If you’re looking for fun places to stop on your California roadtrip, look no further than Santa Ynez Valley where you’ll find a charming little town called Solvang, otherwise known as “the Danish capital of America”. 😉 Get ready for the best things to do in Solvang California!
Located in Santa Barbara County wine country halfway between San Francisco and San Diego, Solvang is a tiny universe all its own with a population of just over 6,000. But, don’t let its size fool you. For a small town in Central California, “Little Denmark” sure has a lot going on.
Loaded with charm, history and character, it’s a site to behold for anyone with an affinity for Danish culture, adorable, picturesque villages or, for those just wanting a place to get off their sore butts and stretch their legs on a road trip. Not to mention, you can cover most of it in a day or so before continuing your journey along the California coast!
In this blog, I share…
- The Magic of Solvang
- Solvang History
- Things to Do in Solvang
- Famous Photo Opps
- Where to Eat in Solvang
- Where to Stay in Solvang
[This post was originally posted May of 2022. Updated November of 2022]
The Magic of Solvang
There’s always a special place that clings to our memories when we relive childhood. For me, that place is Solvang, whose name literally translates to “sunny field”.
Was it the giant danishes my dad and I used to eat together by the towering windmills, the little mermaid restaurant that serves strawberry ice cream in fancy silver dishes… the giant Danish clog on the sidewalk… or the fact that the storybook village made me feel like a damsel in distress from the mind of Hans Christian Andersen, “Father of the Fairytales”?
I’m not sure what did it… All I know is that 20 years later, Little Denmark is just as magical to this Cali girl as when she was a little girl wandering the streets with her light up velcro shoes.
And here’s how it all began…
By now, you’re probably wondering, how the heck did Denmark end up in the middle of California? Well, here’s the short version. In 1911, 3 Danish-American educators from the mid west wanted warmer weather so they moved out west and snatched up 9,000 acres for $75,000. Not bad huh? 😉 And just like that… “Little Denmark” was born.
Things to Do in Solvang California
- Explore Solvang Village on foot
There are so many things to do in Solvang with just a quick stroll… see the windmills, grab a danish or a hardy traditional Danish meal, explore cultural icons like the Hans Christian Andersen Museum or, feed ostriches and emus, ride a tandem or surrey bike or make like Miles and Jack from Sideways and do some winery hopping. Just not all at once of course. 😉
Or, do what I did as a kid and let the adults go shopping while you chill out in the famous red clog.
Solvang’s residents wanted to achieve the authentic look of Denmark’s homes but couldn’t afford timber for the beams. So instead, they mixed cement with brown dye and called it a day.
- Visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum
I literally jumped at the chance to go to this museum since I grew up reading fairytales Hans Christian Andersen created like The Little Mermaid and Princess and the Pea. It’s the only museum in the US dedicated to the author. If you love history like me, you’ll be there checking out the upstairs and downstairs rooms. Don’t make the same mistake I did and be sure to grab a bite before you head in so you’re not hungry!
- Attend an Annual Solvang Event
- Embrace your inner Wino
In addition to over 20 wine rooms in Downtown Solvang, there are also over 125 vineyards in the area to sip from. Plenty of places to get your wine tasting on. I think the characters from Sideways would be overwhelmed today with these many options. 😉
- Ride a Surrey Bike
There’s a great place in Solvang called Wheel Fun Rentals where you can choose from 3, 6 & 9 people Surrey Bikes (plus 2 small children up front). As a kid, I remember my big bro and I being too little to pedal so, my parents put us in the baskets while they pedaled to our destination. It’s a great way to explore the city!
Rent your bike here.
- Feed Ostriches & Emus
At Ostrich Land USA in Solvang, you can actually get up and close with these feathery friends. Just be careful when you feed them or, they’ll turn into fiends. One bit my sister’s hand!
Famous Photo Opps
Here are some great spots in Solvang to take pictures!
- Red Clog
Arguably one of Solvang’s most kitschy photo opps, the red clog is right outside Solvang Shoe Store. Looking back at pictures, I can’t believe how small it actually is in person. It looks massive when you’re a tiny child. It’s fun to pose next to though.
There are 5 major ones. Check them out here.
- Little Mermaid Fountain at Denmarket Square
- Round Tower
Where to Eat in Solvang, California
There are so many great restaurants in Solvang! Here are some of my favorite places.
- Mortensen’s Danish Bakery
I’ve been going to this bakery since I was a kid. Get their Danish Kringle. They’re big and delicious!
- Bit O’Denmark Restaurant
All I can say is, you will not be hungry when you leave this restaurant. It’s hardy and delicious. Order any of the Denmark classics, you won’t be disappointed.
- Pea Soup Andersens in Buellton
You simply cannot go to Solvang without heading to Pea Soup Andersens, whose pea soup recipe has been winning over stomachs everywhere since Anton and Juliette Andersen opened the restaurant in 1924. You can even get yours bottomless with an unlimited assortment of toppings like bacon, green onions and cheese! They also have a hotel if you’re too full of pea soup to continue on to your destination. 😉
Where to Stay in the Solvang Area
- Sideways Inn
There’s a lot of talk about where to stay in Solvang but in my mind, there’s only 1 place… Sideways Inn (not sponsored). It’s in Buellton which is right next to Solvang. If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, then you’ve definitely seen this hotel. It’s referenced in the movie as its previous name, “Windmill Hotel”. But don’t worry, they’ve done a complete renovation since its filming, making it a comfortable, stylish and affordable stay. You can even request the room they filmed in!
My room was cozy, breakfast was delivered to my door, I had a nice workout at the gym and a swim in pool. It was nice to sit on my patio and enjoy some wine and sunshine.
Book your stay at Sideways Inn here.
Shop My Solvang Look
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That’s a wrap!
I hope this blog inspired you to take a trip to Solvang, California!
Now, I want to know! What would you do in Solvang? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂
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