Solvang, CA: The Semi-Comprehensive Guide
We have an opportunity to give some very specific advice: Do you ever find yourself thinking, what's the best small-town, Southern Californian, sweet-tooth friendly, historically traditional hot spot for two college-aged romantics with an anniversary to celebrate?
I’m not sure what percent of humanity is looking for that exact getaway (maybe .02%?), but any fellow traveler worth their salt would immediately tell you to hitch a ride to Solvang, CA, the thriving Danish enclave smack dab in the middle of Southern California.
Just last weekend, Andrew and I celebrated our 3rd year anniversary with a weekend trip up to this quaint Danish town. I may just be overly excitable, but I truly fell in love with it’s heritage, ambiance, and most importantly, it’s glorious pastries. So much so that I wanted to share every detail of our trip, hoping that the next set of travelers can be as lucky as we were.
Let’s start off with a fun fact: Many tourists mistake Solvang for a Dutch town, as it is often literally called “The Dutch Town.” Oops! The Netherlands (Dutch) and Denmark (Danish) are actually completely different places, though adjacent on the map.
Things To Do
Take A Stroll
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a small town is to explore it! Solvang is chalked full of independent boutique shops selling anything from bridal wear to handmade candles. As you meander the quiet streets, you can appreciate the fine traditional architecture, stop off for a robust coffee and jelly filled pastry, and forget about the urgency of the day-to-day hustle. Solvang’s main selling point is it’s “lazy Sunday afternoon” attitude. Relax, buy a fun mug and some postcards, and get to know Solvang from the inside out. This was the most rewarding part of our trip.
Browse The Local Bookstore
At first glance, The Book Loft is nothing more than a quiet old bookshop off the main road—not quite worth the divergence. I’d encourage you to take a closer look, and not judge a book by it’s cover (wink wink), because The Book Loft is something of a hidden gem. Upon entrance, this “little” bookstore opens it’s arms and shows you what it’s got… a whole lot of books! It has a wonderful collection of current and popular reads, children's books, magazines, board games, and even old, antique books. It’s also home to a grand selection of literary knick knacks, like Out of Print gag socks and greeting cards with inspiring literary quotes. We spent a good hour with our noses in it’s shelves, and I would highly recommend it to any avid reader.
Check Out The New Record Shop
On our way to eat some savory sandwiches, Andrew and I stumbled into a tiny record shop that would make a great addition to anyone's itinerary. Records Etc is definitely small, and because the records come from one man’s personal collection they can be a little pricey at times.
Even so, it’s more than fun to stop by, ogle at Bowie’s glamour shots, and see if anything suits your fancy. Only come here if you like the 80’s! Who am I kidding? Everyone likes the 80’s.
Go On A Wine Tour
Solvang is known for their enchanting wine tours, but sadly, we can’t be the blog to tell you about them. Hence the “semi” in semi-comprehensive. Because I am still a long year away from 21, Andrew and I were unable to participate in any of the wonderful, high-echelon wine tours and tastings. Give us one year and we’ll get back to you with all things regarding drink, drinking, and drunk. I plan to come back with a vengeance after my entrance to this so-called “adulthood.”
Sights To See
Mission Santa Ines
This was an unexpected addition to our itinerary, but we are so glad we made time to check it out. The St. Ines Mission is an active Catholic church that also functions as a self-guided museum tour. It is quaint and very traditional, like most things in Solvang, but is brimming with historical art and stunning architecture. The entrance fee for the museum is $5, which includes the lovely garden, a solemn graveyard with hundreds of unmarked graves, the sanctuary, and more. It only takes about 30 minutes to complete a round, but afterwards you can snack at one of their picnic benches, take a hike down into the neighboring valley, or simply relax and enjoy the view.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum
Here we are again, back at the Book Loft. Surprise! This small but informative museum memorializing the work of Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid, is located directly above Solvang's best bookstore. This museum does it's job well, sharing stories of Andersen's achievements, his home life, and displaying his best works. For a small space, this homage is incredibly thorough and engaging.
As a fan of all things animals, oh my goodness this is a must see. On our last day, Andrew and I happened to hop online to see if there was anything else we could do before we left. We scrolled past this barn, stopped, and immediately scrolled right back up. An Ostrich Farm in Solvang? Who could have guessed. And admission is $6, including feed!
So of course we had to go, and of course it was infinitely more fun than anticipated. There is a huge pasture for the emus and ostriches to roam, and about twenty different feeding slots for the daring tourists to confront these eight to nine foot birds. "Hold on to the bowl really tight," the woman behind the desk told us. "They like to steal them." And how hilariously right she was. These crane-necked, violent birds were rude, loud, and forceful beyond belief. They hopped, snarled, danced, and glared, and I was absolutely enchanted. Don't pass up this bizarre opportunity!
Food And Drink
I have three words for you: aebleskivers, pastries, and sausages.
Solvang is a town without food chains. There are no McDonalds, no IHOPs, and no Souplantations. Your only option is to delve deep into the world of Danish delicacies, and I don't think anyone is complaining. I'm not going to go into specifics because we're going to release a Best in Town in two weeks time, but these three items are a staple for your stay in Solvang.
An aebleskiver is a Danish pancake ball: fluffy on the inside, drenched in raspberry syrup and powdered sugar on the outside. These tiny breakfast sweets are part of Solvang's legacy, and after your first bite you'll see why. If you're not in the mood for breakfast sweets, definitely head into town and cherry pick one of a dozen pastry shops and grab a some lunch sweets. The typical Danish pastry has a layered, croissant-like crust, a jelly filling, and a sweet sugary syrup draped across it. They are rich, filling, and irresistible. To end your day, I'd recommend a night out on the town in search of the best sausage platter. It wont be hard to find, trust me.
Solvang wakes up at 10AM and goes to sleep around 8PM. This means, many shops will be closing early, and as someone who can't yet participate in the nightlife it can be a bit of an inconvenience. My advice would be to appreciate it. Smell the roses, take a step back, and let yourself relax. It can be hard for an early riser, but leaving your sense of urgency at home is one of the greatest gifts Solvang has to offer.
As a popular tourist destination, Solvang prices their food a bit higher than the surrounding area. Expect dinner to set you back anywhere from $15-$30 per person. It's just something that has to be factored into the budget! Andrew and I cut down on costs by sharing meals, abusing our complimentary breakfasts, and snacking throughout the day.
Thank you so much for reading about our gorgeous trip up to Solvang. We hope you get a chance to visit soon. Let us know what you thought in the comments below!