The Danish town of Solvang feels like you’ve been transported to a fairytale version of Denmark, right in the middle of the Santa Ynes Valley. As history goes, this town was created when Danish pioneers moved from the Midwest to create a community out west in a milder climate in California. True it’s touristy, but I’m still always charmed by the half-timbered building facades and various windmills around town. I highly recommend a stop on your way to or from Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. Here’s a list of the top things to do in Solvang.
Top Things To Do In Solvang
From museums to charming side streets, there’s plenty to do in this town that can easily fill a day.
Bethania Lutheran Church
As the oldest church in Solvang, this traditional building is worth stopping by to see the first Danish-style building in town and one of the most authentic. The ship hanging from the ceiling represents a Danish tradition to symbolize the safe haven that a church represents within peoples’ lives. It’s still in use, and has a massive organ that is played during services. It’s located a few blocks away from the main town on a quiet residential street and is worth the detour.
One of the best things to do in Solvang is to take in the town is by walking through this three-block road and admiring all the Danish providential architecture and the quaint storefronts. Most of the main bakeries and restaurants are located in this area. It can get quite crowded during the day, but at dusk it’s worth coming back to walk along the almost empty streets, since most of the businesses close early in this town.
There are a handful of bakeries in town that specialize in Danish sweets like butter cookies and Danishes. The most popular one is Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, which has a dizzying selection of pastries, including their Princess Mocha Waffle (a crunchy almond cookie with a cream filling), and their famous tubs of butter cookies. Mortensen’s Danish Bakery is a personal favorite with delicious pistachio bars dipped in chocolate. Solvang Bakery is a smaller bakery worth stopping by for its cozy atmosphere and huge almond butter rings.
These magical balls of dough that taste like a cross between a pancake and a doughnut can be found on Copenhagen Drive, and can be conveniently picked up at the Solvang Restaurant take-out window. They come three per order, topped with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. Make sure to get there early, since they close at 3pm on the week (5pm on the weekend). If you want to go all out you can get aebleskivers a la mode. Savory items like Danish hot dogs and sausages are available at the take-out window as well.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum is a small museum that is one of the top things to do in Solvang, where you will learn more about this Danish author who is famous for his well-known children’s stories like The Little Mermaid and Princess and the Pea. It should take you less than an hour to see everything, and best of all the admission is free. The Elverhoj Museum, which is also free, has interesting exhibits of the early days of Solvang, as well as a small art gallery. If you’re into vintage motorcycles, the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum boasts an impressive private collection that includes rare models.
Old Mission Santa Ines
Just a few minutes away from downtown Solvang, this beautiful California mission is worth checking out. The interior of the chapel is especially worthwhile to stop by and see, as well as the lush gardens. From the parking lot, there’s a clear view of the valley below. The mission is easy walking distance from the center of town. Admission is $5 for adults.
Located in the middle of lush Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang has it own fair share of wine tasting rooms. The best part is that most of them are within walking distance from each other within town, so there’s no need to worry about driving. There are over 15 tasting rooms in Solvang alone, and here are some of the top ones:
- Toccata -specializing in Italian grapes
- Lucas & Lewellen – has a 2 for 1 wine tasting the sister winery to Toccata, specializes in French wines
- Lucky Dogg Winery – has more of a laid-back vibe, 20+ varietals, dog-friendly
- Sort this Out Cellars – chill vibe, has an attached tiki bar
- Carivintas – knowledgeable staff, a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue shelters
- Cali Love Wine – a trendy spot with a Nintendo set-up and plenty of photo-friendly backdrops, features mostly lighter and sweeter wines
Attend One Of Solvang’s Yearly Events
From Taste of Solvang in March, the town’s annual wine and food festival to Danish Days in September celebrating Danish heritage with parades, music, food, and dancing, there’s are plenty of festivities to attend year round. One of the most popular events is Solvang Julefest in December, that celebrates the holidays with a parade, Santa’s Village, Saint Lucia Day, and a Christmas Market Light Show, just to name a few activities.
Best Time To Visit Solvang
Solvang has a mild Mediterranean climate, with dry, hot summers and rainy winters. It is located in the California Central Coast, but is actually located about 30 miles inland. This is important to note since the weather can change up to 20 degrees from the coast. Summer brings crowds, as well as the holidays. The best time to go late September through October, when the the summer crowds have thinned out, but the weather is still warm and dry. Winter can get chilly and dip into freezing during the night, so if you go then make sure to bring a warm jacket.
Getting Around Solvang
As mentioned above, the town is very walkable, and you won’t need a car to get around. For parking your car, there are two large parking lots on Mission Drive as well as another one on Oak Street. There is also plentiful street parking as well. All parking is free.
Where To Eat In Solvang
For quick, delicious Italian-style deli sandwiches, this is a great spot to stop by for an inexpensive lunch. The sandwiches are huge, but you can always get a half-sandwich. There are also a lot of veggie options with sandwiches and salads. They have a cute, pet-friendly patio to catch some rays on.
Copenhagen Sausage Garden
An outdoor biergarden that has a wide selection of sausages, including the traditional Danish red polse. There is also quite a few European beers, including a sampler beer flight if you want to sample a bunch of different brews. Vegan sausages are available. The seating is first come and first serve, and can be quite chaotic, but people usually don’t linger too long.
Paula’s Pancake House
A popular spot for brunch, specializing in Danish pancakes, sausages, and large portions. The atmosphere is old school diner which is frozen in time. There is usually a line, but you can pick up something next store at Olsen’s to hold you over or get there right when it opens.
Succulent Café Wine Charcuterie
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this popular spot has spacious patio seating and some of the best biscuits in town. The menu ranges from eggs benedict to spicy chicken sandwiches. They also have a large selection of wine, including local wines from the Santa Ynes Valley, and excellent charcuterie boards that complement any meal.
An Irish pub that is known for its Irish comfort food like bangers and mash, and pints of ice cold Guinness. If you want something a bit lighter, the Cobb Salad is highly recommended. There’s both casual indoor and outdoor seating, depending on personal preference.
Where To Stay In Solvang
Solvang is a small town that is easily walkable and most of the hotels are located in and around the main roads. There’s a wide range of lodging options from budget motels to luxury hotels with all the bells and whistles. If you plan on going into town during major festivals or weekends hotels can all be booked, so make sure to reserve in advance.
A budget motel in the heart of town that is spotless and recently remodeled with hardwood floors. Highlights included danishes and coffee for breakfast, and an outdoor pool. Sights like Hans Christian Anderson Museum is a 3-minute walk, and the main drag of Copenhagen Drive is right out the front door with numerous shops and restaurants.
This small picturesque hotel has 9 coveted rooms with all the creature comforts at a reasonable price. Three blocks brings you right to Main Street. Highlights include outdoor fire pits on each room’s patio that are a perfect place to end the day with a glass of wine.
An excellent mid-range lodging option, with a full hot breakfast. Amenities include an indoor pool, and an outdoor hot tub. Located in walking distance of the center of town. Adjacent dining options include Root 246, that features farm-to-table cuisine.