Frequently called the best Christmas town in America, Solvang brings European charm to California’s Central Coast. Settled by Danish immigrants in 1911, the streets of downtown Solvang are lined with colorful, Scandinavian-inspired buildings while four wooden windmills tower over charming shops, bakeries, and restaurants.
Solvang is fun to visit any time of year, but during the holidays they dial up the charm with decorations, live music, and six weeks of special activities called Julefest.
Shelby Sim, CEO of Visit Santa Ynez Valley says, “During the holidays, Solvang looks like a scene from a Hallmark movie. People come here to forget about the rest of the world and just enjoy a winter wonderland.”
1. A Charming Town Decked Out For The Holidays
Any time of the year Solvang looks festive, but the city and merchants add loads of decorations and lights during the holidays to make it extra special. Even the blades of the four windmills are outlined in white lights.
Just strolling the streets — especially after dark — is a reason to visit Solvang during the holidays. Many shops place a decorated tree in front and locals say they enjoy walking the streets to admire them.
2. Festive Holiday Treats
One of the top reasons to visit during the holidays is all the delicious treats being sold in the bakeries. Solvang has long been known for its bakeries selling traditional Scandinavian bread and pastries all year long, but in November and December, special holiday items are added.
Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery builds and displays an extra large gingerbread house for all visitors to enjoy. They also sell seasonal treats including fruit cake and gingerbread cookies. Solvang Bakery has a selection of small, intricate gingerbread houses that make great gifts. If you prefer to make your own, they also sell kits.
No matter when you’re visiting, you must sample some classic Danish (and Scandinavian) pastries including kringle, almond tarts, and kanelstang. Æbleskivers — puffy pancake balls topped with syrup, honey, or jam — can be found all year in Solvang, but originally were a Danish holiday treat.
Most of the bakeries in town sell coffee and other beverages and offer indoor or outdoor seating. Grab a pastry — or two — and take a short break from shopping and exploring.
3. Shops Selling Holiday Fare
This is the place to come when you’re looking for Christmas ornaments for your tree. Many shops throughout Solvang sell ornaments all year long. However, for holiday ornaments and decorations that come from Scandinavia, head to the Jule Hus. Selling a wide variety of ornaments from around the world, they have a special section in the back for items coming from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Here you’ll find authentic Dala horses, paper hearts, and wooden ornaments.
Rasmussen’s sells a large selection of Scandinavian merchandise including kitchenware, linens, and food. During the holidays you’ll find Christmas tree ornaments and other decorations.
With over 150 shops in Solvang, it’s also a great place to start your holiday shopping. While there are certainly many souvenir shops, there are also specialty boutiques selling shoes, clothing, home decor, food, and wine.
4. Candlelight Walking Tour
Combine an evening stroll with an informative tour of the town and you have the Solvang Candlelight Walking Tour. This unique tour is only offered during the holidays. Each participant is given an LED candle to light their way while following a guide in traditional Danish attire. This ninety-minute tour is offered just six times during November and December, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance.
5. Nightly Light Show
From late November until early January, there’s a free light and music show offered in Solvang Park, right in the heart of the downtown area. There are also plenty of opportunities to see the show. Each night the ten-minute show takes place on the hour from 5 to 9 p.m. Grab a hot chocolate, find a bench in the park, and enjoy this free event.
6. A Scavenger Hunt Perfect For All Ages
A nisse is a mythological creature from Nordic folklore that is generally described as being short with a bushy white beard and wearing a conical hat. During the holidays, visitors to Solvang have the opportunity to go on a scavenger hunt in search of twelve nisse hidden in storefront windows. This free activity is great for anyone but is especially fun for kids.
Start at the visitor center for your list of clues to finding the nisse. Then head out in search of these small dolls. After finding all twelve return to the visitor center where you’ll be rewarded with your very own tiny nisse.
While you’ll need to pick up the clues (and your prize) during the visitor center operating hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the scavenger hunt can be conducted at any time. Consider making the center your first stop to get advice about what to see in town.
7. Live Holiday Music
To round out the festive vibes, live music is performed several times during Julefest. The Santa Ynez Valley Jazz Band and the Central Coast Harmony Chorus will be roaming through town on specified days in December (see the Julefest website for details).
For a really special treat, enjoy traditional Danish music and dancing on December 13.
8. Six Weeks Of Holiday Events
Many towns in America host holiday events, but few offer six weeks of non-stop activities. Here are the highlights:
- Tree lighting ceremony
- Julefest Parade
- Artisanal Night Market Place
- Makers Market
- Solvang Nativity Spectacular
- Christmas Sights & Lights Tour
- Photos with Santa
More information about the event dates and ticketing can be found here.
Getting To Solvang
Located in Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is a two and half hour drive northwest of Los Angeles and five hours south of San Francisco. The only way to reach the town is by car. It’s a very scenic drive and is a great stop on a road trip to the central coast of California.
The holidays in Solvang are popular with locals and visitors alike, so expect it to be busy. If you’re attending one of the events, be sure to allow plenty of time for parking and walking to your destination. Fortunately, parking is free year-round.
December weather in Solvang typically reaches the upper 60s during the day but can dip to freezing at night. Wearing layers is always recommended. If attending one of the outdoor events, be sure to dress very warmly. Also, feel free to wear your holiday attire — even that ugly Christmas sweater!
Finally, if you plan to stay overnight while visiting Solvang during the holidays, be sure to make your hotel reservations in advance. If you can’t find availability in the town, consider nearby communities like Los Alamos, Santa Ynez, Buelton, and Los Olivos. All of these places are less than a twenty-minute drive from Solvang.
More information about dates and ticketing can be found here.