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Close your eyes and try to imagine what it would look like if you plucked a charming old-world village out of the heart of Denmark and dropped it into the middle of Santa Barbara Wine Country. “That’d never happen!” you scoff. “Who’d pair windmills and clogs with grapevines and California sun?” Au contraire, mon ami: such a town does exist, and it just so happens to be one of the best places to spend a romantic weekend in all of Southern California.
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Velkommen til Solvang!
Aptly named Solvang, meaning “sunny field” in Danish, this little village looks like it was pulled straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale — complete with tall windmills, cross-beamed houses, metal storks on rooves, and row upon row of tidy flower beds — all set against the picturesque landscape of the Santa Ynez Valley, conveniently located two hours from Los Angeles and about four from San Francisco.
As it’s the season of romantic weekend getaways, we thought it’d be remiss of us not to write a guide for the small town of Solvang, CA, as it’s become our family’s go-to destination for anniversaries and Valentine’s Day. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to have a romantic weekend in the Danish Capital of North America.
Nibble On Some Authentic Danish Pastries
First off, you’ve got to try æbleskiver — pronounced AY-bluh-skee-ver — which is a traditional Danish pastry. Literally, it means “apple slices”, but nowadays they’re mostly just made with dough. Usually eaten around Easter and Christmas, these delicious Danish treats have a crunchy exterior — lightly dusted in powdered sugar — and soft, fluffy interior, like a European pancake.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few of our family’s favorite bakeries in Solvang:
- Mortensen’s Bakery, started by a native Dane from Copenhagen, this quaint shop brings you the flavors of Denmark within just a few hours of downtown Los Angeles.
- Birkholm’s Bakery and Cafe, a family-run bakery offering a good variety of baked-goods and sandwiches right off Solvang’s main street.
- The Solvang Bakery, from traditional Danish breads to sour tarts, this shop is a must-go for anyone looking to satisfy a morning pastry craving.
Wander Around The Village
You could spend a whole day just admiring the Danish-style architecture and icons that can be found all over Solvang. (We certainly have!) From a mermaid fountain to a giant red clog, round every corner there’s something new and interesting to discover. Plus, the Danes love their windmills, as exemplified by the fact that Solvang has no fewer than five, all within walking distance of each other. These whimsical landmarks serve as a great spot for a rest and romantic photoshoot. We recommend starting on Fifth Street and working your way westwards through the town. Not only does this allow you to take in all the lovely architecture, but it provides you with plenty of shopping and dining options along the way.
Shop For Souvenirs
When else are you going to have the opportunity to take a miniature cuckoo clock back home with you? With over 150 different high-end boutique stores in Solvang, there’s guaranteed to be something to catch your fancy. These European-style shops sell miniature (and full-sized) cuckoo clocks, eensy-weensy clogs, model windmills, exquisite Danish china, and so much more!
Our family’s favorite local shops include:
- Jul Hus, a shop selling authentic European Christmas decorations (year-round!).
- The Book Loft, your go-to for the works of Hans Christian Andersen.
- Edelweiss, for sterling silver jewelry, quartz watches, and attractive accessories.
- Dowdle Gallery, the perfect place to find beautifully crafted puzzles depicting some of the world’s most beautiful destinations — Solvang included!
Brush Up On Your Danish (and U.S.) History
If your family’s anything like ours, then you don’t just like to visit a place. Instead, you feel the burning desire to steep yourself in its history and traditions. In this regard, Solvang has you covered. There’s a museum attached to the Old Mission Saint Ines, which is an absolute must-see for those interested in the region’s history. In addition, there’s a wealth of other museums where you can sate (or whet) your appetite:
- Elverhoj Museum Of Art And History, for all things Danish.
- The Wildling Museum Of Art And Nature, to admire works of wildlife and natural areas (and learn about conservation).
- Hans Christian Andersen Museum, a great place to learn about the master storyteller.
- Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, a neat spot for anyone even remotely interested in bikes.
- Solvang Amber Museum, where you can finally answer all your burning questions about amber.
Take A Romantic Carriage Ride
I don’t know about you, but my partner and I love riding in horse-drawn carriages. There’s something about the clip-clop of hooves and gentle trundle of the cart that makes us feel cozy and even a little regal. Solvang has its own version of this old-timey mode of transport; it’s called the “Solvang Trolley” and it’s available to ride throughout the year.
Wine, windmills, mouth-watering pastries, and more! Spend a romantic Valentine’s Day in Solvang, CA, the Danish Capital of North America!
Clocking in at a leisurely two-horsepower, this carriage isn’t for those looking to blast through as much as possible. Rather, it’s an elegant and charming way to tour some of the beautiful Danish-inspired buildings that make Solvang, CA the quaint little village it is. Depending on which option you choose, you can also experience a spoken tour of Solvang and learn about the story of the immigrants who first settled there.
What’s great about Solvang is that, in addition to its own lovely self, it’s set amidst the gorgeous backdrop of the Santa Ynez Valley. With mile upon mile of gently rolling countryside, it’s the perfect spot for a bike ride, picnic, and hike.
Some of our family’s favorite outdoor activities include:
- Vino Vaqueros, a 90-minute guided horseback tour through vineyards and country; the best part? You get to drink the wine from the vineyard you’ve just passed through at the end!
- OstrichLand USA, a petting zoo for ostriches just a short drive from the Solvang town center.
- Hans Christian Andersen Park, an excellent spot for a relaxing day and romantic picnic.
Go Wine Tasting
Smack-dab in the middle of Santa Barbara Wine Country, it’s no surprise that Solvang has its fair share of wine tasting rooms. With over 20 tasting rooms available, you can savor the world-class wines at your leisure, while also enjoying views of the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley.
Prefer to go visit the wine at the source? Well when you visit Solvang, you can! Many of the wines you’ll sample in town are grown within a few miles of the village and processed at nearby wineries. What’s more, many of them offer tours of their vines, as well as transportation, so you can enjoy the wines to your heart’s content. Just imagine, endless rolling hills, row upon row of vines, and a delicious vintage to sip: doesn’t get much more romantic than that.
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Savor Authentic Danish Cuisine
My partner and I love to savor local wines as an aperitif, naturally to be followed by a delicious dinner. In addition to the Danish bakeries we’ve mentioned, some of the best wine country cuisine can be found in Solvang, CA.
A few of our family’s favorites are below:
- Paula’s Pancake House, excellent spot for breakfast food and cozy atmosphere
- Red Viking Restaurant, where you can get a smorgasbord of traditional Danish entrees
- Bit O’ Denmark, snuggled into one of Solvang’s most historical buildings, this spot offers both Danish and American cuisine at unbeatable prices
- First and Oak Restaurant, located at the quaint Mirabelle Inn, this classy restaurant offers multi-course meals that are sure to accentuate any romantic evening
- Mad and Vin, meaning “food and wine” in Danish, this upscale restaurant offers seasonal foods from all over the Santa Ynez Valley.
When You Go
Set right off the scenic US-101 N coastal highway, Solvang is easily within driving distance of Los Angeles. Our family lives in Pasadena, and it takes us about two and a half hours to reach there, with one or two stops along the way for honey. We recommend starting early to beat the LA traffic, and so you can start off the day fresh with that delish æbleskiver.
Where To Stay
Solvang is a popular tourist destination and offers a variety of romantic hotels and inns that can fit any family’s budget, from luxury to economy. Below, you’ll find our top three picks for where to stay during your idyllic escape.
Self described as a “retreat from the routine and a haven for recharging,” the Winston Solvang is a world-class luxury hotel offering the very best in fine dining and modern amenities. With its staff just a text away, this establishment prides itself on going the extra mile to ensure your personal satisfaction. Requests on how the guest rooms are stocked can be made ahead of time, so everything you need is there right when you arrive. Plus, this boutique hotel looks like a medieval castle the Danish Royal Family might have vacationed in, complete with haunted bell tower and artistic brick architecture.
In the middle of it all, the Wine Valley Inn & Cottages has a friendly staff, free wifi and it’s within easy walking distance of many wine tasting rooms and only 20 minutes from more than 40 acclaimed wineries & vineyards.
In the middle of it all, the Wine Valley Inn is one of the great places to stay in Solvang, CA. They have a wonderful wine bar full of local wines, a friendly staff, and it’s within easy walking distance of many wine tasting rooms and only 20 minutes from more than 40 acclaimed wineries & vineyards.
Newly renovated and furnished in the modern Danish style, the Atterdag Inn is a chic and happening place to stay for a weekend retreat. These comfortable and bright rooms look out over a private courtyard and are located just steps away from some of the best wine bars and restaurants in town. Each room includes modern amenities and offers lovely views of the surrounding hills.
Quirky and cozy, the Svendsgaard’s Danish Lodge is a family-run inn located in the heart of downtown Solvang. The building is of traditional Danish design, with lots of cross-beams and an enormous brick fireplace in the common room. After a long day of exploring, what could feel better than to slip into this hotel’s bubbling hot tub and reminisce about all the delicious pastries you tried?
In addition to the options above, we’d like to give a special shoutout to the Solvang Alisal Vacation Cottages. Instead of a single hotel room, you’ll get a cozy cottage all to yourself. Each cottage is uniquely furnished with antiques from around the area. Amenities include a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and private porch. To top it off, these cottages are located less than a block away from restaurants, wine bars, pubs, and — lest we forget — an old-timey windmill.
In our opinion, one of the best things to do on a romantic retreat is to enjoy a nice glass of wine and get cozy, preferably by a crackling fire. There’s literally a Danish word for this — hygge — for which there’s no true English equivalent. Essentially, it’s a feeling of coziness and conviviality shared with those you love.
It was this feeling of hygge that first attracted us to Solvang. The whole town seems to exude warmth and friendliness, and that’s not just the wine talking. For those living in Los Angeles, San Francisco or even San Diego, it honestly is the perfect place for a romantic getaway. It’s close enough to drive to, but far enough away to give you that much-needed feeling of having “gotten away”. We hope after reading this guide that you’re inspired to check Solvang out for yourself. After all, those æbleskiver aren’t going to eat themselves. God rejse!
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