Bend versus Portland

  • Old Mill District of Bend

  • Fall Foliage under the Maple tree with Portland Oregon city skyline by Hawthorne Bridge along Willamette River

  • Sunrise view of Portland from Pittock Mansion.

  • Moon rise over the Cascade Range above the Old Mill District, Bend

By Mariah Wilson for The Bulletin Special Projects

Let me count the ways …

Over the past decade, Bend has transformed itself into one of the most enviable places in Oregon to live, a position previously held by our northern neighbor Portland. It seems like everyone and the family dog wants to experience the “jewel of the desert” that we call home. The mass influx of transplants to this once-tiny timber town has undeniably altered the culture and landscape of the area, so much so that Bend is now touted as a miniaturized version of Portland—a claim that, for locals, is worse than watching two folk singers trying to arm wrestle. Bend and Portland are two different flavors of awesome, each with their own distinct aspects that make them lovable, precious, and unique. In an effort to quell the rumblings of similitude, here are 10 attributes that make Bend different from Portland.


Portland is well known for its rain, a persistent wall of moisture that necessitates donning a raincoat nine months out of the year. Even when it’s not precipitating, overcast skies are the norm. If you want to forget what the sun looks like, move to Puddletown. With an average of only 68 clear days per year, living in Portland means embracing the drizzle, investing in a sunlamp and vitamin D, and learning the ins and outs of seasonal affective disorder. (That’s a joke. Kinda . . .) On the bright side, all that moisture makes the environment lush and exquisitely green, with very mild temperatures and a year-round growing season. Bend, on the other hand, resides in the high desert, which means it’s dry (keep your lip balm and lotion rations well stocked) and gets more sunshine, while also experiencing erratic weather and extremes in temperature (get used to wearing layers, people). Bend is blessed with an average of 170 days of sunshine a year—not too shabby in comparison to Gloomsville up north and a definite boon for people who relish outdoor activities. Its winters are long (so very, very long) and cold, and its summers are short but deliciously warm. Bend is a niveous nirvana if you love all things winter, and if you don’t, there’s always July and August.


Bend is the best resort in Oregon; the options for outdoor activities here are pretty much limitless. Bendites have access to thousands of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing trails, dozens of rivers and lakes, and numerous mountains to hike and explore—it’s downright gluttonous. Boredom is a difficult thing to experience in Bend, with all of the year-round recreational merriment, and the other cities are probably jealous. In comparison, Portland doesn’t fall too short. Its options for al fresco entertainment are also impressive. There’s the Columbia River Gorge, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and copious quantities of green everywhere you look (thank you, rain). The drawback: you’ll be sharing these pursuits with swarms of people. Bend’s outdoor spaces have also become unpleasantly crowded, but compared with Portland’s, they’re a peach.


At this point, everyone knows that Central Oregon loves its craft beer. Yes, Bend has been labeled “beervana” and “Beer Town, USA.” Yes, it has been written into city law, we believe, that all Bend residents must love craft beer or face eviction. But no, Bend does not have the most breweries per capita in Oregon (that distinction goes to Cannon Beach). Regardless, Bend’s brewing industry is no joke—some of the country’s favorite beer originated here, and craft beer is one of the pillars of Bend’s tourism industry. Bend has more breweries (17) than any city but Portland (66), so if you’re thirsty for fermented suds, you’re in the right place. Although Portland boasts more breweries, its booze niche is distilled spirits. Of Oregon’s dozen or so distilleries, eight (and counting) are in Portland. If small-batch specialized spirits are your scene, Distillery Row in Southeast Portland is the place to be. To recap: Bend beer: good; Portland spirits: good.


While both Bend and Portland are now inhabited by a higher percentage of transplants than bona fide locals, there’s a clear distinction between the two populaces. Upon arrival in Bend, all new residents are issued a puffy coat, Lycra leggings, Chaco sandals, a Hydro Flask, and a beer growler. (Bend even has a puffy coat–inspired beer: Puffy Coat Porter by GoodLife Brewing.) It’s said that if you want to know how to dress in Bend, just browse through the latest Patagonia catalogue, and that’s not far off the mark. Portlanders, on the other hand, champion weirdness—and the weirder you dress, the more you’re embraced. Want to wear a Darth Vader costume matched with a kilt? Chic! Feel your prettiest in a Gucci dress paired with tie-dye tights and Birkenstocks? Strut your stuff! Inspired by the hipster genre? Bust out your best dirty flannel, 100- dollar jeans, beard, and Chuck Taylors! The one commonality between Bend and Portland fashion: both are trying just a bit too hard to be cool.


There are deer and geese everywhere in Bend, and they will torment you. The deer will eat whatever you are able to grow in your garden during Bend’s 80-day growing season, and the geese will accost you in the park and poop on your lawn. Portland has . . . Bigfoot. Their famous hidden resident whistles during the night, leaves behind footprints in the mud, and has no interest in mingling with the community—sounds positively delightful. And Bigfoot has never attacked anyone. (Well, except for those miners that one time in the early 1920s . . .) You win, Portland. You win.


Whether or not you believe pollution is real, there are unmistakable differences between the skies above Bend and those of Portland: you can see Bend’s. While Bend struggles with air quality in the summertime, when wildfires and controlled burns fill the air with smoke, Portland has some of the worst air quality in the nation year round. Also, due to strict light ordinances, Bend has rela- tively low levels of light pollution, which means that it enjoys some of the darkest skies in the country—perfect for stargazing. The night sky in Bend looks like someone sprinkled sea salt on an obsidian table; the night sky in Portland is more of an aromatic experience—you can’t see that it’s there, but you can smell it.


Portland is 80 percent more densely pop- ulated than Bend, which equates to more traffic, overall congestion, and naughty epithets spewed from car windows during the daily commute. Compared to Portland’s half-million residents, Bend’s population of nearly 100,000 people doesn’t seem so bad (mostly). These days, it may take 30 minutes to get across town versus the five minutes it took 10 years ago, but at least the traffic in Bend won’t destroy your soul. And while Bend’s beloved outdoor spaces can seem awfully crowded during the summertime, you only have to share the trails with a few hundred people during the colder months. Winning.


Portland has museums, a vibrant theater, art, and music scene, and an impressive literary background. (It rains all the time, what else are they going to do?) In comparison, Bend is about as cultural as a trout. However, for a smallish community, Bend has a surprising number of talented artists, musicians, writers, makers, and a variety of other creatives (see, for example, Bend’s Makers District, the Tower Theatre, or the High Desert Museum). Bend also has a lively music scene—substantially smaller than Portland’s, yes, but there are still likely to be venues and concerts to suit everyone’s taste. (But god forbid you strum a chord too loudly after 10 pm, because you will be ostracized and thrown out of town.) Bend may be relatively culturally bereft, but hey, we have craft beer.


Although both Bend and Portland are in the process of gentrification, the effects are a bit more noticeable in Bend, perhaps because it’s a smaller community. Bend has transformed its economy from timber to tourism, which doesn’t produce a lot of high-wage jobs. Housing is scarce and overpriced, and the city’s unemployment is higher than the national average. If you’re independently wealthy or, well, wealthy, then Bend is an ideal place to live. And if you don’t have a job or a home, don’t worry—you can still enjoy a craft beer while savoring views of Mt. Bachelor from your cozy cardboard box. The good news: Portland’s economy isn’t much better. (Oh. Wait . . .) Portland is also experiencing a rental crisis, with a considerable number of people being priced out of the area. Still, Portland has a more diverse job market, making it a more viable place to live. Although if you want to live in either, bring your inheritance.


Oregon, overall, isn’t a very culturally diverse state, and Bend and Portland are no exception. Bend is over 90 percent white and Portland hovers around 80 percent. Politically speaking, Bend is more diverse than the Rose City, with an even split between Democrats and Republicans. (But who’s keeping score?) Another area where Bend flexes its diversity muscles is the culinary arts. It has a pretty legit, progressive dining scene that includes everything from Middle Eastern to Peruvian to Thai to Indian to British-style cuisine. Bend is a foodie’s paradise. Portland offers an eclectic dining experience as well, while also accommodating those with dietary restrictions—vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, locally sourced, and organic eateries abound. Bend is branching out in this regard, but until we have vegan strip clubs like Portland, they probably win in culinary diversity. But Bend has ocean rolls (and craft beer), so take a hike, Portland.

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