Hop abroad Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train for a Royal European vacation a train ride away from Southern California in the Santa Ynez Valley. Minutes from the Pacific Ocean, find traditional foods and festivals, paired with the best of the Central California wine region. So enjoy a world away from the constant brake lights of LA in this quiet Danish hamlet. Here’s what to do in Solvang with kids.
Explore a Danish Village in California
In 1911 a group of Danes living in the Midwest wanted to move away the brutal winters. After purchasing 9,000 acres from the Old Mission Santa Inez, they established a Danish village in Central California.
First they built traditional farm-style buildings, like the old country, and farmed. For 40 years they quietly lived until a reporter from the Saturday Evening Post discovered the Danish hamlet in 1947. Soon Solvang, Danish for “sunny field”, enticed travelers from Los Angeles and beyond.
What to do in Solvang with Kids
Solvang offers a vibrant community steeped in the Danish culture with royal ties to Denmark. With festivals celebrating their Danish roots, girls wearing red pinafores dance merrily in their clogs to folk music.
During my visit, I found some of Copenhagen’s most famous landmarks scattered throughout Solvang. Like the 1/3 replica of the famous Rundetaarn, or round tower, originally built in the 17th century for astronomy by Christian IV.
Then located on the main throughfare, I found the Little Mermaid. Not the cartoon character, but a replica of Denmark’s national symbol. And the original sits along the water in Copenhagen.
As the Danish Capital of America, the Danish Royal Family makes official royal visits. For Solvang’s centennial in 2011, HRH The Prince Consort Henrik of Denmark celebrated the historical, cultural and business ties between his country and Solvang.
Danish Inspired Shopping
As I walked the tree-lined streets, I peered into the shops windows of the traditional half-timbered buildings. Under thatched roofs, I found shops stocked with traditional Danish costumes, Danish-made red clogs and authentic Danish Christmas ornaments.
Don’t think it’s all windmills and wooden clogs, Solvang keeps an eye to the future. With boutiques featuring modern Danish design, buyDanish-made products like House of Amber jewelry, modern home goods and LEGOs for the kids at theCopenhagen House.
Santa Ynez Valley’s Wine and Beer
Enjoying a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon makes my list must dos. Take the time to savor the richness of the Santa Ynez Valley wine. With close to 20 tasting rooms in Solvang within walking distance, I sampled the wines from across the region.
Cooled by sea breezes and nestled among the mountain ranges, wine grapes are the top crop in the area. To tour the wineries, hop in a car and head minutes out of Solvang in any direction.
Beer connoisseurs fear not, Solvang brews up craft beers, pairing them with traditional Danish sausage to transport travelers to the Old World.Imagine sitting outside on the patio sipping a pint and savoring the perfect California weather.
Traditional Danish Food in Solvang
Windmills lead the way to bakeries, tempting me with sugar-glazed pastries with layer-after-layer of buttery goodness.With five traditional bakeries in town, I sampled my way across Solvang.
Topping my list of faves, I loved the Danish waffle at the Solvang Bakery. With a pair of flaky cookie-like layers filled with sweet cream and raspberries, I still fanaticize about it.
Another must try, the Danish aebleskiver at the Solvang Restaurant. I loved the traditional Danishpancake balls sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied with raspberry jam.
Looking for more temptations, I found my go-to indulgence, chocolate. At Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates, their chocolatier makes traditional treats with marzipan along with truffles.
Enjoy Solvang’s Arts and Culture
In an effort to walk off my foodie sampling, I strolled through Solvang’s museums dedicated to Danish art, history and culture, like the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art. A venue dedicated to illustrating the Viking’s influence on Scandinavia as well as Solvang’s forefathers.
Another museum for kids and their families, The Wildling Museum of Art and Nature (1511 Mission Dr.) features kids craft area. I found local art and the museum features traveling nature installations.
Next head to another charming space tucked in the loft of the independent bookstore, The Book Loft. At the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, I found a space dedicated to the patriarch of children’s literature. Visitors learn about the author while browsing his collections.
As I made a pilgrimage to the Old Mission Santa Inés, I took a moment to reflect in its outdoor gardens. Overlooking a valley with swaying amber grass on the edge of Solvang, the 1804 historic mission settled this area. As a part of the original Catholic missions, it is one that dotted the coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
Finally the sky burned like an ember before fading to indigo. Not ready to return to my hotel, I stumbled upon the Solvang Festival Theater. As the seasonal home of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, the outdoor venue is a beacon for theater lovers. In a half-timbered theatre reminiscent of London’s Globe Theatre, I snuggled under a plaid blanket and enjoyed their production.
Celebrate the Season with a Festival
With festivals sprinkled throughout the year, Solvang celebrates its rich culture along with its agricultural bounty. So find mild weather year-round, the perfect time to visit is just a weekend away.
First spring blooms so sample the richness of Santa Ynez Valley at the Taste of Solvang in March. Then to a foodie’s delight, enjoy farm-to-table delights or traditional Danish cuisine.
As the summer season fades, the golden light of Autumn shines and Solvang celebrates Danish Days. As a festival dedicated to its heritage, the celebration features parades, artisans, and folk dancing.
With the year drawing to a close Solvang sprinkles tiny white lights and green garlands all over town. Transforming the hamlet into one of the most Christmassy towns in the U.S. Enjoy the season at the month-long festival, Julefest, with traditional Danish food and a tree lighting.
Where to Stay in Solvang
During my visit to Solvang I discovered a boutique hotel ripped from the pages of an exclusive travel magazine. The Landsby (1576 Mission Dr.) offers guests a traditional Danish boutique hotel on a tree-lined street stocked with locally-owned shops.
In a 50-room boutique property, the traditional Danish exterior pays homage to its Danish roots. So find divided-light windows, exposed timbers and stucco exterior. Then behind the front door, I entered a world where the Danish modern aesthetic gets cozy with a mix of rich textures and a palette of pleasing neutrals.
In a room that showcases modern Danish design, the textiles create a cozy home base to explore Little Denmark. First the modern furniture pieces makes a design statement with wood grain.
Second the wooden wingback headboard dominates the room and the white cotton linens keep it fresh. Finally the yellow accent pillow along with a knitted throw, add pops of color. Though find a tiny lavender sachet printed with “good night” in the middle of the mound of pillows.
Where to Eat in Solvang
Solvang Bakery (438 Alisal Rd.) is a ladies’ delight with a charming place to sit and enjoy a coffee with a Danish waffle.
Solvang Resturant (1671 Copenhagen Dr.) features Danish favorites, like Aebleskiver and Danish sausage. Walk up to the to-go window for an afternoon snack.
Mad and Vin (1576 Mission Dr. inside The Landsby) boasts a popular happy hour where locals mingle with hotel guests to sample small plates along with the Santa Ynez Valley wines.
Fresco Valley Café (422 Atterdag Dr.) offers outdoor dining with a menu of breakfast and lunch favorites.
Chomp (1693 Mission Dr.) calls out to families and burger-lovers alike. And it blends up top-notch shakes as well.
Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates (1679 Copenhagen Dr.) makes their chocolates in house with a dizzying selection.
Where to Shop in Solvang
Jule Hus-The Christmas Shop (1580 Copenhagen Dr.) offers Christmas ornaments year round with a large selection of Danish-inspired ornaments.
The Copenhagen House (1660 Copenhagen Dr.) sells products made in Denmark, like LEGOs, amber jewelry and clogs.