“Roughing It” in Bend – Vacation on the Cheap
“Roughing It” in Central Oregon isn’t the same as “Roughing It” the way, say, Teddy Roosevelt thought about it. Here, the very idea of “getting away from it all” is kind of ridiculous.
I’m already mostly “away from it all” doing the most ordinary things. For instance, while driving to the store, a casual glance beyond the road usually means I’m looking at 10-thousand foot peaks or, in the least, a pristine city park. So “Roughing It” to me really just means getting outside more, and no trip to Central Oregon would be complete without living the Bend idea of “Roughing It” – having a good time without breaking the bank.
One of the places I always recommend to friends and family is the Riverhouse Hotel. Along with reasonable rates and a centrally-located location, the hotel is also glad to have Fido or Lassie or Scout stay as well, and best of all, there’s no extra charge for pets! Another inexpensive option is Bend Inn & Suites.
The Riverhouse is in a phenomenal location, close to walking and running trails as well as part of one of Bend’s most forgiving and inexpensive golf courses- and by this I mean I still shoot 120 on good days.
Unlike many towns that only come alive on the weekends, Bend seemingly has something every day of the week that’s a big hit with visitors and locals alike. For six weeks on Thursdays starting in mid-July, Munch and Music is the place to be.
Starting the Bend vacation on a Thursday is always a nice idea anyway, and might as well start it off right in Drake Park. Munch and Music is exactly what it sounds like- a free concert in the park at 5:30, with plenty of food and drink vendors. It’s been around almost 25 years and is still going strong.
If you want a good seat you need to get there early. And sure, you could bring your own food, but part of the experience is wandering around and trying something new. My new favorite place is Dump City Dumplings, but I always know that Parilla Satellite (get the fish tacos) and Pilot Butte won’t let me down. There’s really not a bad choice.
And should your time in Bend make it to Tuesday, a Bend Elks baseball game at Vince Genna Stadium at 5th and Roosevelt on Two-Dollar Tuesday is an absolute must. The stadium, built in 1946 is in a terrific location where you can see the sun set over the Three Sisters as the game goes on.
While a trip to a major-league baseball stadium can run you into the hundreds, not so in Bend. And Two-Dollar Tuesday is exactly what it sounds like it would be. Two-dollar general admission (there’s not a bad seat in the house), and two dollars for select concessions- like hot dogs and beer! As for the “home nine,” The Elks are a collegiate summer league team, meaning the players are college guys keeping their skills up while school is out, and part of the West Coast League, one of the top summer leagues in the country. (Baseball aficionados will be happy to know that it’s a wooden bat league, so the “crack” of the bat is pure.)
While those are evening and nighttime activities, any day during the summer is a good time to drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, and especially to stop in at Elk Lake Resort for a boat ride. Canoes, kayaks, row boats and even pontoons are available for as little as $20 and for as short as a two-hours. Make sure there’s plenty of sunscreen and hats for everybody- the sun is a little more intense in the higher elevations (life jackets are included in the rental). And don’t just hang out close to shore, get out in the middle of the lake and stop paddling for a real Central Oregon experience- the water lapping up against the boat, the smell of the trees- and most of all, the magnificent sights around. Mount Bachelor is right there, as are many smaller peaks and the Three Sisters Wilderness.
If the lake isn’t your thing, then perhaps a round of golf course is more to your liking. The Riverhouse, as I already mentioned, has a course right there, but for a much different golf experience, Widgi Creek is the place. What I love about Widgi (aside from the course and the location, obviously,) is that the rates drop significantly the later in the day it gets. So you could, conceivably, spend a full day on Elk Lake and stop at Widgi on the way back for 18 (it’s on the Cascade Lakes Highway as well.) Their latest tee time is, believe it or not, 7:09pm – and after 5 it’s just $25 per duffer- and it’s $25 for those 17 and under all year long.
After such a relaxing day on the lake or a frustrating round of golf, there are lots of options, but one of the best is McMenamin’s Old St Francis School Hotel and Restaurant. Originally built as a Catholic school in the mid-1930’s, the always-searching-for-quirky McMenamin’s folks turned it into their Bend spot in 2004.
It also has a movie theatre and whiskey bar- which I’m reasonably certain wasn’t there when it was a Catholic school- and one of the best relaxation spots in town, a soaking pool. Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can still soak for $5 per person, with kids allowed until 7pm.
The McMenamin’s soaking pool was inspired by the ancient Roman baths. The magnificent stained glass window and mural of St. Francis himself picking grapes were handcrafted especially for the Bend pool, and the open ceiling allows views of the night sky. Open ’till ten for non-hotel guests, a good soak is the perfect way to end a perfect day in Bend- whether it was spent at the lake, an Elks game, at Drake Park enjoying dumplings and music, or just walking the river with the dog.
Teddy Roosevelt would approve this version of “Roughing It.”