Nestled in Southern California's Santa Ynez Valley, a 45-minute drive north of Santa Barbara and a bit over two hours from Los Angeles, this small town of just over 6,100 offers visitors a unique blend of nature and culture. One of Solvang's top attractions is its unique Danish, which you can explore by strolling its charming streets. Founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants, and its downtown remodeled in the 1940s to reflect that country's architectural heritage, Solvang has a rich cultural heritage delightful to both the eye and stomach. Apart a self-guided walking tour to learn more about local history and architecture - including landmarks like the Little Mermaid Fountain, Round Tower, a giant red clog, and no fewer than five windmills - visitors can explore the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art, which showcases the town's Danish heritage, and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, which of course focuses on the 19th-century Danish author most famous for his fairy tales. Other notable local attractions narrated tours on the horse-drawn Solvang Trolley, the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature, the Vintage Motorcycle Museum, the Amber Museum, and the early-19th-century Spanish Old Mission Santa Inés, still a Roman Catholic parish church.
And when you're ready to sample some of Solvang's delicious Danish and other cuisines, try restaurants like Bit o' Denmark and more than two dozen other excellent eateries (including at least five Danish bakeries). Top specialties include frikadeller (meatballs in brown gravy with boiled potatoes), rullepolse (a pork cold cut filled with herbs and seasonings, kringle (a pretzel-shaped pastry), and Danish wafflers (a puff pastry baked, rolled in sugar, and stuffed with raspberry jam and buttercream filling).
And for an extra dose of Scandinavian heritage, come visit during Danish Days in mid-September and the Christmas season's cheerful Julefest.
Fess Parker Winery
The Great Outdoors & Wine
The town is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, including rolling hills with some of California's best trails for hiking and biking, as well as scenic drives in California (out here the Alisal Ranch offers guided horseback rides through the valley's rolling hills and vineyards).
And speaking of vineyards, Solvang is also surrounded by more than 125 wineries producing some of the world's best vintages and many accepting visitors for tours and tasting; among of the most popular are half-century-old Firestone Vineyard, Fess Parker Winery (above, founded in 1988 by the actor famous for playing Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on TV in the 1950s and 60s), and Sunstone Winery, in business since 1990 and with an enphasis on environmental sustainability.
King Frederik Inn
Best Places to Stay
There are some two dozen good-quality hotels to choose from in the area, and here are a pair of prime picks:
The King Frederik Inn
Named after the king of Denmark when it was founded in 1960, this is a unique and unforgettable downtown Solvang experience (above) for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the area's Danish culture, which extends to its charming architecture, cozy rooms, and warm hospitality. The lobby features traditional Danish décor, including a cozy fireplace and comfortable seating areas, creating a space that is both inviting and relaxing. Each of the rooms is also decorated in the traditional Danish style, with cozy furnishings, warm colors, and unique touches that give each room its own character. Whether you're staying in a standard room or a luxurious suite, you'll feel right at home in the cozy and comfortable surroundings. The courtyard features colorful flowers, winding pathways, charming benches, as well as an outdoor pool. Breakfast included; no pets.
Starting out as just a restaurant (hence the name), another great and atmospheric option in the nearby town of Buellton offers nearly 100 comfortable rooms and easy access to some of the area's best cultural and natural attractions. Rooms featuring all the amenities you need to feel at home, including flat-screen TVs, excellent beds, and free Wi-Fi (several even have working fireplaces to help keep toastier during those 40⁰ Fahrenheit winter nights). The famous restaurant is still here, and other amenities include a heated pool and whirlpool.
For more information, check out SolvangUSA.com.