I left my urban existence behind and moved to Bend a year and a half ago. I love this place and I imagine I’ll love it for a very long time. When folks ask, “Should I move to Bend, Oregon?” I used to respond with an enthusiastic, “Do it!!! It’s amazing!!” But, the truth is, Bend isn’t for everyone. You kinda have to be ready to ease into the pace and vibe of Central Oregon. If you’re currently living in a big city, this is the post for you. Should you move to Bend, Oregon? It depends…
If you’re on the fence about uprooting your life and heading this way, I can tell you a few things you should consider, though the best way to answer that question is to spend a week or two here. This place will either call to you or it won’t.
There are a few things that I’d tell my closest friends to consider before moving to Bend. Keep in mind that my non-Bend friends live in bigger cities by comparison. With a population of 80,000, Bend is still small potatoes.
Before you move, first, stop and think about what you enjoy most about big-city life. Chances are you won’t find it here. Be realistic about what you’re ready to leave behind.
Does Bend have….
- Ethnically diverse neighborhoods or ethnically diverse anything? Nope.
- Year-around access to world-class arts, music and cultural events? Nope.
- Easy access to a smorgasbord of Michelin Star chefs/restaurants? Nope.
- Nonstop flights to most major cities in the world? Definitely not. Bend’s airport has direct flights to 6 cities (San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City). That’s it.
- A wide range of people from around the world, with varying viewpoints, customs, first languages, etc. Yeah, not so much in Bend.
- The ability to get just about anything you want, when you want it? Matzoh ball soup at midnight? Uh, you’d have to drive three hours to find a Jewish deli. If you just want a bowl of soup, good luck finding a kitchen open after 10 p.m. in this town. Your check at the end of dinner without flagging down your waitperson? Sorry, we can’t guarantee that. A bottle of artisanal tequila at 10:30 p.m. No dice. (You can only buy booze at state-owned liquor stores, and we have four, total, in Bend, and if it’s the right time of year, you might find one open until 10 p.m. After that, you’ll have to settle for beer or wine).
- An orgy of weekly farmer’s markets teeming with local produce any day of the week, any time of the year? Uh, no. Farmer’s market season around here is only June – September. We do have an awesome year-round farmer’s cooperative, Central Oregon Locavore, but this is the High Desert, we’re happy for what we can get in December, even if it’s not exactly a bountiful selection.
If the lack of any of these things will eat away at you, or induce whining once you live here, cross Bend off your list.
Be aware that if you get your heart broken here, or break a heart, or inadvertently make an enemy, the town can start to feel a little claustrophobic. You must be prepared to live in the same fishbowl with many of the same people, for a very long time. Which means you have to be nice, choose the people you associate with wisely and generally be accountable for any douchebaggery you either dish out or put up with. If you tend to burn bridges or leave a trail of alienated friends/lovers/business associates in your wake, Bend is a terrible choice for you.
If Bend is still singing its siren song in your dreams, make sure you’re ready to surrender to a simpler, small-town existence. For me, the benefits of living here FAR outweigh any drawbacks. I’ve written elsewhere about the things I love about Bend and those all still hold true. Yep, I love living here. People are friendly, it’s a gorgeous place to live, it’s more affordable (more on that in a second), it’s “real” — there’s not a lot of pretense. You can drink the tap water. You can hike, camp, kayak, ski, climb, run and bike your brains out. There’s plentiful street parking (except downtown on first Friday). It’s a relaxed life, totally free of traffic, smog and paparazzi.
Now let’s talk practical matters. First, I strongly suggest you either bring your own work with you (freelance, telecommuting, etc) or secure a job before you arrive. Bend is NOT the kind of place where you just show up and find something, unless you’re cool with a service industry job and can live on $12 an hour. Which you probably can’t.
Where to live? Well, that’s totally different for everyone. I like pre-War homes. You’ll only find those on the Westside, mostly in Old Bend and River West. But let me back up a bit. Bend is divided into the four basic quadrants: NW, NE, SW, SE. (The Eastside is more affordable, FYI). Here’s a map of the basic neighborhoods of Bend, courtesy of The City of Bend:
You may be tempted to find some little cabin out in the woods, or in Sunriver, Redmond or Sisters. Don’t do it. Trust me. Settle in close to amenities and other people. You’ll be glad you did. If you can, choose a spot that has easy access to the awesome Deschutes River Trail. You think you’ll drive to it every day to hike, walk, bike, etc, but once the novelty wears off, you won’t. Oh and regarding driving, remember that right now, a 20 minute drive anywhere seems like a dream, like NOTHING. When you’ve lived here for 6 months, a 20 minute drive seems like an eternity and you’ll do just about anything to avoid being in your car for that long.
If you’re buying a home, for a no-frills 2 – 3 bedroom starter home on the Eastside, think $200 – $300k (anything from cookie-cutter new construction to some funky ’70s and ’80s properties). If you want a nicer neighborhood or a home with some history/character, Westside properties start around $300k minimum ($500k if you want square footage and a view or a really fancy neighborhood), if you’re lucky and can find one. Inventory at this moment is pretty bleak.
If you’re renting, expect to spend $900 a month for a sweet but tiny studio apartment in a great location with hardwood floors and lots of light. At the other end of the spectrum, you can probably find a bland, carpeted, baseboard-heat, popcorn-ceiling apartment for $650 a month. For a well-maintained 2-bedroom house in a decent eastside neighborhood, think $1200 for starters.
Oh, and don’t expect anyone to return your calls when you call about rental properties. When you finally find a property in your price range that you like, you’ll be one of like 60 people who wants to rent it. You’ll have better luck dealing with landlord-managed properties than the rental agencies. When I was looking for a rental, I called and emailed about dozens of properties. 80% were represented by rental agencies. Not one single agency returned my call or email. Not one. I ended up buying the home I rented from the owner, so it’s not like I was an undesirable tenant, but that’s kind of how it works around here. You often have to beg people to give them your business/money. If this will drive you crazy, stay where you are. Most people moved here for a slower pace, and that includes the people who provide you with local goods and services. You get used to it, and, really, if you’re ready for Bend, you’ll relate to it.
So, should you move to Bend? Depends. Living here is a total joy for me, it’s my little corner of paradise… but I was ready for a simpler life. So, if you’re thinking about moving to Bend, just make sure you’re really ready for the semi-provincial life and are squared away with the income necessary to actually relax and enjoy all the natural wonders of Bend and Central Oregon. If you have a steady source of income, have the ability to see the small-townness of it all as charming and refreshing, and can play nice with the people you’ll be running into at yoga class, Newport Market, Back Porch, The Drake, Dojo and Barrio with alarming regularity, then do it. Settle in close to the Deschutes River and life will be pretty effing great.