Located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Central California, the city of Solvang is often referred to as the Danish capital of America. Started in 1911 by a group of Danish Americans, this small town is home to a variety of museums, bakeries, restaurants, art galleries, 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 wine country, ride horses through the hills, or even relive your favorite scenes from the movie Sideways in nearby Buellton and Los Olivos.
Solvang, California, 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 trip to Solvang. Others turn a weekend into a road trip, exploring all the Santa Ynez Valley has to offer. This little town and its surrounding area are definitely one of the hidden gems of Southern California.
Things To Do In Solvang
There are a lot of fun things 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.
1. Downtown Solvang
Maybe you can’t get to Europe right now, but you can enjoy a bit of Northern Europe by strolling the streets of downtown Solvang. You’ll see half-timbered buildings with wood-shingled roofs, colorful shops selling Danish goods, and of course, windmills.
To make your downtown 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. Or hop aboard the Solvang Trolley for a fully narrated tour of town.
2. Danish Bakeries
Start your morning off right by popping in to one of the many Danish bakeries in downtown Solvang 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 old world bakery, selling kringles filled with almond paste, cardamom bread, and fruit-filled pastries. If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t miss Solvang Bakery. Located on Alisal Road, this bakery is well known for its elaborate gingerbread houses.
3. Old Mission Santa Ines
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 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.
Even if you aren’t interested in touring the mission, definitely check out the view of the valley from the parking lot — it might be one of the most scenic spots in the region.
4. 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. McClain Cellars is a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors in front of a long, cozy fire pit. The Casa Cassara Winery has been producing wine for more than 2 decades in the valley and offers a selection of whites, reds, and roses in their tasting room.
5. Wildling Museum Of Art & Nature
The Wildling Museum of Art & Nature, located on Mission Drive (the main street through town) near Hans Christian Andersen Park, uses art to communicate the importance of our natural heritage. Its 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 its website for you to enjoy virtually from anywhere.
6. Elverhoj Museum Of History And Art
Housed in a historic handcrafted home, the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art 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.
Pro Tip: To further immerse yourself in Danish culture, visit during the Solvang Danish Days festival in the fall. Elverhoj Museum of History and Art hosts Living History Days in conjunction with the festival.
7. Hans Christian Andersen Museum
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.
8. Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum
Gearheads will want to check out the Collector’s Collection at Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. Housing the personal collection of Virgil Elings, the motorcycle museum is only open on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t miss Julefest. This 6-week event highlights Danish holiday traditions. Festivities include a parade, a tree lighting ceremony, a nativity pageant at Solvang Festival Theater, and much more.
10. Shopping In Solvang
Thanks to its large collection of specialty stores, you could spend the entire day shopping in Solvang.
The Book Loft
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.
Solvang Shoe Store
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 made easy to find by the oversized wooden clog out front.
Swedish Candy Factory
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.
11. 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. Sample excellent red and white wines in a quiet and idyllic setting at Dovecote Estate 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 cuisines, you’ll find it in Solvang.
Paula’s Pancake House
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 on Copenhagen Drive 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 including 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.
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.
Wine Valley Inn & Cottages
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 decor at The Landsby reflects the Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic. All the rooms in this boutique hotel on Mission Drive are decorated in cool and comfortable colors. The on-site restaurant, Mad & Vin, specializes in locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
Just a 5-minute walk from Old Mission Santa Ines, Hotel Corque (pronounced cork) is a 4-star luxury boutique hotel. Within close proximity of vineyards and wineries, this Santa Ynez Valley hotel is just 4 miles from Chumash Casino Resort. Plus, it has a pool!
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.