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Solvang is a colorful town filled with gorgeous Danish-style buildings and flowerpots brimming with pansies and daisies. On weekends it can feel like a major tourist trap with its busloads of tourists but during the week it is lovely.
The Danish town began in 1911 (this year is the centennial) when two Danish ministers from the midwest decided to form a colony on the west coast with a Lutheran church and folk school. They liked the Santa Ynez valley and bought 9,000 acres of land. They convinced other Danes from the Midwest to buy land from them and join them. Slowly the town grew. Within just a few years, there was a folk high school in an impressive building, stores, post office, barbershop, lumberyard, and bank. It wasn't until the mid-40s, though, that windmills and many Danish-style buildings were erected. Half-timbered facades were added to old buildings and a town based on tourism was born.
It's pleasant to spend an afternoon walking along the main strip, Mission Drive, and even better, along Copenhagen Drive, which is more charming and cozy. Duck into The Book Loft at 1680 Mission Dr. It's a little Danish building with tall pointed wooden ceilings. Upstairs is a small "museum" with old copies of Hans Christian Andersen books and information on his life. I bought "The Princess and The Pea" storybook which my daughter still loves. Other stories he wrote are "The Little Mermaid" and "The Ugly Duckling." A lovely toy store, Kids Club, is on Copenhagen Drive. It has toys, clothes, hair accessories, and baby keepsakes, all in a beautiful setting. Boys enjoy buying a plastic viking sword while in Solvang. There is also an impressive store with ornate daggers and real knives, called Nordic Knives, at 1634 Copenhagen Drive.
The Solvang Restaurant, located on Copenhagen Rd, is where a scene from the movie "Sideways" was filmed. They have some decent Ebleskiver (small round pancake balls served with powdered sugar and raspberry jam). Paula's Pancakes is better, with its sunny patio right on Highway 246 at Solvang's main strip. Kids behave here because they can move about on the patio. There are flower baskets galore and views of the half-timbered buildings. The waitresses are friendly, the food comes quickly, and the Danish sausages are delicious. Try the sandwich with Danish sausage and Havarti cheese. This restaurant fills up so come early. Good sandwiches and soup (this is surprisingly hard to find in Solvang, where most restaurants only sell sweets) can be had at Danish Mill Bakery on Copenhagen St. You can only sit inside, with the dreary dark carpet, but good dining options are limited in Solvang.
If you want to escape the touristy scene, go to New Frontiers natural marketplace, where you can buy delicious deli food and eat it on their sunny patio surrounded by mountain views and flower pots.
Solvang is particularly pretty in early Fall when the days are sunny and crisp and the flowerpots are overflowing. Summer afternoons can be stiflingly hot- though summer mornings are fantastic in Solvang. Weekends are terribly crowded with tourists- try to go during the week if you can.
Check out the Farmer's Market, on the corner of Copenhagen Drive and First Street, from 2:30-6:30pm in summer and 2:30-6pm in winter on Wednesdays.
From June to October, you can watch a theatre production outdoors under the stars at Solvang's Outdoor Festival Theatre (see contact info below).
For an amazing medieval playground in Solvang that will keep your kids happy for hours, check out Sunnyfields Park. For an absolutely gorgeous walk, drive over to Nojoqui Park. There's a playground, grassy fields, and a short hike through dreamy forest to a tall, thin waterfall.
The Elverhoj Museum (see info below), built in 1949 in the style of an 18th century farmhouse from Northern Denmark, is pretty with its handcrafted redwood front door and its fancy Danish decorations inside. There isn't too much to see, but my son liked the replica viking swords. I thought the best part was the cottage out back which houses a diaroma of Solvang during its early years.
Check out Bethania Lutheran Church, built by Danish immigrants in 1911, from a photograph of a church in Denmark. There is a model ship that hangs from the ceiling, a custom of the seafaring Scandinavians. Often a sailor who survived a near-fatal storm would commission a model of the ship he was in and dedicate it to the local church near where he was rescued. The pipe organ is impressive as well.
The Santa Ines Mission is in Solvang, a short walk from Alisal Rd. It has a pretty bell tower and views over the valley.
On your way to Solvang from Highway 101, check out the rows of hundreds of cedars that line Mission Drive/Highway 246, between Solvang and Buellton. Also, in Buellton, spot "The Hitching Post," where much of the movie "Sideways" was filmed.
Along Highway 101 on the way from Santa Barbara to Solvang, stop in early summer to pick your own blueberries at Restoration Oaks Ranch. It takes about an hour and kids love it!
For a more hip town nearby check out Los Olivos, where San Franciscans come down to hop from wine room to cafe to wine room. Also nice is Santa Ynez town with its wild west buildings and dining on the beautiful balcony at Vineyard House Restaurant.
Less than an hour away is Lompoc. The town itself is a dowdy but the commercial flower fields have rows of sweet peas and marigolds in early June and the drive on open road to Surf Beach is a joy. The best thing about Lompoc is La Purisima Mission, which is great for kids because of the furnished rooms showing what life was like at the missions.
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From Highway 101, exit at Highway 246 and head east along Highway 246 into Solvang town. It's a 40 minute drive from Santa Barbara.
There are several parking lots, all clearly marked with signs.
Outdoor Festival Theatre, 420 Second Street, call (805) 922-8313.
New Frontiers natural marketplace, 1984 Old Mission Dr, Solvang CA 93463. Your best bet for non-touristy food.
Paula's Pancakes, 1531 Mission Drive, Solvang CA 93463, call (805) 688-2867.
Elverhoj Museum, 1624 Elverhoy Way (in a neighborhood that is within walking distance of town). Walk south on 2nd St until it meets Elverhoy Way. Then it's a few steps to the right. Free admission or $3 donation. Open 12-4 Fri-Sun, 1-4 Wed and Thurs, call (805) 686-1211.
Bethania Lutheran Church, 603 Atterdag Rd, call (805) 688-4637.
Kids Club Toy Store, 1688 Copenhagen Dr, call (805) 693-0075.
Danish Mill Bakery, 1682 Copenhagen Drive, call (805) 688-5805.
Nordic Knives, 1634 Copenhagen Drive, call (805) 688-3612.
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