Solvang is an oddly located, quaint village that looks like it was uplifted straight from Denmark and placed in California
California has it all. Whatever it is that you are looking for, you can be sure to find it in this most extraordinary and endlessly wonderful US state. Double the size of the entire United Kingdom and way more scenically varied, it’s called the Golden State for good reason. From soaring mountains to sea-washed cliffs, beautiful beaches, desert plains, and lush wine valleys and about 1,200 miles of stunning coastline, California indeed has it all!
Some of the highlights of the Golden State, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Pacific Coastal Highway, the Yosemite National Park and the beaches top people’s bucket lists. They get the attention they deserve but there’s a lot more to California. The small towns on the coastal highway, the hidden villages in the suburbs of the cities and the less-known beaches are worthy of equal, if not more, attention and praise.
Sometimes these hidden gems can be discovered while researching before planning a trip. Other times, one just stumbles upon them. But travelling across California with a local is a sure shot way to find out about the hidden gems. That’s how I came across Solvang, a small Danish town on the outskirts of Santa Barbara.
Solvang (Danish for "sunny field") is an oddly located quaint Danish village with windmills, faux half-timbered homes, towers, gabled roof; with a strange presence of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales in its ambience and aura. Some buildings in the town have plastic storks perched on their roofs, a traditional symbol of luck in Denmark. 36 miles north of Santa Barbara, this small town looks like it’s been uplifted from Denmark and placed in California.
It’s interesting to stumble upon unique towns that are not that well-known but it is even more interesting to know their history. A town as unique as Solvang in the middle of California can urge anyone to investigate how it came to be. Settled in the early 1900s, Solvang came about as the result of the Danish-Americans that relocated from the fertile fields of Des Moines, Iowa to the Santa Ynez Valley of California, where the ground was more affordable.
Enjoy Danish desserts
Small towns are beautiful and unique but there is less to do there. A day or even half is great to explore them and then move on to the next adventure. Solvang is no different. It’s a treat for the eyes but one doesn’t have much to do except for taking a nice stroll, exploring the stores, taking some photographs in front of the windmills and of course, enjoying Danish desserts. While there are quite a few bakeries that serve Danish desserts, the Mortensen’s Bakery is probably the most famous. Nestled in the heart of Solvang in the Petersen Village Square, this quaint cafe was started by Ove Mortensen, a Danish native and baker from Copenhagen, Denmark. Still run by its original owner after some 40 years, the bakery serves fresh and authentic, butter-rich pastries, shortbreads, chocolate éclairs and whipped cream napoleons; made by using traditional recipes and the finest ingredients. Oh and the highlight is the kransekager -- frosting-laced almond pastries, that attract people from all over to come and satisfy their sweet tooth.
Learn more about Hans Christian Anderson
It might sound very surprising but Solvang has elements of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales everywhere, taking you right to your childhood and bedtime stories. From the giant Hans Christian statue in the middle of the Solvang Park to the Hans Christian Anderson museum and bookstore, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the prolific writer who created magic with his stories.
The Hans Christian Anderson museum is upstairs from a cute little bookstore called the Book Loft. It is operated by the Ugly Duckling Foundation, a non-profit organisation, established to foster public understanding and enjoyment of Hans Christian Andersen’s work. It opens daily from 9 to 5. Be ready to walk a set of stairs and be catapulted back to your childhood as you read the titles of his works. This is probably one of the places that have the widest variety of his works and an absolute treat for children and adults alike, especially those who enjoy going down the memory lane.
Explore antiques in Solvang
One of the highlights in Solvang is the store called Solvang Antiques. Although a store and not a museum, this place has preserved antiques from all over the world and has them on display since the last 40 years. When you enter, it pretty much looks like a museum with antique pieces that have been polished to give a new feel. Solvang Antiques is California’s premier antique collective, featuring restored antique clocks and antique music boxes, antique and estate jewellery, antique American and European furniture, silver, lighting, glass, and a Fine Art Gallery filled with antique paintings and sculpture from quality dealers worldwide. This could be a great place to shop if you have a few extra thousands to splurge but if not, window-shop here and get amused by the antiques. If you request, the staff may even play musical instruments for you!
Feel like you’re in Denmark
Although a very small town, Solvang is unique and interesting in its own special way. Its public and private gardens are beautiful and well maintained. During the day, there’s hustle and bustle on the streets with tourists taking photographs and exploring the town. In the evening, the town gets cosy with the smoke of restaurant terraces filling up the streets as people enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the many restaurants that offer a variety of authentic cuisines. Strolling on the streets one can’t help but agree that California has it all!