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A popular weekend destination in California, Solvang is a unique town that looks like it should be in Denmark, yet it’s right in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. About a 2.5-hour drive north of Los Angeles, the Scandinavian half-timbered architecture makes it feel as if you’ve stepped into an authentic European village. There are many ways to explore Danish culture here, and you’ll find multiple other exciting things to do as well.
One of the top things to do in this Danish village is to simply take a stroll along the streets, admiring the old-world European architecture, browsing some 150 different boutiques and shops searching for Danish items and indulging in mouthwatering Danish pastries or Aebleskiver in one of five heavenly bakeries. Be sure to bring a camera to take advantage of all the great photo-ops.
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is dedicated to the Danish author best-known for his beloved fairy tales. Visitors can learn more about his world-renowned works by visiting this institution that sits on the upper level of the Book Loft Building. It showcases a wide range of exhibits documenting his life and work, which includes over 3380 works like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Exhibits explore the unrequited love he had for “the Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind and also features models of his childhood home and characters from his books. Guided tours are available along with the occasional special event like lectures and festivals.
Old Mission Santa Inés ia a beautifully restored historic mission that was the 19th of the 21 missions built in California between 1769 to 1836 by Spanish Franciscan priests led by Father Junipero Serra. Established in 1804, it’s one of Solvang’s top attractions. While it was originally established to integrate the Chumash People of the Santa Ynez valley into Spain’s way of life today it guards a rare collection of art that includes artifacts, vestments, statuary, manuscripts and paintings. Docent-led tours are available for exploring the precious treasures. It still has an active parish too, with visitors welcome to join mass in English or Spanish.
A newer attraction in Solvang, the Wildling Museum of Art & Nature was opened in 1997, with the goal to inspire the community to value nature and wildlife through art. Though it’s collection is small, it’s quite diverse and well worth a look, featuring outstanding works by multiple nature photographers and oil paintings by celebrated artists. It hosts education programs and frequent art exhibitions as well, like the recent exhibit celebrating the National Lands of California, highlighting the state’s national parks and monuments.
Solvang also makes a popular base for exploring wine country, and tucked in the oak covered rolling hills of Ballard Canyon, Rusack Vineyards is a fabulous boutique winery and vineyard to visit. Producing world-class wines, it boasts an especially picturesque setting for wine tasting and picnics. The tasting room has a large redwood deck constructed around four spectacular ancient oaks for tasting some of the estate’s finest vintages with magnificent vineyard views. Homemade picnics can be ordered here to enjoy with the award-winning handcrafted wines.
The Solvang Trolley & Carriage offers a historic ride back through time while exploring the town’s charming streets. You’ll tour via a unique Danish conveyance called a ‘Honen’ or trolley, pulled by two teams of Belgian horses, hosted by the Orona family. Dressed in traditional Danish garb, they’ll bring you to some of the most famous landmarks in Solvang while sharing interesting tidbits of its history.
The community-based Solvang Festival Theater is a great place to catch a variety of live performing arts and entertainment. It’s frequently used for fundraising concerts, including jazz and comedy festivals, which have featured plenty of big-name artists like Bonnie Raitt and Crosby and Nash, along with events like “Family Night at the Theater” and it’s especially popular “Sunday Jazz in the Garden” series.
Dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting the rich history of Solvang and Danish culture of arts and crafts, exploring the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art is a must while in the village. It sits within a residence that once belonged to one of Solvang’s most artistic families, a historic hand-crafted structure inspired by Danish architecture. Visitors can delve into Denmark heritage, the pioneer spirit of Danish-Americans, and Danish art. It’s worth visiting for the building alone with its wood carvings, ornamental wrought ironwork and hand-painted panels. Throughout the year it hosts a variety of exhibitions, arts and crafts workshops, Danish events for kids of all ages, and a range of classes.
Visitors can join in the celebration of the region’s grapes by attending the annual Grape Stomp Harvest Street Festival hosted by the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau. Held in mid-October, this wine harvest event includes a traditional grape stomp and offers the opportunity to sip offerings from dozens of the top wineries in Santa Barbara County. There will be plenty of locally prepared foods along with live entertainment, music and dancing. You can even enter the I Love Lucy look-a-like contest, based on Lucy’s famous grape stomp episode, bringing out your best inner Lucy or Ricky Ricardo for an especially good time. Everyone who stomps gets a souvenir logo wine glass and foot towel, along with a ticket to win wine-related prizes.