to be married, retired, or in their 20s. I haven’t researched the statistics, but most people here in their 30s or 40s are busy raising kids. Sure there are some divorced single parents, but they too are pretty kid focused. While I didn’t move to Bend to improve my dating life, I’m amused that I’m such odd duck around here. In Venice, California, I was the norm. Single, unmarried, no kids. Sure, I’m no spring chicken, but there were lots of us who just chose a different path, and we flocked together. There isn’t much of a single flock here. Not a complaint, but living in a big city with all my like-minded friends, I kind of forgot that the rest of the people my age started families while I was traveling and brunching and building my resume… But most normal people did, and there are a lot of them in Bend. This isn’t a deal killer in my book. I moved here to put down roots, and do my own thing. If nothing else, once the people my age approach their empty nest phase, we may have a lot more in common.
In conclusion, I’m a year in, and I’m loving living in Bend. I don’t feel the need to evangelize on behalf of the city; it’s either your cup of tea, or it isn’t. And really, Bend isn’t for everyone. Just like any place, it has its limitations and bonuses, it’s benefits and it’s downfalls, but overall it’s the perfect place for me. If I could just import my five closest friends, I’d say it’s the best place I’ve ever lived, or could ever want to live. It’s odd that I moved to such an active place — you can do five sporty things during daylight hours and still manage to get in a day of work — and am learning to be patient, and just be. I’m learning to do what I love, but at the same time to define myself less by what I do. Bend truly is a place where your character is more important than the car you drive or the handbag you carry. Though to be fair, I do notice people eyeing my mountain bike and can see them drawing conclusions about the who I am… It’s human to draw conclusions, I’m just happy to live in a place where people are checking out the type of shocks on my bike, instead of trying to figure out if I can be useful to them professionally, yah know?
I like living in a town with kind, considerate people who take the time to breathe and appreciate the outdoors, and smile at their neighbors. If I want ambition and culture overload and to feast my eyes on the hip and the innovative, it’s only a 3-hour drive away. There’s a time and a place for everything. And right now, in this time, Bend is my place.