The little town of Solvang near Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynes valley means ‘sunny meadow’ in Danish. Although the fields are long gone, the sunny aspect remains. Astonishingly, Solvang is a little bit of Denmark transplanted onto the perma-sunny climes of California. I would think I was in Europe if (i) the streets weren’t so wide, (ii) car parking wasn’t so easy and (iii) the weather wasn’t near-perfect with soft blue skies and a gentle breeze.
The History of Solvang
Solvang was set up in 1911 by members of the Danish-American colony company. The sunny fields of the Santa Ynes valley must have seemed blissful for the Danish immigrants who had just come from the much harsher climate of the Midwestern USA.
The architecture is traditional Danish style – lots of half-timbered style. I’ve only ever been to Copenhagen in Denmark and I don’t actually remember any of these style of buildings. The Copenhagen I saw was less twee and more classically grand as befitting a major capital city. Maybe the half-timbered buildings are out in the smaller towns and villages?
There is also copies of typically Danish items in the town, including from Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid statue and the Round Tower. A traditional Danish horse and wagon putters through the town taking tourists to the main sites. And, of course, any mention of traditional Denmark has to include Hans Christian Andersen. Check out the reference to his Red Shoes story below.
Visits by Danish royalty twice (in 1939 and 1960) to the town have solidified the relationship between the immigrants and their homeland. The town also celebrates its roots with the Danish Days festival.
Tourism in Solvang
Tourists flock to Solvang and the Santa Ynes Valley in California thanks to its architecture and trade in nostalgia. The 2004 cult classic movie Sideways about two men on a road trip through the Santa Ynes valley has made the area popular for wine tourism. People come wine tasting and stop by pretty little Solvang as well.
In addition to wine tasting, Solvang is home to one of the original California Spanish missions, Mission Santa Ynes, right near the historical downtown district. This pretty mission was the setting for a huge family wedding on the day we visited.
The streets of Solvang are lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The main drag is called Copenhagen Drive (surprise!). You can get everything Danish related you could ever want here from Drindle outfits to chocolate.
We had lunch at The Red Viking on Copenhagen Drive which came recommended by our hotel. The food was pretty good and very Danish.
You had a choice of a Danish smorgasbord or individual dishes. Most of us chose the Danish meatballs (similar to Swedish meatballs I thought!). My husband (at my prompting I have to confess) bravely tried one of the Danish pork dishes which he thought was pretty good. Everything came with lashings of red cabbage.
By the way, there is a kiddie menu with standard fare. The restaurant is located in one of the original half-timbered buildings in town.
We also stopped by The Solvang Bakery for an afternoon snack of Danish sweet treats. Having tried out several of its pastries, I can say that The Solvang Bakery definitely deserves its reputation as a great bakery.
Solvang is a charming little town to walk around. If you look past the kitsch, you see how homesick some of the early immigrants were for their homelands. I have seen that before with the Norwegian immigrants who built the replica of the medieval stavkirke in South Dakota. These immigrants tried to recreate their memories of a country most of them in all likelihood would never see again.
I personally think though Denmark with a California lifestyle sounds pretty good! Give me a Danish pastry for breakfast, beach and surf in the afternoon and vineyards in the evening any day every day.
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