After spending an exciting time in San Francisco where we arrived a few days back, taking one day break in the small town of Solvang before we proceed further to our road trip to Los Angeles, was something I was really looking forward to.
I remembered only a day before a friend remarked that everything closes there around 6 pm and it might get boring, after getting to know that going by our travel itinerary we will reach Solvang only by evening. Quite right, this small Dutch town sleeps early and barring a few shops everything shuts down but that’s the side of this town I also wanted to see before it’s all abuzz with activity the next morning.
Tucked away in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County in Southern California, Solvang is known for its Danish way of life which reflects in its food, culture and architecture. Solvang (Danish for “sunny field) was founded by three Danish educators – who wanted to escape the harsh winters of mid-western region and thus migrated to west and established the town in 1911. Currently inhabited by around 5200 people only, its thin population is more than compensated by the tourists who arrive in droves throughout the year.
Once settled in our cosy room of a charming inn, we set out to venture the deserted streets at 7 pm. A short walk took us to the main street, the Copenhagen Drive. Though at that hour everything was closed, except for one or two restaurants, but I still liked the whole character of this tiny Dutch haven; with outdoor sitting in front of most restaurants, fairy lights entwined on the street trees, some making a beautiful canopy with branches overhead, and not-to-be-missed the huge windmill, all aglow, right at one of the crossroads, gives the town a different layer to its personality during night.
Morning paints a whole new picture though; everything add to the vibrancy of the place :be it the colorful storefronts, spirited laughter of the tourists or the smell of baked goodies hanging heavy in the air. Tempted by the aroma, we started looking for a good bakery to get our hands on the baked goodies. Soon we landed at Mortensen’s Bakery to try one of their Danish pastry. Despite it being a busy hour, the owner of the bakery was sweet enough to indulge in a small talk with us. She told that the people of the place take pride in their home-baked goodies and I can surely tell why; the pastry we ordered had powdered sugar and raspberry preserve as filling, so exceptionally fresh and yummy. We got some Danish butter cookies packed to devour during our journey further. The area being dotted with several restaurants, one can easily indulge in other Danish specialties too.
Everything in this small town is at a walking distance, and in fact that is the best way to discover it’s the beauty. And if all that walking makes you tired, experience an easily available horse-drawn trolley ride through the streets, but we preferred walking.
Strolling on the flower-lined streets flanked with the bakeries, the wineries, the art galleries, the little boutiques and the windmill shops, whose architecture is influenced heavily by the Dutch style made me feel as if I was transported to some tiny town of Europe. Almost every structure is made from brick and timber with thatched roof and the facade decorated tastefully with little trinkets.
Elsewhere, a replica of the little Mermaid statue which sits proudly on a large stone and a statue of Hans Christian Anderson, a renowned fairy tale writer, installed in a park named after him, makes a great stop for a good photo-op.
The town offers an array of shopping options, but if you want to take a little bit of Denmark with you, shop for handicrafts like cuckoo clock wooden shoes or Danish style toys. And If you have some time on your hand, Solvang offers more than just picturesque street, shopping and eating. The two museums – the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum – are dedicated to Danish culture. You can also enjoy watching a play at The Solvang theatre which hosts a variety throughout the year. If it’s some adventure which interests you, then go on a mile’s hike to reach Nojoqui Falls, about five miles from town.
A fellow tourist, a regular to Solvang, suggested to visit the town during holiday season when it wears a completely different look with marching bands, folk-dance and decorations to savor on; this is the time when locals and tourists from faraway land come together for merry making. Now that could be a reason enough to visit this small hamlet again, if I ever get a chance.