This article discusses the many wonderful things to do in Solvang, California. This town is considered the Danish Capital of the United States.
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 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.
Please note: This article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link. Of course, this comes at no extra cost to you and helps me to keep offering solid information to readers.
Table of Contents
Best 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!
Keep in mind I am focusing in Solvang per se. I will include ideas on things to do near Solvang at the end of the article.
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.
Bethania Lutheran Church
The Bethania Lutheran Church was built to serve the town’s Danish residents. The architectural style is reminiscent of the 12-14th century Danish rural churches. This was the first structure showcasing Danish heritage in the Santa Ynez Valley. The church is located at 603 Atterdag Road.
Storks in Rooftops
In Denmark, storks are a symbol of happiness and good luck. In addition, they are associated with babies thanks to a story written by Hans Christian Andersen.
This beloved bird is celebrated on 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 in 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 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 (three pounds of cookies are included). 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 aebleskievers deserve a special mention.
Think about these delicious morsels as a spherical pancake. Some say the texture is fluffier and lighter. They can be served with raspberry or strawberry jam.
The Solvang Restaurant has a walk-up window from where aebleskievers can be ordered. The restaurant sells everything necessary to prepare them at home (including the pan).
Trying an aebleskiever is a must do in Solvang!
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.
In these restaurants, you may be able to find the following dishes:
- Pickled Herring
- Cured Salmon
- Liver Paste
- Swedish Meatballs
- Hakkebøf – grilled onions, cucumber, lean beef patty, with an over-easy egg on top with brown gravy and mashed potatoes
- Fisk filet – Fish and chips
- Open-faced Danish sandwiches
- Roast beef on pumpernickel with remoulade, horseradish garnished with Danish cucumbers, and potato salad
- Roast pork with prunes, red cabbage, Danish Tilsit cheese, Danish ham, Italian salad, asparagus, and homemade
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.
Try a Smörgåsbord
Talking about Danish and Scandinavian specialties, if you want to take things to the next level, you can try the Smörgåsbord at The Red Viking Restaurant.
Smörgåsbord is a type of Scandinavian meal served buffet-style with multiple dishes of various foods on a table. It is typically a celebratory meal and guests can help themselves from a range of dishes laid out for their choice. Surprisingly, it originated in Sweden but other Nordic (and Baltic) countries participate in it.
Here is a sample of what’s on offer:
- Homemade liver pate with mushrooms and bacon
- Danish Tilsit cheese
- Danish Ham
- Danish cucumbers
- Swedish meatballs
- Mashed potatoes
- Red Cabbage
- Danish sausage
- Pickled Herring
- Pickled Herring in Mustard and Dill Sauce
- Cocktail shrimp
- Cabbage in Mustard Sauce
- Potato Salad
- Italian Pasta Salad
- Crispy Onions
- Hard-boiled Eggs
- Chocolate Pudding
- Freshly baked pastries and bread from Olsen’s Bakery
My husband and I love to stop by this restaurant and enjoy these beloved dishes that are often so difficult to have in Los Angeles.
Stop by a Tasting Room
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 Santa Ynez 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)
- Casa Cassara
- Lions Peak (serves wine from different houses)
- Dana V. 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.
Read More: Best Solvang Wineries and Tasting Room
Visit a Winery as Well
Having multiple tasting rooms clustered in a small area is a plus.
On the other hand, if you are visiting the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, it makes sense to visit a winery and see the actual vineyards.
There are many wineries located near Solvang. It is complicated to choose favorites. To me, all have something special.
I recommend visiting the wineries located on Alamo Pintado Road. These are about 3 to 4 miles away from the city’s center.
Here are vineyards you should visit:
- Lincourt Vineyards
- Rideau Vineyard
- Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
- Blackjack Ranch Vineyards
I cannot leave out Rusack Vineyards and Gainey Vineyard. They are located in the vicinity as well. Keep in mind many wineries allow visitors to picnic on their grounds. A lot of people bring lunch and have it with a glass or bottle of the wine.
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 brings 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 found in town.
Elverhoj Museum of History & Art
The Elverhoj Museum of History & Art, 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 Motorcycle Museum
The motorcycles at the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum are own 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
This 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 international fame with his fairytales. This is a very simple place. Do not expect elaborated exhibits. Admission is free.
Wilding Museum of Art
The small Wilding Museum of Art is dedicated to showcasing the value and beauty of nature through art. In addition, it aims to promote wildlife and natural habitats conservation. Their exhibitions are changed seasonally and they offer different workshops to the community. Admission is $5. Entrance to the Wilding Museum of Art 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 take 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 Old Mission Santa Ines
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 Old Mission Santa Ines (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 place 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 bikes (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 fun 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 Solvang Park. This is a popular spot to picnic or rest under the shadow of the trees.
Kids will enjoy the Hans Christian Andersen Park and the Sunny Fields Park.
Attend an Event at the Solvang Festival Theater
For 46 years, the Solvang Festival Theater has hosted plays, concerts and many events benefiting the community.
Visit this page to check upcoming performances. At publishing time, jazz, rock, brass band, and quartet performances were listed.
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 Stomp – October
Julefest (Christmas Festival) – December
For more information about local festivities, subscribe to the visitors’ 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.
Attractions Nearby Solvang
Wait! There is more!
Solvang attractions are plenty but I cannot obviate the following nearby spots (all of these are located in the Santa Ynez Valley):
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
Nojoqui Falls Park (7 miles) – As the name indicates, the main attraction on this park is an 80 feet waterfall. This is a popular place since it is super simple to walk to the waterfall, there are amenities such as picnic tables and playgrounds and there is no entrance fee. Please notice Nojoqui Falls are non-perennial. They flow mainly during spring.
Cachuma Lake Recreational Area (12 miles) – You can camp, hike, boat, fish and do many more things in and around Lake Cachuma. This is a great place to combine outdoor activities with the pleasures of wine country.
Many, many vineyards – It is impossible to name every single vineyard located close to Solvang (since the Santa Ynez Valley has a considerable size). 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 tasting tours.
Towns Nearby Solvang
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 – Los Olivos is 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. Santa Ynez is very small. You can stop by to visit the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, Dos Carlitos Restaurant, S.Y. Kitchen, Carr Winery and CrossHatch Winery.
Buellton – This is another small town with good restaurants and several tasting rooms. I have an entire article dedicated to it.
Lompoc – This town located 20 miles from Solvang is known for its flower fields, downtown murals, wine ghetto, and beaches. Head to Lompoc to escape the crowds.
Restaurants in Solvang
In this article, I have discussed restaurants and bakeries serving Danish and Scandinavian specialties. However, here are recommendations for palates interested in other options.
Mad & Vin – This restaurant, located inside the Landsby Hotel, sell New American cuisine. For example, the menu includes dishes like duck fat fries, blistered shishito peppers, and Korean-style short ribs
Succulent Cafe – Offers comfort food with a gourmet twist. I love their fried chicken, curried chicken salad, and meatloaf sandwich
Panino – Serves sandwiches, soups, and salads in a casual environment
CHOMP – This is the place for burgers, fries and milkshakes. The same owners have opened Brekkies by CHOMP, a breakfast and brunch specialized restaurant
Industrial Eats – This restaurant is located in nearby Buellton but I am including it here because, in my opinion, it has the best food in the Santa Ynez Valley. This place is worth the detour or drive. Really, just go!
Where is Solvang, California (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 in Solvang, California
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 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 Year 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.
Get ready for a day of sightseeing by bringing the right gear. Here is a list of the items I pack to explore cities and towns in California.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. I recommend investing in a good pair. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Anti-Theft Bag – Keep your belongings safe by keeping them in an anti-theft bag. The ones manufactured by Travelon have a 5-points security system including an RFID blocking pocket. >>Check out their crossbody bag here If you prefer a backpack, this one is a good option
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Hand Sanitizer – Do not forget to pack hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on trips (more if you are taking pictures, posting on social media, and navigating). Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get related to things to do in Solvang, California.
What is Solvang known for?
Solvang is knowns for its Danish architecture, culture, and food. It is also known for its many tasting rooms and nearby wineries/vineyards.
How far is Solvang from Santa Barbara?
Solvang is located 35 miles from Santa Barbara. The drive time is about an hour.
What are some free things to do in Solvang, California?
Free activities include:
- Walking around town
- Taking pictures of the Danish icons
- Strolling around the parks
- Old Mission Santa Ines
- Several Museums
- Quicksilver Ranch
- Nojoqui Falls Park
Low cost activities include trying a Danish pastry or aebleskiever, tasting wine (look for coupons or specials), and renting a bike.
What are some fun things to in Solvang with kids or family?
Pretty much all the attractions I have described in this article, with the exception of wine-related activities, are kid-friendly. In addition, there are plenty of ice cream, chocolate, fudge and candy shops that will appeal to little ones.
And, going back to the wine topic, wineries such as Carivintas and Buttonwood Farms welcome kids (thay may need to stay in a designated area).
What to do in Solvang with dogs?
There are a lot of things to do in Solvang with dogs. There shouldn’t be issues when you walk with your pooch on a leash around town. Dog-friendly restaurants include CHOMP, and Succulent Cafe. Pet-friendly wineries include Lion’s Peak, Lucas & Lewellen, Toccata, Royal Oaks and Casa Cassara. Wine bars such as Wandering Dog and The Good Life welcome dogs as well. Dogs are allowed on a leash on city park. Visit PAWS Park in Buellton for an off leash experience.
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 Santa Barbara
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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