I can hardly believe it myself, but as of this year, I’ve been living in Bend, Oregon, for over five years!
You might recall that my family and I relocated in October 2017 from Los Angeles to Bend, a move prompted by our desire to put down roots in a place that felt like a better fit for our lifestyle.
After Gemma’s birth, we reprioritized what we wanted for our future, and that was a slower pace, a safer community, better public schools, and being only minutes away from all the things we loved to do, such as hiking, camping, and snowboarding.
At the same time, we didn’t want to live in an isolated mountain town that required long commutes into civilization for medical care or for a date-worthy restaurant meal.
Bend beat out several other places on our short list (which I share in #7 below) and so far, we have had no regrets about our decision to move here. In fact, our only sort-of regret is that we didn’t make the move sooner.
I’ve had so many readers write me in the last few years to ask about our move, some who are itching to make a change themselves, and some who are merely curious how an LA girl is handling the snow. (Hint: I love it!)
I’ve been wanting to give an update on our first four years in Central Oregon, and thought these questions (with my answers) gave a great overview of our experience so far.
1. How have you adjusted to the change in weather?
Despite spending the majority of our lives in other states, Will and I feel like we’ve adjusted quickly and easily to the weather extremes in Central Oregon.
It helps that Will used to live in Lake Tahoe (which gets far more snow than Bend) and I spent my childhood in Las Vegas (which regularly climbs to 110°F in summer).
We chose Bend for its four-season climate, and we visited at the peak of every season (including wildfire season), so we went into this knowing what to expect.
The winters feel long here, but we love it because it extends the season for snowboarding and skiing, which we are so fortunate to have a half-hour away from our house.
(I still can’t believe we used to drive three hours each way to our little local resort in Southern California, or six hours to Mammoth Mountain if we wanted any decent snow.)
I find myself looking forward to the start of every season because it always means new activities, and our lives are very much centered around outdoor recreation. Even on the most blustery blizzard day, or the sunniest hottest day, we’re outside enjoying the mountains, lakes, or river in some form.
2. How have the chickens adjusted to the change in weather?
A few days after we moved to Bend, we actually had snow flurries! The chickens probably didn’t know what to think, but they lived through their first winter without frostbite or any weather-related issues.
(They also made the nearly 1,000-mile road trip with us seamlessly, which I wrote about in detail if you’re planning to make a move with chickens in the near future.)
I wouldn’t say they’re psyched to go outside on the rare days that it snowed in town, but we usually tried to keep a clear path for them in the yard.
We have a great chicken coop that came with storm panels to keep the wind and rain out, and the heated water bowl we used all season long worked very well. We had no heating in the coop and found no need for it, despite lows in the teens.
I started using wood pellets as the bedding in their coop, and so far it’s been much quicker to clean than our previous choice of sand.
In winter, it doesn’t turn solid with frozen poop, and in spring, it’s easy to rake out to dump in the compost pile. We stock up on wood pellets in summer when prices are low (and inventory is high).
Today, we have four chickens who free-range around our property and thrive with no supplemental heating or light.
3. What happened to your pugs?
Bebe (who suffered from severe hip dysplasia) was euthanized at home in June 2017 after a well-fought battle with the disease. (I wrote more about the homemade dog food we fed her for several years, which greatly improved her quality of life.)
She was 14 years old. Up until the week before her death, she was full of spunk and was such a happy little pug.
I know of no other dog that traveled and camped as much as she did (11 states in 5 months during the making of The New Camp Cookbook!) and brought so many smiles to people’s faces along the way as she co-navigated the road with Chinki by her side.
Chinki passed away in her sleep in March 2018 at the ripe old age of 16. She had gotten to the point where she was primarily blind, lame in her hind legs, and anxious whenever we left her alone at home, so we brought her everywhere with us—including the days we went snowboarding.
We’d make her comfortable in the car with portable heaters, pillows, and blankets, and check on her every hour to give cuddles and treats.
She took her last breath in Will’s arms at Mount Bachelor on a beautiful spring day that was filled with good energy.
After a long and amazing life, we have no doubt she’s romping happily with all of her departed sisters (including Gisele, Kimora, and Iman) with a bottomless supply of pork shank bones at her disposal.
Currently, we have no plans to bring another dog into our home, and probably won’t for a while. We miss the pugs dearly and feel so fortunate to have had them in our lives as long as we did.
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4. Do you currently have a garden? What challenges have you faced in a colder growing climate?
When we lived in a rental the first two years, I started a small container garden on the deck as a practice run.
The next summer, I focused on growing tomatoes and peppers and was able to move them outside in early May and keep them alive through summer freezes (yes, that’s a thing here).
Those first two years, I had a surprisingly good harvest with the indeterminate tomatoes I grew in these fabric pots, the determinate tomatoes I planted in the Gardener’s Revolution planter kit, and the GreenStalk Garden towers that were filled with summer squash, cucumbers, beans, peppers, flowers, and herbs.
(By the way, using code gardenbetty10 will get you $10 off any of the tiered GreenStalk Garden systems.)
It was certainly a strange experience to cover my plants well into June to protect against frost. I’ve realized that Central Oregon weather is unpredictable, changing from one day to the next. (Never trust the forecast more than two days out!)
Being a gardener here means you also become a meteorologist of sorts. Tracking seasonal weather patterns, monitoring nightly lows, learning that our designated Hardiness Zone of 6b is not truly accurate because of all the microclimates in town (I actually aim for zones 4 to 5 to be safe).
It’s all part of the gig and I don’t think I’ve ever analyzed the weather as much as I have since moving to Bend!
I’ve learned a lot so far, and am excited to learn more as I experiment in my new garden (where I grow things year-round without a greenhouse).
5. How’s the house hunt going?
We rented a house during our first two years in Bend while continuing to look for our forever home.
Update: Since I originally wrote this post in 2018, we became proud landowners in June 2019 and will finally begin the journey of building our house! You can follow along at Garden Betty Builds a House.
We’re really glad we decided to rent first, because our initial impressions of all the neighborhoods here changed quite a bit the more we explored. Areas of town that we once considered buying in were no longer on the list for one reason or another.
Bend is a hot real estate market, and while it’s not as bad as LA, prices are much higher than they were just a few years ago.
We took our time house-hunting—more than two years! After not finding an existing home (or even a fixer-upper) that met all of our needs and budget, we decided to switch gears and look for land so we could build a home exactly the way we wanted.
I used to seesaw between wanting a small, simple home (not our dream home, but a home in which we can fulfill our dreams because we’d be able to pay it off quickly and live debt-free), or a larger, more expensive property that we can develop into our dream home (even if it might leave us with less time and money for travel and adventure).
Both have their pluses and minuses, and we definitely don’t want to outgrow our house or spend our lives working to pay the mortgage.
With our new property and the house plans we’ve designed for it, we think we’ve found a happy medium that’ll allow us to maintain our lifestyle while also securing our family’s future.
6. Do you miss Southern California?
We miss our friends and we miss the exceptional diversity of markets that we had in LA.
On occasion, we also miss the late-night food culture that we had in the city (though as parents now, we don’t find ourselves traipsing out of the house at 10 pm like we used to for a little nosh).
The foghorns that I used to hear from our house on the coast have been replaced by the occasional distant rumble of the train in Bend.
Instead of starlings singing in our feijoa tree, we hear quail calling from the rabbitbrush. Beach days are now spent on the river or lakes, which fill my desire for being close to water.
As much as I loved my time in LA, I can’t really think of anything that makes me want to move back—not even the ocean, which I thought I’d be missing a lot more. I think we moved at the right time, just as I was ready for a change.
7. What other towns did you consider before you settled on Bend?
At some point in the early research phase, we considered island living in Puget Sound, Washington; rural living in Driggs, Idaho; and mountain living in Durango, Colorado. Montana made the list as well, but I nixed it because of the brutal winters.
Despite the promise of endless adventure in each of these places, we ultimately felt that they were too small for us, community- and opportunity-wise.
We wanted a good mix of small-town living and big-city amenities; a large enough network of open and like-minded people for making new friends; an entrepreneurial and creative environment that kept us stimulated; quick access to the outdoors; and ease of travel.
Bend was the only town on our list that ticked all the boxes.
At this stage in our lives, we can’t imagine being anywhere else. Bend is beautiful, inspiring, and exactly what we hoped it would be.
8. What have you enjoyed most about living in Bend?
This is a hard one, because there’s so much I love about living in Bend.
One of the unexpected—but much appreciated—surprises about being here is the amazing water quality. We have community water that comes from an aquifer, and straight out of the tap, Bend water is the clearest, cleanest, most delicious water in the country, thanks to natural filtration through layers of lava rocks.
I joke with friends who are visiting from out of town that they should fill up jugs of water before they leave, because they will sorely miss it!
We’ve also found Central Oregonians to be the friendliest people we’ve ever met, which is a big part of why we moved here. I love how happy everyone in Bend is, because they know how lucky they are to live here.
But the main reason we moved to Bend is right outside our door, where we have world-class outdoor recreation.
It’s such a refreshing change to be able to plan a hike, a bike ride, or a paddle date with friends and not have it take up the whole day (with most of it spent in traffic).
Some of my favorite trails are just 15 minutes from home, and on most days, I only run into a handful of people along the way.
With a season pass, I can head up to Mount Bachelor a few times a week, snowboard for a couple hours, and still make it home for lunch because the mountain is so close. It’s essentially my “gym workout” but way more fun!
(I call the drive up Cascade Lakes Highway my “commute to bliss,” because it is!)
I also started mountain biking when I moved here and I’m loving the new challenges and thrills. Eventually, I’d like to surf the river wave, snowboard in the backcountry, and learn how to maneuver an oar raft, all of which are easily accessible in Bend. And they’re all the things I hope our kids will love as they grow up here, too.
9. What have you liked least about living in Bend?
As someone who was accustomed to late-summer wildfires every year in California, they don’t shock me much in Oregon, but they’re definitely a drawback of living in the drought-stricken west.
There are usually a few days where the air quality is terrible as winds blow in heavy smoke from massive wildfires in Oregon, California, Washington, or British Columbia.
We’re fortunate that we live upwind from most fires, but there have been times when we’ve had to cancel day trips due to fire and smoke. It’s something we expect and prepare for every summer, and camping in August (our driest month) is always a roll of the dice.
I’m also used to coastal living, so the dry, high desert environment of Bend took some serious adjustment. I’ve acclimated by now, but it was a rough couple of years with a humidifier running all night and bottomless bottles of lotion.
10. Do you think Bend has become too crowded?
Overcrowding is relative to where you came from—in my case, Southern California.
So no, I don’t feel Bend has become too crowded, though a longtime resident may say otherwise. It’s an amazing place to live and raise a family, so I don’t fault other people for wanting to move here.
But, with more people comes more problems. Daycare is in short supply. Housing is hard to come by. There are more qualified people than there are well-paying jobs. The infrastructure in town needs continuous improvement to handle the increase in traffic.
Bend is growing because it’s been “discovered,” but we’d rather live in a growing town than a stagnant town.
11. What are your thoughts on the lack of diversity in Bend?
Like most (or all?) mountain towns, Bend is primarily white. I’m Asian-American, my husband is white, and our daughters are mixed, so diversity was an important consideration when we were deciding where to put down roots.
When evaluating what we wanted most for our family, we realized it wasn’t having large museums, cultural festivals, or ethnic pocket communities (like Chinatown or Little Italy) in our hometown.
It was having more trees and less concrete. It was being close to the outdoors and away from pollution (of all kinds—air, noise, and light).
We’d rather travel to big cities (which is a real treat for us, now that we live in a rural area) and soak in all the diversity that way, rather than travel to the mountains to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Our children aren’t exposed to different skin colors, languages, and cultures every day, but we strive to foster an open mind through interactions with family, friends, and strangers; excursions that nurture their curiosities; and their everyday learning.
I know this is possible because I grew up in a predominantly white community, as did my husband. And as teenagers, we longed for and lived in New York and San Francisco—two of the most diverse cities in the world.
I feel that people who wish Bend was more diverse fail to recognize what it is and always has been: a resort/destination town.
The activities that drew us here (skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and paddling) are considered affluent. Local career opportunities are scarce and funding for social programs is low.
There aren’t any big cities nearby (unless you drive more than three hours to Portland, which isn’t even that big compared to Seattle or San Francisco) and the cost of living is higher than most people think.
Bearing in mind all these factors, the Bend life speaks to very specific subsets of people: those who have money, those who make money by working remotely, and those who prioritize outdoor recreation over materialism.
While I sometimes wish we had more authentic ethnic options when it comes to dining or shopping, I know it just isn’t possible when any new ethnic offering (like an Asian restaurant) is likely to be geared toward tourists. And Bend is not exactly an Asian tourist attraction.
The racial makeup of this town will change over time as more people move here from other cities, but it will never become a melting pot.
And I’m okay with that. Our kids don’t need to be immersed in diversity in order to be accepting of it. If anything, they’ll become more appreciative of what they don’t have.
12. Is the cost of living high?
I used to say that we moved to Bend because it was more affordable. And in some cases, that’s still true.
The price of real estate is less than where we moved from in California, and we don’t have any sales tax here. Gas is cheaper and it’s full service.
But everything else? The cost of groceries, restaurants, movies, haircuts, house cleaning, babysitting, yard work, and extracurricular activities (like yoga classes or ski passes) is equal to or, in many cases, even more than what we were paying in LA.
Bend is an island. There isn’t as much competition for products and services, and people have to charge more to afford to live here.
There’s also the lifestyle aspect—outdoor toys are expensive. We always tell people that Bend is a money pit. You come here with your quiver of bikes or snowboards, but soon you want a kayak, a stand-up paddle board, a different bike, a trailer, an RV?! The list is neverending! (Not to mention you need a lot more clothes with the weather here.)
We saved money on housing, but our day-to-day expenses are the same, if not more than we expected.
13. If you had to make the move all over again, what would you do differently?
Without a doubt, we would’ve sucked it up and spent the extra money on a full-service moving company. An out-of-state move is stressful enough, but when you have a whole house to move and you’re trying to do it all yourself, it becomes deliriously exhausting.
We did end up hiring help on the Bend side to unload all our boxes, but I wish we hadn’t underestimated the amount of stuff we owned and had a single set of professionals handle our entire move from start to finish.
Thankfully, and hopefully, this will be our last major move for a long while!
14. What advice would you give someone contemplating a move to Bend?
Small towns have limited resources, but Bend is especially limited because unlike other towns, we don’t have suburbs and we’re not part of a larger metropolitan area. So it’s always wise to visit a few times and check off the following list before deciding to move here:
- Secure your housing first: It’s incredibly hard to find a home (whether you’re renting or buying), especially if you have a moderate budget. Like everywhere else, real estate prices in Bend saw a stratospheric rise in 2020 and 2021.
- House hunt in winter: I recommend this for a few reasons: Competition is lower and you’re more likely to work out favorable terms with the seller. You get to see what your desired street and the surrounding streets look like with snow, and with the sun lower on the horizon. And you have a more realistic idea of what a less-than-optimal commute to stores and schools might be like. This was the main reason we crossed a lot of homes off our list: We didn’t want to deal with winter conditions in those neighborhoods.
- Move here with a job: There are plenty of places hiring in town, but probably not enough places that pay a living wage for the type of lifestyle change most people come here for.
- Look at healthcare options: There’s only one hospital in town, and certain medical procedures or office visits have to be done in Portland. If you require specialized care, make sure the providers you need are available here and accepting new patients.
- Look at childcare options: Unless your children are in school, it can be tough to find affordable daycare (especially under age two).
- Visit in February—preferably after a snowstorm: It gets pretty cold in Bend, and many people don’t realize that winter can easily last from November to May. Easily. (How much do you love winter?) We don’t get as much snow as other mountain towns, but personally, I don’t think snow is the problem—it’s ice. City crews are slow to plow any street off the main arteries, and you need to be comfortable driving on slick roads. (Unlike other snowy regions, they don’t use salt here.)
- Visit in August: This is the most notorious month for wildfires. Come during peak fire season to see how you feel about the smoke and air quality.
- Understand and embrace the climate: Bend is full of microclimates and weather extremes: If it’s blustery and dumping on the south end of town, it’s probably sunny with snow flurries just 20 minutes across town. Even in the middle of summer, rarely can you sit outside and dine alfresco without a heater (or at least a coat) because the temperature usually drops 30 degrees by evening. And if you have a vegetable garden, like I do, you’ll need frost covers for nine months out of the year (if not a greenhouse).
- Spend a day like a local: There’s no shortage of awesome things to see and do when you’re a tourist, but the best way to experience Bend is to spend the day like you live here. That is, visit some grocery stores (and compare the selection and prices to your own stores back home), do mundane errands (like getting gas or using a post office), make small talk with the clerks, and drive across town during rush hour. If you still love it after all these interactions, then Bend might just be the place for you.
This post updated from an article that appeared on October 23, 2018.