In Santa Barbara County, there is a little piece of paradise nestled among mountains.
The Santa Ynez Valley is known for its rolling hills, vineyards, and charming towns. What is surprising to many is that, more than a 100 years ago, a group of Danes settled in a corner of this idyllic place.
Their village, Solvang (sunny fields) became the “Danish Capital of the USA.” Danish architecture, culture, and food survived the test of time.
For those who are interested in visiting this enchanting place, I have prepared this article with details on things to do in Solvang.
Things to Do in Solvang
Solvang may be small but it offers a lot of things to see and do. To enjoy the town and area attractions, I recommend putting together a two or three-day itinerary. Find below ideas to fill up your days!
Wander Around Downtown Solvang
If you have not been to Solvang before, I recommend you start your visit by taking a walk around the streets showcasing half-timbered structures, thatched roofs, towers, and windmills.
The area known as Downtown Solvang is where all the action occurs. Due to its compactness, it is possible to walk the streets of interest in one or two hours (depends on how many times you stop).
Make sure to check out Mission Drive, Copenhagen Drive, Atterdag Road, 1st Street, and Alisal Road. Have your camera ready since there are tons of photo opportunities on these thoroughfares.
Spot as Many Danish Icons as Possible
After getting familiar with the town, it is time to take a deeper look. Many people criticize the entire Solvang concept since they tie it to commercial and touristic purposes. However, I believe the town can immerse you into Danish culture.
That is why I encourage you to find (and learn about) the Danish icons found in town. Here are a few.
A 1:3 replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower (Rundetaarn) is located on Alisal Road, close to the big windmill. The original tower was built in the 17th century as an astronomical observatory. Nowadays, the tower counts with an observation deck.
Old Stock Exchange
The Old Stock Exchange is one of the most beautiful buildings in Copenhagen. What we have in Solvang is a replica of its notorious spire which is shaped as the tails of four dragons twined together. The spire is located at 1st Street and Molle Way.
The first windmill in Solvang was built by Ferdinand Sorensen after he returned from a trip to Denmark. Later on, three more were built.
The four windmills are still standing and they are one of the biggest attractions in town. I never get tired of photographing them (especially when the sun is setting). You will have no problem finding these. Some hotels have built their own windmills in front of their properties.
Note: If you think windmills are not a Danish thing, take a look at this article.
Storks in Rooftops
In Denmark, storks are a symbol of happiness and good luck. Also, they are associated with babies thanks to a story written by Hans Christian Andersen.
This beloved bird is celebrated in the roofs of Solvang. You are going to find many wooden and metals replicas. Look up so you can spot them.
Hans Christian Andersen Statue
Hans Christian Andersen, one of Denmark’s predilect sons, wrote thousand of fairy tales including the Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina.
His legacy is celebrated in Solvang with a statue located on a park bearing his name.
Little Mermaid Statue
Last but not least, Solvang has a replica of the Little Mermaid Statue located in Copenhagen. The statue is located at one of the corners of Mission rive and Alisal Road.
Gorge on Danish Pastries
Solvang’s bakeries are famous all around the region. Some of the most popular ones have branched out to Santa Barbara and towns in the San Luis Obispo County.
They sell butter cookies, butter ring coffee cake, cinnamon swirl bread, kringles, strudel, Danish waffles and a large selection of pastries. For maximum freshness, I recommend visiting before noon. Some of the bakeries are fully stocked until later times during the high season.
Olsen’s and Mortensen’s are good places to get your sugar fix. Other bakeries are located along Alisal Road and Copenhagen Drive. The bakeries have dining rooms. Therefore, you can enjoy whatever you get with a cup of coffee or another drink of your preference.
Bakeries and restaurants sell buckets of butter cookies (they contain three pounds). These are ideas to take home or give as a gift.
Try the Aebleskievers
I just described all the wonderful things you can find in the town’s bakeries but the aebleskivers deserve a special mention.
Think about these delicious morsels as a spherical pancake. Some say the texture if fluffier and lighter. They can be served with raspberry or strawberry jam.
The Solvang Restaurant has a walk-up window from where aebleskivers can be ordered. The restaurant sells everything necessary to prepare them at home (including the pan).
Eat Danish and Scandinavian Delicacies
Even if you are not familiar with Danish food, there are plenty of dishes to try in places such as The Red Viking, Solvang Restaurant and Bit O’Denmark. They serve pickled herring, Swedish meatballs, Havarti cheese, open sandwiches, cured salmon, liver paste and sausages.
Danish pancakes and Belgian waffles can be had at places such as Paula’s Pancake House and Belgian Cafe.
Some flavors may be too strong for unaccustomed palates but I am sure you can find something of your liking.
Go Wine Tasting
In case you have not noticed, Solvang is located in wine country. The Santa Ynez Valley has several American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and, as a consequence, many wine tasting rooms are clustered in The Valley towns.
Solvang alone has about 15 tasting rooms. That is more than enough to plan a day around this activity. The best part is that you can walk from one place to another. There is no need to involve a car.
The best tasting rooms in town are the following:
- Lucas & Lewellen
- Toccata (owned by Lucas & Lewellen, specialize in Italian grapes)
- Dascomb Cellars
- Lions Peak (serve wine from different houses)
- D. Volk Wines
Cali Love and Lucky Dogg have a youthful atmosphere. Sort this Out Cellar has a Tiki Bar in addition to wine tasting.
Note: Stop by the Visitor Center to see if you can grab 2-for-1 wine tasting flyers. This can help you to save a good amount of money.
Celebrate Christmas All Year-Round
Jule Hus (Christmas House) has been in operation since 1967. The store specializes in Scandinavian Christmas ornaments. Artifacts from other European countries are available for sale too.
Stop by to (possibly) be transported to your childhood. I grew up in Puerto Rico and even there we had nutcrackers. Seeing the collection in the store bring a lot of good memories.
Visit a Museum
For a small town of 5,000 residents, Solvang has quite a varied offer of museums. Here is a list of what you can find in town.
Elverhøj Museum of History & Art
This museum, located in a beautiful structure built in the style of a Danish farmhouse, has exhibits about Solvang’s history, Vikings and works by local artists. I find this museum very interesting and it offers the opportunity to learn about the area and the costumes of the Nordic Countries.
Admission is free (suggested donation is $5).
Solvang Vintage Museum
The motorcycles in this museum are owned by collector Virgil Elings. For the past two decades, Elings have been collecting models from brands such as BMW, Ducati, and Velocette. Admission is $10.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is located on the upper floor of The Book Loft, an independent bookstore. It features exhibits about the life and works of the author. It highlights how Andersen gained international fame with his fairytales. This is a very simple place. Do not expect elaborated exhibits. Admission is free.
This small museum is dedicated to showcasing the value and beauty of nature through art. In addition, it aims to promote wildlife and natural habitat conservation. Their exhibitions change seasonally and they offer different workshops to the community. Admission is $5. Entrance is free every third Wednesday of the month.
The Great Hall of Danes and Amber Museum
These two spaces are located at the back of a store called The Copenhagen House. The first one features the history of Danish Vikings and the second showcases amber antiques and artifacts (even insects encrusted in amber). I find these two spaces excellent and recommend you make some time to visit. Admission is free. Remember to take some time to check out the store. It is always a good idea to be inspired by Scandinavian design.
Stop by One of California’s 21 Mission
When Solvang founders arrived at the Santa Ynez Valley, the mission giving the name to the entire region had been standing for more than 100 years.
The Danish-Americans ended buying a plot of land next to the Santa Ines Mission (where they started to build the town). The rest is history. Spanish and Danish heritages have been coexisting for more than a century.
Nowadays, the Mission is open to the public for guided or self-guided tours. On a visit, the church, museum, and garden can be explored.
It is possible to walk to the Mission from Solvang’s Center. Parties with kids may decide to reach the place by car. Ample parking is available.
Note: The other Mission in the Santa Ynez Valley, La Purisima Concepcion, is located in Lompoc, 18 miles from Solvang.
Buy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables at the Farmers Market
If you happen to be in town on a Wednesday, make sure to browse the flower, produce, bread, nuts and cheese stalls of Solvang’s Farmers Market. In an agricultural area like these, you are destined to find a wide array of fresh and delectable products. The market takes places on 1st Street from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Explore the Town by Bike
Hotels in the area often lend bicycles to guests. If your hotel does not offer this service, you can rent a bike (including electric ones) or surreys at Wheel Fun Rentals.
Many people choose to ride around town but, on request, a route map with points of interest can be provided. In that way, you can explore nearby towns, wine tasting rooms, and historical structures.
You can also tour the town by trolley, horse cart and segway.
Have a Picnic or Stretch your Legs at a Park
With the overwhelming number of things to do in Solvang, I can understand if you (or your kids) need a break.
Right in the heart of Downtown, you will find the Solvang Park. This is a popular spot to picnic or rest under the shadow of the trees.
Kids will enjoy the Hans Christian Andersen and the Sunny FIelds parks.
Attend One of the Great Events
Solvang knows how to throw a party! If you want to get to know the area a little bit more, I recommend setting aside time to attend a local event. Here are some ideas.
Taste of Solvang – March
Danish Days – September
Solvang Stop – October
Julefest (Christmas Festival) – December
For more information about local festivities, subscribe to the visitor’s bureau e-newsletter.
Make Friends with the Locals
There are a lot of fun things to do in Solvang but people are the main reason I keep visiting the area. Locals are a friendly bunch and they are welcoming as hell.
I encourage you to get engaged in conversation and share a bit of your story. Residents will surely do and it is up to you to respond to that openness.
Wait! There is more!
I cannot write about Solvang and obviate the following attractions:
Ostrichland USA (2.5 miles) – a fun spot where you can feed ostriches and emus
Quicksilver Ranch (2.8 miles) – ranch breeding miniature horses. The public is welcome to stop by to take a look at the horses for free
Chumash Casino Resort (3.2 miles) – this is a spot for those who enjoy gambling and buffets
Many, many vineyards – it is impossible to name every single vineyard located close to Solvang. If you have something specific in mind, you can get recommendations at the visitors center or at the tasting rooms in town. Companies such as Grapeline, Stagecoach, and Artisan Excursion offer wine country tours.
The Santa Ynez Valley is full of beautiful towns. Combining a visit to Solvang with other towns in the area is a good idea.
Los Olivos – probably my favorite town in the valley. Find wine tasting rooms, gardens, and nice restaurants.
Santa Ynez – this is the cowboy town of the valley
Buellton – another small town with good restaurants and several tasting rooms
Lompoc – this town located 20 miles from Solvang is known for its flower fields, downtown murals, wine ghetto, and beaches.
In this article, I have discussed restaurants and bakeries serving Danish and Scandinavian specialties. However, here are recommendations for palates interested in other options.
Fresco Valley Cafe – serves New American dishes such as seared ahi tuna wraps, hot dip sandwiches, and cheeseburgers
Root 246 – specialize in serving modern dishes with fresh ingredients. You will find braised octopus, Osso Bucco and aged steak on the menu
Succulent Cafe – comfort food with a gourmet twist. I love their fried chicken, curried chicken salad and meatloaf sandwich
Panino – serve sandwiches, soups, and salads in a casual environment
Industrial Eats – this restaurant is located in nearby Buellton but I am including it in here because, in my opinion, it has the best food in the valley. This place is worth the detour or drive. Really, just go!
Solvang Location and Access
Solvang is located 35 miles from Santa Barbara, 70 miles from San Luis Obispo and 128 miles from Los Angeles.
From Santa Barbara, it is faster to reach Solvang using CA-154. This scenic route will take you through the San Marcos Pass and the Santa Ynez Mountains. You can also reach Solvang using US-101 (the freeway). This route affords incredible views of the Gaviota Coast, one of the largest undeveloped coastal areas in California.
A good idea is to take CA-154 to go to the town and return through US-101. If you are driving at night, I recommend taking the freeway.
Weather and Seasonality
As in other parts of California, the weather in Solvang is nearly perfect. During winter, high temperatures are around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Summers can get quite hot with maximum temperatures rounding the 90 degrees.
Keep in mind the minimum temperatures can be between 40-50 degrees. It is a good idea to dress in layers or carry a good jacket on your luggage.
Solvang is open for business all year round. Summers, the weekend after Thanksgiving and the period between Christmas and New Years are the busiest. In addition, local festivities can bring hundreds of visitors to the area. I prefer to visit during spring or fall (which is wine harvest season).
There are two big parking lots along Mission Drive. There is another lot on Oak Street. Street parking is widely available. All parking is free.
Prices in Solvang and nearby towns like Buellton and Los Olivos have increased in the last 10 years. During the week, you should have no problem finding affordable accommodation. Now, everything goes up during weekends. If you want to get the best price possible, you need to book several weeks before you arrive in town.
I save money by staying at Lompoc, a city located 20 miles from Solvang, on the opposite side of the Santa Ynez Valley. Hotels are way cheaper in there. Once again, lock in a good rate by booking at least a week before your stay.
More of Solvang
Find more about Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley in my other posts
Solvang Pictures: The Danish Town of my Dreams
More of Southern California
Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
What are your recommendations on things to do in Solvang?
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