Bend is the sunny plateau where waterlogged Oregonians go to dry out. Storms that soak the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges are wrung out before they get here, so more days are clear than cloudy. This high-desert area of 151,000 people sits on the fringe of Deschutes National Forest, 120 miles southeast of Portland and within easy reach of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, whitewater and rock climbing.
The Deschutes River winds through town, past picturesque parks and pleasant neighborhoods of bungalows and Victorians. The business district features dozens of shops and restaurants, plus a handful of galleries and bookstores.
The economy here is based on recreation and construction, and the recession hit hard: Bend's unemployment's rate (12.7 percent in October 2011) is high and the cost of living is in the top one-10th of all metros in the U.S.
But if you don't need to work, Bend has attributes galore. Most residents aged 62 or older pay no state taxes on their pension income, perhaps one explanation for the 47-percent population growth in Bend from 2000 to 2009.
The area is not a hotbed of culture or education but does have options. Central Oregon Community College (COCC, enrollment 4,100) offers non-credit courses. Deschutes County's public library has a 40,000-square-foot main building in Bend, four branches and a bookmobile. The High Desert Museum has more than 18,500 artifacts and actively seeks volunteers for wildlife care and reading to school groups. The Tower Theatre, a 465-seat movie theater built in 1940, hosts independent films and touring musicians.
Mount Bachelor Ski Resort is a huge draw. Anglers and boaters flock to the Cascade Lakes, a few miles south. The Deschutes River boasts whitewater kayaking and world-class fly fishing. Smith Rock, with 550-foot cliffs, lures rock climbers. The Cascade Cycling Classic is one of the oldest bicycle road races in the country, and there are extensive trails in Deschutes National Forest.
The violent crime rate is very low, and the property crime rate average. Burglary is often a problem in places where the gap between rich and poor is large. Bend residents have a long life expectancy, but while there are a lot of doctors here, there aren't many hospital beds, and it's a long drive over high mountain passes to get to bigger hospitals in Portland or the Willamette Valley.
But if you're in love with the sun-kissed outdoors, Bend's pros outweigh its cons.