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Solvang - A Beautiful Danish Town in California

We all love the old country charm of European towns. What better than finding that charm in your backyard. That is all Solvang is about. This small town off the Pacific coast in California preserves its Danish outlook. Solvang is nicely tucked into the lap of mountains and is only a slight detour from either the Highway 101 or 154. We visited the town as part of our road trip to Santa Barbara and recommend visiting the town for anyone in the area. 

Please read our article for more details about the road trip including various stops at Santa Barbara Roadtrip - Driving Down Highway 1

A Brief History and Introduction

Early immigrants from Europe settled in Mid-west America. However, they were soon looking for options because of the harsh weather. Three Danish immigrants took the initiative and dreamt of setting up a nice residential area on the west coast. They planned to buy large tracts of land on the coast and build a community. They created a corporation that bought about 10,000 acres of land in Santa Ynez Valley in California. Given the weather and warmth, they named it Solvang which translates to a sunny field. A number of Danish immigrants migrated to the area and started businesses. They started building houses and barns of cattle and other facilities like schools and hospitals. This was the foundation of what later became the Danish Capital of America.

The town over time took a conscious decision to display its Danish origins in its building and culture. The city constructed or remodeled its buildings in Danish provincial style, established windmills and named streets to carry Danish flavor. As time passed, the inhabitants adopted the American way of life but still maintained a connection with their culture. They talk the language, cook food and celebrate holidays as per their original traditions. They manage to bring guests from Denmark in various celebrations.

Kettle & Travel in the Danish Town

Today, Solvang maintains its small-town identity while entertaining visitors from across the country. With a population of about 5500 residents, they limit the outside influence and manage most of their life. With time, though, limited people claim Danish ancestry, the culture and tradition are ingrained in the town's outlook.

Things To Do in Solvang

Solvang has a mysterious way to charm its visitors. It is a small town and can be traversed on feet. However, the small town offers so much to engage that you can spend an entire day exploring the intricacies. We have listed out a few things we covered during the visit. If you are in the town, we recommend that you try not to miss the trolley car tour of the town. For more information about the town, visit their official website at https://www.solvangusa.com/

1. Visit the Visitor's Center

The city has set up a small but functional visitor center right in the center of the town. You could make this as your first stop in the town. The center has a decent parking lot to stow your car. You would probably explore most of the town on foot. We picked up a map of the tourist interests and got some good guidance from the lady at the desk. She recommended an ideal itinerary based on the time we had and our interests. Also, she provided all the details we needed for the trolley tour. We say it is a good investment of time to visit the center.

Solvang Visitor Center - Small Yet Functional

2. Ride the Horse-pulled Trolley

We recommend to include this ride on any itinerary of the town. The trolley is a bus-shaped wheeled vehicle pulled by two horses. The horses are Danish orientated breed and are huge in size. The guide told us that these were, in fact, smaller of the lot. The trolley takes you across the Danish town and covers most of the Copenhagen Street, the main street of the town. The guide narrates the history of the town, its Danish origins, and its growth over time as the tour progresses. She introduced us to various important buildings around the city and recommended some of the pastry and bakery shops.

Horse-pulled Trolley Tour of Solvang

The tours start at noon and there are generally two trolleys which leave one after the other. The tickets can be purchased either at Solvang Trolley Ice-cream parlor which is a short walk from the visitor center or on the trolley itself. The tour starts right outside the visitor center. The 25-minute tour ended at the same location where it picked. We recommend holding onto your tickets if you plan to explore the town and go snacking or shopping after the tour.

3. Feed the Birds at the Ostrichland

A short drive away from the town center is the Ostrichland, a farm for ostrich and birds. If you drive along with the farm there are a few vantage points to gain the view of the birds. However, if you are looking for an experience, we recommend paying your part. There is a small gift shop on the property. They allow visitors to be up close with the ostrich and EMUs for 5 bucks a person. Also, they allow you to feed them for an additional dollar. They give you a pan with a handle and guide to the instructions and way inside.

The Ostrichland
 Ostriches Lining for Food

There are nice barricades of wood protecting visitors from the birds with just the right placement to allow feeding. The birds would themselves see the food and come over to eat. It is a new experience for many and it is lovely to see the birds eager to come to the food. The farm is spread over a large area and we recommend taking a walk along the barricaded path.

4. Explore the Danish Outlook of the Town

The title Danish Capital of America for Solvang is no coincidence. The city truly lives to the name and maintains the culture and outlook even today. The Danish origin is evident in art, architecture, food, and language. If you interact with locals, you would realize how proud they are of the Scandinavian past and live that life. We recommend taking a stroll around the town-center to absorb the atmosphere.

A short walk along the Copenhagen Street is the only working windmill of the town along with the Round Tower. The Round Tower was built to mimic the watchtowers from World War. On your way along the street, you would see the big Red Clog outside the Solvang Shoe Store. This is a good sight for a picture especially if you have kids along. If you explore further, the Old Mission Santa Ines is around the corner. The missions have a rich history in California from times of Spanish invasions.

Verandahs and Streets
Windmills and Round Tower

Across the mission is the Little Mermaid Statue. The statue is a 2-feet replica of a similar statue in Denmark - one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The statue is one of the symbols of the Danish origins of the town. The importance of the status is evident in the fact that it finds a place in the city's logo. There are two great museums in the walkable distance that offer a glimpse into the history and origin of the town.

5. Try Some of the Danish Desserts

The town consciously keeps a check on outside influence and has restricted entry of national franchises. Most of the businesses are locally owned. One of the benefits of this is that you can enjoy the true Danish flavors. We recommend that at the least, you try some Danish pastries and brownies. There are many bakeries across the town serving the rich flavors. We tried ours from the Old Solvang Bakery, located right beside the Round Tower. The brownie fudge was simply mouth-watering and melted right on the tongue.

The Solvang Bakery - Relish their Fudge

We know tourists like to flock the big cities and wonders of the world. However, the true beauty of travel is visiting such small towns that have preserved their raw charm and offer a glimpse into the old traditions and culture. Solvang has done a wonderful job of continuing with symbols of their Danish origins. It is easy to get lost in the charm of the town and losing the track of the time.  

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