In 1911, a group of Danish-Americans traveled to California from the Midwest in search of a new settlement in a warmer climate. The settlers selected a sunny spot in the Santa Ynez Valley just northwest of Santa Barbara. They chose an appropriate name for this fledgling community: Solvang, which is Danish for "sunny fields." Fast forward one hundred years, Solvang is a thriving hub of Scandinavian architecture and culture on the West Coast. Solvang is famous for its windmills. — Photo courtesy of Ming-yen Hsu
If you're living in or visiting Santa Barbara, a day trip to Solvang is a fun idea for a family outing, get together with friends or couples date. It's just a half an hour drive north on State Route 154, also known as the Chumash Highway or the San Marco Pass. Once a stagecoach route through the hills, this drive is incredibly scenic. The route to Solvang takes you past Los Padres National Forest and Lake Cachuma, with many breathtaking vistas along the way.
You'll know you've arrived in Solvang when you emerge from the hills and find yourself greeted by rows of Danish-style buildings that look like something from a fairytale. Park your car in any of the city's numerous free parking lots; you won't be needing it. Solvang is best explored on foot.
Bakeries and restaurants abound in downtown Solvang. — Photo courtesy of Ming-yen Hsu
Charming downtown Solvang consists of a few blocks of quaint storefronts punctuated by cheery landscaping. Gift shops and bakeries are the most prevalent businesses, practically alternating up and down each side of the streets. The scent of cinnamon and chocolate wafts through the air.
Your best plan is to arrive in Solvang hungry or, at the very least, peckish. Soft pretzels, rich chocolates and flaky pastries beckon from store windows. But the real treat? Aebelskivers. Aebelskivers are traditional Danish pancakes that are spherical in shape with a light and fluffy texture. Sprinkled with powdered sugar or topped with lingonberry jam, these sweet morsels are served in many restaurants. You can even buy special cast iron aebelskiver pans so you can make your own Danish pancakes at home.
Treat yourself to an order of aebelskivers, traditional Danish pancakes. — Photo courtesy of Ming-yen Hsu
Sites to see in Solvang include the Little Mermaid fountain, Hans Christian Anderson Museum and four large windmills. For a leisurely circuit around town, you can hop into the Solvang Trolley, a horse drawn wagon that offers guided tours.
A horse drawn carriage is a fun way to tour the city. — Photo courtesy of Damian Gadal
Solvang is located in the heart of Santa Barbara's renown wine region and, as a result, there are many tasting rooms both within the city and nearby. If you plan to indulge in some of the area's tasty varietals, perhaps you should make a night of it. Solvang has many cozy hotels and welcoming bed and breakfasts to accommodate your party. Book a room at the Hamlet Inn or Hadsten House to turn your day trip into an overnighter.