Solvang is one of my favorite weekend escapes to experience a destination steeped in California history.
Only a 17-minute drive from Santa Barbara, this Danish-style community attracts visitors from around the world seeking a “Denmark in America” experience.
A mix of old and new
Solvang (Danish for “sunny field”) is a visual delight of Danish-style architecture complete with windmills. The city was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who settled in the west (to escape Midwestern winters in Ohio); they settled on land purchased from the Santa Inez Mission. Countless shops along Solvang’s charming streets feature Danish art galleries, clothing, toys, chocolates, pastries, Danish clogs and more.
Solvang has moved into the 21st century, introducing modern enhancements to historic properties. Now it attracts not only Californians but sophisticated travelers from around the world looking to savor a “now experience” with old world charm.
Things to see and do in Solvang
Any visit to Solvang should include a visit to the fascinating Elverhoj Museum of History & Art, filled with craft art, antiques, books and history. The building where it is housed has an architectural style derived from a large 18th-century farmhouse in Denmark.
The outdoor Solvang Festival Theater is a lovely place to enjoy live performances (weather permitting). Solvang Restaurant is home to the renowned ableskiver, a Danish dessert covered with powdered sugar and strawberry preserves. You can also order an authentic Danish platter of meatball and sausage with red cabbage that is exceptional.
A special place of interest is Old Mission Santa Inés, established in 1804. The mission was rebuilt following the great earthquake of 1812 and became very prosperous during the first part of the 19th century when the Chumash population was at its highest. Tours and daily masses are offered at the mission; seniors walking through the community will find it easy with benches to rest along the way. Hans Christian Andersen Park is perfect for an impromptu sit-down picnic.
Another look at Solvang history can be experienced at Wilding Museum of Art & Nature; the history of the Vikings exhibit in Solvang Amber Museum is beautiful. For a fast and fun historic visual take a tour on the horse-drawn trolley with guides who provide an outstanding background on the community and its history for a very reasonable price.
An abundance of good food, wine and Danish-style comfort
The Landsby on Mission Drive—an older property that has been transformed into a state-of-the-art boutique hotel—is now a major attraction with savvy travelers, including boomers and beyond. The hotel’s interior design could be described as a mix of California comfortable and Scandinavian neat; I would probably call it new Danish with touches of country chic.
The Danes have a word that is the essence of why Denmark is considered by some to be the happiest place on earth and why people feel so good in Solvang: It’s called hygge; the art of cozy or creating a joyful place.
I found several great books devoted to the art of hygge at The Landsby.
Each room and suite has state-of-the-art amenities that make it a cozy place. If you call room service, you’ll get your own pint of local McConnell’s chocolate ice cream to enjoy in your beyond-comfortable bed at the end of a busy day!
The Mad & Vin (Danish for food & wine) at The Landsby offers a full menu of healthy breakfast and lunch options as well as outstanding dinner plates. My dinner, prepared by Chef Beto Huizar, included a perfectly cooked lamb sirloin and crème of celery root with fennel soup that was magical. Their list of local wines is also exceptional.
“I am excited to be here and to include the fresh seasonal produce and seafood sourced locally for the plates I prepare,” Chef Huizar told me.
Just across the street on Mission Drive is the Succulent Café Wine Charcuterie, an amazing restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. This welcoming venue has wooden floors and an appealing wall display. It serves amazing artisan charcuterie and farmstead cheeses, best enjoyed with a bottle from the extensive wine menu.
I highly recommend this restaurant owned by locals David and Sylvia Brents as an amazing way to start your day by discovering Solvang on their patio.
The breakfast French toast with strawberries is made with homemade bread and fresh whipped cream; the vegetarian Eggs Benedict, served on a homemade biscuit comes with an optional side of meats.
Located in the heart of a great wine production region, Solvang has numerous wine tasting rooms. I especially like Wandering Dog Wine Bar (also on Mission Street), where along with great wines owner “CT” Williams serves a trendy drink called “Shrub,” made with fermented vinegar and flavorings.
For sweets, you must visit Ingeborg’s world-famous Danish chocolate shop where chocolatier Kim Jenson and his wife, Carol, can be seen making their divine candies.
Located in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley on the central coast of California, Solvang is a great place for a romantic getaway or a short vacation in the valley.
There is a lot to see, do and experience in this back-to-Denmark community, including 35 restaurants within walking distance of 18 hotels. The locals and business owners are hospitable and the Solvang Visitors Center will happily answer all your questions.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Solvang is a beautiful Danish-style village.
- It is walkable with a bevy of good restaurants and nice, clean accommodations.
- Bike rentals and some free bikes are available at many hotels for active travelers.
- The city makes great efforts to accommodate handicapped visitors and others needing special assistance.
- Visitors from out of the area fly will need to fly into Santa Barbara or Santa Ynez Airport and rent a car to get to Solvang.
IF YOU GO
The authors’ visit was hosted by the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau; any opinions or recommendations expressed in this post are her own.