If you find yourself in Santa Barbara County during your California road trip and decide to take a detour inland, perhaps because you may be curious to drive part of the Camino Real in search of the old Spanish missions, at some point, you will reach a city that will make you feel as if you are in Europe, and more specifically to Denmark.
No, you’re not hallucinating; you are in Solvang, which in Danish means “sunny field” and it certainly sounds like a perfect name for city in California. Founded in 1911 by three Danes living in America, thanks to its unique architecture, today it remains a popular destination for tourists.
Location and Directions
Places to Visit in Solvang
Surely the best way to enjoy the charm of Solvang is to park your car and take a walking tour of the town. For this reason, I suggest to start from the visitor center, where, as I recall, a nice gentleman in traditional Danish garb with a white beard welcomed me and gave me all the necessary information. I recommend that you stop by here not only to get a quick overview of the activities that can take place in the city, but also because there is a convenient parking lot where you can leave your car.
Whether or not you’re short on time, you should go on the Solvang Heritage Walk, which branches off into the streets with plenty of typical shops selling both handmade souvenirs and culinary delights. Most of the attractions in Solvang are concentrated within a few blocks (between Copenhagen Drive and Alisal Road).
Motorcycle riders should not miss the chance to visit the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum (320 Alisal Rd) which exhibits an enviable collection of vintage motorcycles from many countries from the early 1900s to today. The museum is open every weekend from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm and the entrance fee is $10 per person.
The Elverhoj Museum Of History & Art is in the former residence of artist Viggo Brandt-Erichsen, who spent much of his life trying to preserve the original spirit of the Danish American pioneers who founded the town. Walking through the rooms you can relive the history of Solvang through numerous artifacts such as photographs, videos and exhibitions. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. There is no entrance fee, but there is a suggested donation of $5 or more.
Since you are visiting a city that makes the Danish tradition its strong point, you must visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, a small but well-kept museum dedicated to the life and works of the most internationally successful “local” writer. You will find it on the second floor of the Book Loft Building, a charming independent book shop. On the second floor you can access the museum every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
There is also a park north of the city, the Hans Christian Andersen Park, dedicated to the write. It can be accessed by passing through a castle. It may be an option if you want to take a walk in the park or take advantage of the numerous picnic tables to eat outside.
However, besides these interesting attractions, the best thing to do is to walk through the streets of Solvang, immersing yourself in the life of this city that is so unique in this part of the world.
Mission Santa Inés
Mission Santa Inés is the pride and joy of Solvang. This historic mission is part of the Camino Real, the old route that extends along the Californian coast and links various Spanish missions.
Inside the mission, in addition to visiting the church and the small museum, you can also visit a garden, which I found very relaxing and particularly well-kept. If you decide to visit the mission, you can take a self-guided tour and listen to audio speakers telling the detailed history of the mission and the rooms you are visiting.
Seeing a windmill in the United States is not an everyday thing (unless you’re passing through Frankenmuth or Holland in Michigan, but these two destinations are a bit off the beaten track), which is an added bonus when you are visiting Solvang.
If you want to take a selfie in front of these unusual structures you will have multiple opportunities to do so, since there are at least three windmills.
- At the intersection of Copenhagen Dr and 2nd Street (Hamlet Square)
- At the intersection of Alisal Rd and Mariposa Dr
- In the parking lot of the Kronborg Inn (1440 Mission Dr), a hotel that is a great option for an overnight stay.
Solvang Wine Tours
Santa Ynez Valley is not as famous as Napa or Sonoma, but is still renowned for its fine vineyards. For this reason, Solvang can be considered one of the best places for tasting wine and other local products. The list of wineries is extensive and diverse, but if you don’t have much time, I suggest that you choose the more convenient option and take an organized tour to discover the delicacies of this area.
If you prefer to have as much freedom as possible and you want to explore Solvang instead, you can have a look at these activity, which have the advantage of having considerable flexibility and allow you to arrange the itinerary according to your personal preferences. If, on the other hand, you would like to discover the wineries of the Santa Barbara region, you can consider a 4-hour tour specifically designed for small groups. For more detailed information on this tour, please click on the link below.
Annual Events in Solvang
If you have a sweet tooth, come to Solvang (or avoid it depending on your preferences) in March when the Taste of Solvang is held, a great culinary festival where you can taste all the typical Danish dishes and renowned wines of the area. You can find the full program on the event’s official website.
If you happen to be here in September, you may be lucky enough to attend the Danish Days, a traditional Danish festival in Solvang. People participate in parades wearing traditional costumes, artists and musicians performing in every corner of the city, and Viking-themed events will be the main attractions for an entire weekend. You can consult the program of this year’s Danish Days on Solvang’s tourism website.
Solvang Julefest is the main event during the month of December, when the whole town is filled with Christmas spirit, which culminates in the reenactment of the Nativity. The month of celebration ends with a bonfire near the Mission Santa Inés where the large Christmas tree that stood in the city in the previous days is burned.
Where to Stay in Solvang
Solvang, as well as being a fascinating small city, can also be a convenient base to where you can take a break on your trip to California. Its location, halfway between Los Angeles and Morro Bay, is particularly strategic if you want to avoid driving long hours.
The Mirabelle Inn & Restaurant (409 1st Street) is a lovely hotel located in Solvang, which, in addition to a renowned restaurant, also has a spa and, if you are interested, you can participate in a tour of Coquelicot Estate, the owner’s winery. The Mirabelle Inn & Restaurant is the perfect choice for those who want to relax.
Another hotel that is certainly unique is the Wine Valley Inn, which has a picturesque garden that is accessible from some suites, and offers large and comfortable rooms that are particularly suitable for families.
Another city that is both convenient and strategic, which I also mentioned earlier in the article, is Santa Barbara. If you want to have an overview of the recommended hotels in Santa Barbara, you can click on the link below.