Side Trip: Solvang, California

Celebrating its centennial this year, the charming Danish village of Solvang is nestled in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, about a hundred and twenty-five miles northwest of Los Angeles and a half hour’s drive inland from Santa Barbara. Solvang means “sunny fields” in Danish, but the sun was nowhere to be found this past weekend, as my visit coincided with the first big storm of spring. I wasn’t going to let the rainy weather dampen my spirits though—it only added to the ambience, making me feel even more like I was in Scandinavia.

Solvang is Danish (as in Denmark) not Dutch (as in Holland), a common misconception made by outsiders. Windmills, half-timbered buildings with brightly painted façades, cobblestone streets—even a replica of Copenhagen’s Rundetårn (Round Tower)—make a visit to Solvang seem like venturing to a storybook land. Many of the roofs are in the traditional thatched style, while others are clad in copper that’s turned green with patina. All over town, visitors will notice ornamental storks perched in nests on chimneys and rooftops, a sign of good luck in Denmark. Among Solvang’s popular tourist attractions is a museum dedicated to the famed Danish fables writer, Hans Christian Andersen. There’s even a bronze bust of him in Solvang Park and a fountain with a statue of his “Little Mermaid,” just like the one in Copenhagen, too.

"The Little Mermaid" fountain, a replica of the one in Copenhagen

Solvang was founded back in 1911 when a small group of Danish-Americans migrated west to escape the harsh winters of the Great Lakes region. They settled in the sunny fields of California, creating a town that reminded them of the Old Country. Known as “The Danish Capital of America,” Solvang offers more than 150 unique shops, bakeries, smorgasbord eateries, and art galleries that add to the village’s quaint atmosphere.

The Santa Ynez Valley is renowned for producing wines from some of the most prized vineyards in California. Throughout Solvang’s town center are tasting rooms where you can sample a selection of local wines, for between $8 and $15 per person. This past weekend was the Taste of Solvang Festival, although the inclement weather likely spoiled the fun for many tourists. However, later this year there will be another great opportunity to visit when Solvang holds its annual Danish Days Festival. From September 16th – 18th, residents (and visitors) can celebrate Danish culture with authentic folk music, dancing, and even a torchlight parade.

The Rundetårn (Round Tower) - 1/3 the size of the one in Copenhagen

Getting there: From Los Angeles – Take US-101 North toward Santa Barbara. Exit at State Street and continue on CA-154/Cachuma Lake. Travel 24 miles then turn left onto CA-246/Solvang. Travel three miles to Solvang. From Northern California –Take US-101 South. Solvang is about 19 miles south of Santa Maria. Exit Solvang/CA 246 and turn left. Travel three miles to Solvang.

For more information: Visit



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