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Urban Pleasures

Crowded Street Fairs or Quiet Dining. It's Your Choice


Life is not all snow and golf

Central Oregon’s growth has been accompanied by an increasing number of choices when it comes to dining out, enjoying a beverage, listening to music, attending a play or learning from a museum. Some of these cultural improvements have been measured. Historical and natural history museums have been around Bend and Prineville for a while, but have gradually expanded and improved both in facilities and content. The region’s established music festivals are prospering as visitors and new residents bring urban tastes compatible with classical, jazz, pops and world music programs. More and more big name musical acts are being booked into Bend venues. And community theater groups are finding new talent to go along with new audiences.

The restaurant scene is more volatile, as new dining establishments vie with traditional eating houses for a profitable slice of the pie. In recent years there has been an explosion of new dining rooms, new themes and new types of cuisine in Bend and other Central Oregon citiesl. Plus there is plenty of good solid grub available from traditional and new sources.

Bend and surrounding towns have emerged as a thriving center of craft brewing activity, with 12 active brewing companies in the region and more on the drawing boards. Deschutes Brewery was first and is biggest, while others are focusing on specialty brews in smaller volumes. The eighth annual Bend Brewfest in August 2011 attracted an estimated 20,000 people and 46 brewers to the Les Schwab Amphitheater. Bend's many brew choices help bring visitors to the area, with Visit Bend's Ale Trail and the entrepreneurial Cycle Pub among the attractions.

And then there is shopping. Present growth and predicted future rates have supported decisions by national retailers to put Bend and Redmond on their maps. Financial problems at the corporate level have caused some to withdraw, but other national names have appeared on the scene. Shopping venues have created two retail tiers in Central Oregon—major department, discount, home improvement and specialty chains at one level, and boutique shops, galleries, decorators and artisans on another. Both appear to be prospering.


Calorie counters stand aside


Whether you’re looking for ethnic specialties, fine dining with a continental flair, steak and seafood or a hearty hamburger and fries, Central Oregon’s restaurant scene will provide satisfaction. Dining venues in Bend have grown in number and diversity in response to increased population, changing demographics and more sophisticated palates, and other communities in the region are following suit.

We won’t attempt restaurant reviews in this space, but an overview may help whet your appetite. Choices range from basic and hearty to chic and trendy. Most lunch and dinner houses are fully licensed to serve spirits while a few concentrate on beer and wine.

Migration of chefs and restaurant owners from larger cities, attracted by a combination of lifestyle and business opportunity, has infused the restaurant scene here with creativity and style. Gastronomy has been elevated to the point that a Bend communications company launched a slick gourmet magazine, Gusto, that has grown into a regional lifestyle magazine aptly named Central Oregon Magazine. The Bulletin, Bend’s daily newspaper, reviews restaurants every Friday in its Go! Magazine insert. Restaurant directories are also compiled by the Visit Bend (the Bend tourist and convention bureau) and Central Oregon Visitors Assn.

A great many of the city’s upscale and boutique eateries are located downtown, in the Shops at the Old Mill, and along thoroughfares on the west side of Bend. Restaurants choices are available on the east side of Bend, as well, and in NorthWest Crossing. Don’t overlook the resorts, where fine restaurants offer creative menu choices to guests and drop-in visitors alike. Reservations are recommended. There are also jewels to be found in Redmond, Prineville, Sisters and Camp Sherman.

Dining doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun. Excellent pub grub is served up by Bend and Redmond brewpubs and microbreweries to go with a wide and highly regarded selection of locally brewed craft beers and ales.



Founded in 1967 as part of the expanding Central Oregon Community College Fine Arts Department, the Central Oregon Symphony Orchestra is a major player in the local fine arts scene with 85 musicians participating in full symphonic and chamber music performances. Autumn, winter and spring concerts take place in the 1,400-seat Bend High School auditorium. Michael Gesne has been musical director and conductor since 1996. Performances are scheduled in October 2009 and in February and May, 2010.

While based in Sunriver, the Sunriver Music Festival presents Fireside Performances in the Sunriver Resort Great Hall and the Summer Festival in the Tower Theater. Fireside programs are staged from November through May and stress a variety of musical styles including jazz and classical. The Summer Festival is in August.

The open-air Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend’s Old Mill District has earned its popularity as a venue for big-name popular acts. The Wells Fargo Summer Concert series annually books name performers in pop, country and blues categories. Additional free concerts spotlight local musicians.

The Tower Theater in downtown Bend, a restored former movie house owned by the Tower Theater Foundation, schedules a variety of musical and dramatic performances throughout the year.

The Cascade Festival of Music, founded in 1982, laid claim to status as the largest cultural music event in Bend and Central Oregon before announcing in June 2008 that it would be suspending the summer concert series due to financial difficulties. The festival depended heavily on corporate sponsorships to defray overhead costs and pay musicians. Contributions from these sources have declined. Supporters remain optimistic that the festival will be reorganized financially in a way that will permit concerts to resume at a future date.



Dramatic groups in Bend include the Cascades Theatrical Company and 2nd Street Theater.

The volunteer-based Cascades company celebrated its 30th anniversary and will continue to present a variety of productions in 2010. Most performances take place in CTC's theater at 148 NW Greenwood Ave.

The 2nd Street Theater, founded in 2001, is a private repertory company that produces seven shows annually in its theater at 220 NE Lafayette Ave. in Bend. Musical and dramatic productions are staged. A Young Actors Repertory Company offers workshops and production of plays for children and young adults. A Theater Education Program offers professional theater training and related seminars for adults and youths.



The High Desert Museum, located just south of Bend on Highway 97, opened in 1982 and has grown to become a cultural institution of national prominence. It is dedicated to broadening the understanding of the region’s wildlife, culture, art and natural resources. Through exhibits, wildlife and living history, the museum creates learning experiences to help audiences discover their connection to the past, their role in the present and their responsibility to the future, according to the museum’s mission statement.

A quarter-mile trail extends from the museum’s 53,000-sq ft main building to 32,000 sq ft of outdoor exhibits and animal habitats. The Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center is home to a number of raptors that are introduced to visitors, along with indigenous mammals and reptiles, through interpretive daily programs. The birds have been rescued after injuries and are unable to return to the wild. Thomas the river otter and Ochoco the captivity-born wildcat are also museum residents. Permanent and traveling exhibits indoors illustrate early-day western living while the Desertarium displays living examples of desert creatures.

The Des Chutes Historical Center in Bend and the A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum in Prineville present a variety of exhibits depicting pioneer life in Central Oregon.


Retail attractions thriving

Central Oregon’s population growth has been accompanied by a surge in retail activity, reflecting the multi-faceted character of the region. From big-box national retailers to unique artisan shops and galleries, there is something for everyone. Places you will want to visit, or turn to for the choices they offer:


Bend’s North End

Cascade Village, which lies at the junction of Highways 97 and 20, represents the transformation of one of Bend’s first shopping malls into a campus of retail structures housing national and regional brands including J.C. Penney, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Trader Joe's and Dick's Sporting Goods. Cascade Village adjoins a contiguous retail district in the area that includes Target, Staples, Home Depot and Lowe’s outlets.

Bend River Promenade is a remake of an older mall in the north end of Bend, anchored by Sears, TJ Maxx, Kohl's and an enlarged Macy’s store.


Downtown Bend

Downtown has undergone a significant Renaissance over the past few years. The area was badly neglected several decades ago when many old-line retailers moved out to the city’s first shopping malls on the edge of town. It has since been transformed into an exciting district of galleries, specialty shops, and eating and drinking emporia. The restored art deco Tower Theater is a centerpiece of the area. Architects and building owners involved in restoration and new construction pay homage to the city’s history through thoughtful architecture and design.

Further transforming the character of the downtown district are mixed-used structures incorporating loft-style condominiums and offices in upper levels. As a retail center, downtown focuses on specialty shops, home furnishings, galleries and restaurants.


Old Mill District

South of the Bend downtown area is the Old Mill District, developed on a 270-acre former sawmill site spanning the Deschutes River. Focal point of the expansive office development are the Shops at the Old Mill, which combine national retail brands with upscale local shops, galleries, restaurants and a 16-screen cinema.

No big-box stores are found here, but familiar names such as Banana Republic, REI, Orvis, Chico’s, Gap and Victoria’s Secret help provide a diverse selection of shopping opportunities. Many restaurants have open-air dining areas facing the river. Across the river from the shopping area, the Les Schwab Amphitheater is an outdoor venue that books a variety of name entertainment. It can handle up to 8,000 people.


Forum Mall area

Take Highway 20 east, skirting Pilot Butte and extending through a gauntlet of auto dealers and you will find a thriving retail area surrounding the intersection of Highway 20 and NE 27th St. Occupying the northwest corner, Forum Mall is a complex of buildings, interior streets and parking areas combining local shops and eateries with brand-name retailers such as Costco, Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Office Max and Safeway. Other corners of the intersection are occupied with retail and service outlets as well. Leading toward the Forum area, Highway 20 is developing into a community of new shops in small retail developments that are pulling established local retail and restaurant names to the growing—and economically viable—east side of Bend.


Other Bend areas

Bend’s Third Street was the main U.S. 97 north-south route through town until the Bend Parkway shouldered that responsibility roughly a decade ago. Here will be found a potpourri of old and new retail establishments typical of a four-lane business route, from fast-food franchises to auto dealers. The arterial is identified as a focal point of a Central Area Plan undertaken by the City of Bend that, when implemented at some future point in time, will incorporate traffic and zoning changes to encourage private sector redevelopment.

No overview of Bend’s shopping scene would be complete without mention of the small neighborhood establishments along NE Newport Ave., NE Galveston Ave. and NE 14th St./Century Drive. Bike, ski and board shops share these picturesque in-town arterials with a variety of boutique retailers, eateries and pubs, many situated in converted cottages. The Neighborhood Center at NorthWest Crossing is a lively centerpiece to the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly planned community on Bend's west side, its shops and galleries often providing the backdrop for community events such as Hullabaloo, Spring Festival and Saturday Farmer's Market.



Relief from downtown traffic congestion is propelling Redmond into a lively retail center. A re-route of Highway 97 has been completed, diverting through traffic away from the 5th St./6th St. couplet through the downtown district.

Downtown Redmond thus has undergone an initial redevelopment, with more on the way as Downtown Urban Renewal District plans are developed. The first project along three blocks of 5th St. has provided new paving and sidewalks, and upgraded building facades. Civic and business leaders hope to transform it into a vibrant boutique shopping area focused on the arts, including live/work and art studio units in mixed-use structures. This will be accompanied by the eventual renovation of the historic Evergreen School building as a new city hall.

Meanwhile, Redmond’s growth has stimulated retail develop of a more tangible nature. A Wal-Mart Supercenter, Home Depot and Lowe’s stores have opened in the north end and middle of Redmond.



Sisters is a shopping destination unto itself. Buildings along its three parallel downtown streets are restricted architecturally to represent an Old West theme. They house a variety of merchants with an emphasis on art galleries, interior decorators, apparel and gift shops. These have been joined by the Five Pines Lodge and Convention Center and a surrounding retail area at the east end of town, plus new shops at the west end of town. Punctuate the shopping venues with a few resting spots like Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill & Saloon or the Three Creeks Brewing Company and you have all the ingredients for a day’s outing.

Sisters hosts an annual folk festival, an outdoor quilt show, art auction and the Sisters Rodeo, events that keep people returning to the quaint mountain town after they’re reached their shopping limit.