Solvang is a touristy little Danish community of around 5,000 residents in the middle of Santa Barbara County and we decided it would make for a great short trip for Memorial Day weekend. Much like the Chinese-American community has their Chinatowns and Italian-Americans have their Little Italy communities, the Danish have Solvang. Solvang’s "touristy" downtown area is quite small and easily to walk. The middle of downtown seems to be roughly centered about Mission Drive and Alisal Road and Copenhagen Drive. There is an information booth with a map and directory and public restrooms on Alisal Road between Mission and Copenhagen Drives.
There are all sorts of restaurants, Danish-themed and otherwise, in the immediate vicinity. There are also countless Danish bakeries, each one selling delicious Danishes and other pastries, and always the ubiquitous buckets of Danish cookies. A lot of these traditional Danish restaurants are breakfast and lunch restaurants, and close early. Unfortunately we found this out during dinnertime when we noticed a lot of the traditional Danish restaurants and bakeries were closed by 8pm. There are a bunch of newer restaurants, such as Root 246, Solvang Brewing Company, and Succulent Trading Company that are open late into the evening. The only issue is that since not that many restaurants are open late, they get packed pretty full.
The downtown area is full of references to Danish culture, from the Hans Christian Anderson Park and statue, to the Little Mermaid statue that’s a miniaturized copy of the real one in Copenhagen. There are several large ornamental windmills around town, as well as smaller copy of Copenhagen’s Round Tower observatory. There are plenty of places to walk and interesting things to see. This whole area is a great opportunity to learn a little about Denmark itself.
One of my friends has previously visited Solvang about 15 years prior, and noticed that there are a lot more wineries and wine tasting shops. Solvang is evolving to a wine destination as well, being in the middle of Santa Barbara’s wine country. During our Friday late evening walking search for a dinner restaurant, we noticed a lot of these wine tasting shops open, some quite packed with people tasting wine. Unfortunately, none of these served food as well. We even ran across a wine tasting place off Copenhagen Drive that had a live band playing. I would estimate that after 8pm, about half the shops still open are wine tasting shops. It seemed like there was at least one wine tasting shop every block around downtown, sometimes more.
The entire downtown area’s architecture is built to reflect traditional Danish architecture, and I think that’s very cool and adds to the ambiance. It helps you step out of the California mentality and helps place you in a little slice of Denmark. These buildings are decked out in half-timbered architecture, meaning the beams for the structure are exposed and stucco or other building material fills out the spaces in between. You can see that most of these are facades, as the "timbers" appear to be stucco molded to look like timbers. I’m guessing there must be some sort of Solvang city ordinance for the building style in the downtown areas. When we wandered to the end of downtown, we noticed the building styles seemed to conform back to the usual California stucco construction.
As far as hotels go, we stayed at the King Frederik Inn, which was in the middle of the downtown area. It didn’t have a spectacular complimentary continental breakfast, but that was no big deal. There are a plethora of bakeries and Danish breakfast restaurants within very easy walking distance. And if you’re in a Danish themed town, you might as well sample the goodies.
Solvang seems to be a nice place to take a family to step out of contemporary California life and step into a snapshot of Danish culture. For us, one day just about summed it up, as the downtown area was rather small. For somebody into wines and wine tasting, this would be a great destination to spend a weekend of wine tasting and dining. Just make sure to plan out where you’re going to eat dinner beforehand. I’d definitely return to Solvang again for a visit sometime in the future. They say a lot of people of Danish heritage flock to Solvang for Danish festivals. I’d definitely like to visit then.