Exploring Culture and Art in Central Oregon

The Central Oregon towns of Bend, Tumalo, and Redmond are brimming with art and culture. Read on for the best things to see when checking out the art in Central Oregon.

After a recent visit to Central Oregon, I wonder why I did not journey to this area while I lived in Vancouver, Washington, for 24 years. From there, it would have been a three-hour scenic drive south. I happily accepted when asked by Visit Central Oregon to visit Bend, Tumalo, and Redmond. I had no idea how much to explore and the variety of dining opportunities awaiting. Now that I live in Palm Springs, California, there are direct flights on Avelo. Here are my best finds while exploring the culture and art in Central Oregon.

Learning About Indigenous People at Warm Springs Museum

Three tribes made their homes by the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains in this high desert area, the Wasco, Walla Walla, and the Paiute. Today, The Warm Springs Museum displays aspects of these individual tribes in exhibits and written narratives that help one understand their culture and art.

The array of woven baskets and their uses has been elusive to me, even though living in the Northwest, I often see indigenous baskets in museums and private homes. This museum does an excellent job of providing information to show their uses and how they are constructed.

One of the lifesize exhibits sticks with me, a wedding scene. Dressed for a wedding, guests surround a couple while bearing gifts. After pressing a button, one can listen to an audio tape explaining what the wedding ceremony consists of and the customs of the tribes.

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Basket made and on display at Warm Springs Museum.

Basket made and on display at Warm Springs Museum Photo by Kathy Condon

Old Mill District is Thriving

The local economy was decimated, with the last lumber mill shuttered in 1993. Locals left the area to find a way to maintain a living in places like Portland, Oregon. Due to the pleasant summer climate and mountains nearby for skiing, citizens turned their attention to the area as a possible tourism mecca.

William “Bill” Smith recruited investors with a vision he created for the 270-acre left vacant by the mills’ absence,  with a mixed-use destination plan. Five years later, with approval by the City of Bend, the Old Mill District moved forward.

Today this development is thriving with three preserved giant smokestacks, acting as the flagship symbol for the entire project on the Deschutes River banks. Some of the mills’ buildings have been repurposed and retrofitted with technology to enhance dining, movie, and shopping experiences.

View of the Old Mill District.

View of the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon. Photo by Kathy Condon

The Hayden Homes Amphitheater Attracts International and National Talent

Adjacent to the above-mentioned buildings, this area is just a short nature walk over a bridge with the  Deschutes River flowing under it. Ducks are happily swimming, and if you look closely, the crystal-clear water often reveals schools of fish flourishing in the cold mountain stream.

Once through the gates, concession stands are on your left, while straight ahead is an easily navigated hill. The Hayden Homes Amphitheater’s stage is perched at the top, exposing great views from any place you spread your blanket or park your chair.

With the intimacy of an 8,000-seat amphitheater in the high desert and a crystal clear summer evening sky, it is easy to understand why musicians such as James Taylor, Ringo Star, and Chris Stapleton find it a welcoming venue in which to perform.

Central Oregon Hayden Home Amphitheatre at Night is a great place after checking out the art in Central Oregon.

Night Scene of Hayden Home Amphitheatre at Night. Photo courtesy of Gwen Shoemaker

Tower Theatre Downtown Bend Involves the Community

Fortunately, the community rallied when word was floated that the 1940s Tower Theatre would be torn down. Funds flowed in to preserve it, and happily, the theatre proudly stands as a landmark in downtown Bend with its tower 78 feet above street level.

No longer a movie theatre, this beautifully preserved theatre presents national performances. However, all involved are proud of educational programs considering all generations of community residents.

I was delighted to observe a rehearsal for the Sound of Music. Ticket sales were brisk. The community not only attends to support friends but the show is also a quality production in every way. To accommodate more children having a theatre experience, the cast of children changed at each significant scene.

Yes, I can attest that they have a quality concession stand. It is practically worth going there for its tasty popcorn. Ask me how I know.

Central Oregon Tower Theatre Interior.

Central Oregon Tower Theatre in Bend Interior. Photo by Kathy Condon

Artistry Shows at the Bend Cider Company in Tumalo

Started in a kitchen many years ago, the Bend Cider Company has outgrown its second building. The boutique cider company has already won international and national awards. With distribution expanding to states like Idaho, and the race to keep up is causing Kelly and Tammy Roark, owners, some sleepless nights.

Once I tasted their Chia Cider, a semi-sweet botanical, I was hooked at the first sip. Then I took a look at their can and noticed the artwork. Tammy said, “The art is by my friend, Sheila Dunn, and she is coming over shortly.”

Sheila walked into the Bend Cider tasting room and invited us to her gallery, a short walk away. There we were greeted by Joel Chadd, a musician with numerous recordings. Sheila showed us her work in progress and proudly revealed a portion of the sales of her art sales go to environmental organizations.

It had been a long day, and the lounge furniture in the gallery was all too inviting. I settled into a lovely comfy chair. Before I knew it, Joel picked up his guitar and began singing some of the songs he had created from his most intimate personal experiences.

Bend Cider in Tumalo is a great stop.

Bend Cider Tasting Room in Tumalo. Photo by Kathy Condon

Park-Like Setting for High Desert Museum

I had no idea this 135-acre property was in the beautiful Central Oregon forest. Since 1982 families have been coming here to get an up-close view of native wildlife. One of the first exhibits established was for otters. It is no question it has not lost its allure for families gathered around to watch the otters’ antics.

If you have wanted to get up close to raptors, here is your chance. A friendly Sierra Nevada red fox was not opposed to posing for your perfect camera shot. He seems to relish attention. Animals injured in the wild are happy to have a home here.

The High Desert Museum is such a great place to bring families, for there are many paths through the forests to burn off their energy. One leads to a recreated village as it would have been in the early 1900s. People living and cooking in the house stay in character and talk about their lives during that era. Thus, one can ask questions and gain insight into day-to-day living for early settlers.

Central Oregon High Desert Museum Interactive Exhibit

Interactive Exhibit at the High Desert Museum. Photo by Kathy Condon

Places to Stay While You Discover the Art in Central Oregon

The thriving town of Bend is a great place to serve as your home base for exploring the area. The Oxford Hotel Bend is a luxury hotel in the city’s heart. This pet-friendly hotel has figured out how to make one feel special with little touches and terrific staff available to meet your requests.

I am a person who needs coffee first thing in the morning. They had a French press pot, and three different kinds of coffee were available. Even though it is on a busy street, it was quiet, and luxurious linens helped make this the perfect place to enjoy at the end of the day.

There are many brand hotels and Airbnbs. A word of caution, make sure you make your reservation early, for this area is being discovered.

Bend Oregon Oxford Inn Pressed Coffee in the Rooms

Bend, Oregon, Oxford Inn has French Pressed coffee in rooms. Photo by Kathy Condon

Unique Places to Dine in Central Oregon

What do you do with requests from food truck owners wanting a place to park their trucks? In Tumalo, they have found the answer. Line them up, make a great seating area complete with fire pits, and have a building nearby that serves many craft beers, and call it The Bite.

In Bend, they have the same concept; the Midtown Yacht Club, with no body of water to be seen,  serves up terrific tots, as in potato tots. I had mine smothered in sauce with bleu cheese as a main ingredient.

If you are vegetarian, you should not miss two restaurants: Wild Rose in Bend and Terra Kitchen in Redmond.

View of Food Truck Serving Tots. A fabulous place to snack when you are looking at the art in Central Oregon.

View of Food Truck at the Midtown Yacht Club serving Tots. Photo by Kathy Condon

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Three Days are Not Enough to Discover All the Art in Central Oregon

I would never have dreamed three days in Central Oregon would not be enough to see the area. I didn’t make it to any of the mountains renowned for skiing or the town of Three Sisters. This area is known for many days of sun. I have to say I found it equally inviting for its innovation and look forward to seeing what the citizens create to share more of their history and their art. Check out Wander With Wonder for some fabulous ideas when planning your next art excursion or a trip to Oregon.

The Central Oregon towns of Bend, Tumalo, and Redmond are brimming with art. This article on Wander With Wonder highlights the best art and culture in Central Oregon. We also delve into some great spots for eating your way through Central Oregon.

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Exploring Culture and Art in Central Oregon

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