Located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Central California, the city of Solvang celebrates its Danish culture and history. Started in 1911 by a community of Danish Americans, this small town is home to a variety of museums, bakeries, restaurants, shops, and wine-tasting rooms, making it the perfect place to spend a day. If you’re willing to venture out a bit farther, you can explore local wineries, ride horses through the hills, or even relive your favorite scenes from the movie Sideways.
Solvang is located about 3 hours north of Los Angeles and 4.5 hours south of San Francisco. Many people opt to combine a trip to nearby Santa Barbara with a day in Solvang. Or you could spend a weekend exploring all that the Santa Ynez Valley has to offer. This area is definitely one of the hidden gems of California.
Things To Do In Solvang
There’s a lot to do packed into this town that’s just over 2 square miles. And whether you like wine, art, adventure, or history, there is something to interest everyone.
Stroll Through The Village
Maybe you can’t get to Europe right now, but you can enjoy a bit of Northern Europe by strolling the streets of Solvang. You’ll see half-timbered buildings with wood-shingled roofs, colorful shops selling Danish goods, and of course, windmills.
Start your morning off right by popping in to one of the many bakeries selling traditional pastries such as aebleskivers, flodebollers, and stroopwafels. Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery will likely have a long line, but that’s because they are well known for their classic Danish pastries. Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe is another popular spot selling kringles filled with almond paste, cardamom bread, and fruit-filled pastries.
To make your stroll more educational, take the Solvang Heritage Audio Tour, available on the Experience Solvang app. Over the course of 2 miles, you’ll visit the First Folk School, the Little Mermaid statue, two of the windmills, and much more.
See Where It All Started
Long before the town of Solvang was imagined, the Spanish arrived in this area to establish a mission. The Old Mission Santa Ines, one of the 21 missions built in California between 1769 and 1836, was founded in 1804 by Father Estevan Tapis. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the church, museum, and gardens Monday through Saturday. The museum features a selection of vestments, artwork, bells, and manuscripts that were used in the mission throughout its history. Behind the church is a cemetery with the Stations of the Cross. Spend a few moments strolling the grounds and admiring the views of the valley.
Taste The Local Wine
Santa Barbara County is home to 300 wineries, which could take a lifetime to explore. Solvang has made it easy by offering more than 20 wine-tasting rooms. There’s no need to designate a driver when you can simply walk from shop to shop, sampling the wide range of wines grown in this region.
Toccata is the tasting room for Lucas & Lewellen, which produces traditional Italian wines on the Central Coast. Named after the family pet, Lucky Dogg Winery is one of the newer options in town. Their signature wines are syrahs and syrah blends. The Casa Cassara Winery has been producing wine for more than two decades in the valley and offers a selection of whites, reds, and roses in their tasting room.
Admire Art And Nature
The Wildling Museum of Art & Nature uses art to communicate the importance of our natural heritage. Their goal is to inspire a future generation of artists and conservationists. Through painting, sculpture, and photography, exhibits explore local animal life, the night sky, and surrounding landscapes. This is a great spot to visit if you’re traveling with children, since the museum often offers hands-on activities.
Editor’s Note: In addition, the museum offers online resources and exhibition experiences on their website for you to enjoy virtually from anywhere.
Dive Deep Into Danish Culture
Housed in a historic handcrafted home, the Elverhoj Museum is committed to preserving the history and Danish culture of Solvang. You’ll need less than an hour to explore the museum, but it’s definitely worth the time. Admire the traditional Danish clothing, furniture, and tools. A highlight is a model of the Solvang village as it was shortly after it was founded.
One of Denmark’s most famous citizens was Hans Christian Andersen, who began publishing fairy tales in 1835. His stories -- including The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, and The Ugly Duckling -- are now known around the world. Learn all about his life and legacy at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.
Explore The Santa Ynez Valley
You’ll have no problem spending an entire day in Solvang, but on your way in or out of town, consider exploring some of the nearby sights in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Enjoy a private, guided horseback ride with Vino Vaqueros through the hills of Estelle Vineyards. When you’re done, you’ll be treated to a glass of wine.
If you didn’t sip enough wine in town, visit one of the nearby wineries. Purchase a bottle of wine and savor it on the outdoor patio at the lovely Shoestring Vineyard and Winery. To feel transported to Provence, head to Sunstone Winery and sample one of their organic wines.
Best Restaurants In Solvang
After strolling through town, you’re likely to be hungry, and whether you’re looking for traditional Danish food or other international cuisine, you’ll find it in Solvang.
Start your day in Solvang with a hearty breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House. Try their famous Danish pancakes topped with warm cinnamon apples and whipped cream. Traditional American buttermilk pancakes are available, too.
For a classic Nordic meal, head to Solvang Restaurant and try their open-face sandwich plate, creamed herring, or Danish-style meatballs. If you’d prefer something more American, they have a nice selection of sandwiches and burgers. Located in Solvang’s oldest building, Bit O’Denmark also offers a nice range of Danish entrees like frikadeller (pan-fried pork meatballs) and flaeskesteg (roast pork stuffed with prunes and apples).
Solvang is also home to highly rated Italian cuisine. Leonardo’s Cucina Italiana serves family-style food that pairs nicely with local or Italian wines. Chef Michele Mancuso, an Italian native, offers a nice selection of traditional pizzas and paninis at Toscana.
Where To Shop In Solvang
Thanks to its large collection of specialty stores, you could spend the entire day shopping in Solvang.
It’s always a treat to find an independent bookstore, so definitely pop in to The Book Loft. Here you’ll find a nice selection of books for children and adults, along with harder-to-find Scandinavian literature. On the second floor is a collection of used books from the Solvang Book Company.
No matter when you visit Solvang, you can shop for Christmas at the Jule Hus, specializing in Scandinavian and European items. Their large selection of holiday decor and ornaments will keep anyone busy for a long time.
The Solvang Shoe Store sells traditional Danish clogs along with many other popular shoe brands. Definitely peek inside to admire their collection of hand-painted clogs. This shop is easy to find by the oversized wooden clog out front.
The Swedish Candy Factory is the only Polkagris bakery in the United States. This traditional candy stick was invented in 1859 by Amalia Eriksson in the town of Granna, Sweden. Step inside to watch this treat being made in more than a dozen flavors.
Best Hotels In Solvang
After a busy day of shopping, eating, and wine tasting, you’ll be ready to retire to your hotel. Fortunately, you have some great options, ranging from high-end luxury to laid-back charm.
The Winston is a newcomer to Solvang, offering 14 beautifully and uniquely decorated rooms. All rooms include Nespresso machines, high-end bath products, and seasonal robes and slippers. To top it all off, breakfast is delivered to your room each morning.
Located on an acre of gardens, the Wine Valley Inn & Cottages is centrally located in the heart of the village. After checking in, it’s easy to walk to dinner or continue exploring the shops. In the evening, enjoy a glass of wine around one of the outdoor firepits. A hot breakfast is included.
The Landsby’s decor reflects the Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic. All the rooms in this boutique hotel are decorated in cool and comfortable colors. The on-site restaurant, Mad & Vin, specializes in locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
What To Know Before You Go
The advice to come early and come hungry is perfect for Solvang, especially on weekends. Besides, you’ll want to make the most of your morning and enjoy some fresh Danish pastries for breakfast. It can definitely get crowded here, so start your time in the village early in the day and relax in your hotel room when you need a break. Some of the shops stay open in the evening, so you can continue to explore after dinner.
Whether you’re looking for a girls’ getaway or a romantic weekend with your partner, Solvang is an ideal destination if you’re yearning for European charm in California.