TRAVEL: Explore Solvang’s Danish town for history, food and photos
If you shop well, you can score a non-stop flight to Copenhagen from LAX, and it will take 11 hours to arrive, and cost just over $700 roundtrip, depending upon when you fly.
That sounds “wonderful, wonderful*” (who gets the reference?) but even cooler, if you live here in the South Bay, is a short two-hour and 30 minutes drive through some of the most beautiful country in the world, to visit the self-described “Danish Capital” of America.
It’s not the same thing as being in Denmark. But it’s worth a trip now, during the winter months, and as I discovered recently, for the latest episode of #PhotowalksTV, this town is one charming, photographic paradise.
I learned about Solvang from marveling at the daily photos posted by the local photographer George Rose on Facebook and Instagram. I reached out to him, and asked if he would meet there to show me around for an episode.
Luckily for all of us, he was more than happy to oblige!
George shoots his social media photos on an iPhone 12, and I use the iPhone 13 and 14 to film my #PhotowalksTV show, and shoot all the stills for the show as well.
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Here’s what you need to know about Solvang:
–Solvang is just up the road from Santa Barbara, about 30 miles north, and an hour south of Pismo Beach. It’s considered part of the “California Coast,” even though it’s inland, 14 miles up the road from Gaviota Beach.
–The town is surrounded by wine country, which was explored in the 2004 movie “Sideways.” There’s wine tasting all over Solvang, and especially in the nearby town of Los Olivos, 5 miles up the road.
–“We not a Danish Disneyland,” assured Kirsten Klitgaard from the Solvang Visitor Center, but an authentic town developed by Danish immigrants in 1911. The architecture remains loyal to Denmark ways, and the descendants of Solvang bakers continue to operate the five bakeries that serve a town of just over 6,000 people.
–You’ve heard of Danish pastries? Here they are, all over town, the Aebleskiver (little pancake like balls of dough) the Kringel (27 layers of a flaky and flavorful pastry) , the Bear Claw (almond paste, raisins, nuts and such) and on and on. The most popular restaurant in town, based on the long lines that accompany weekend visits, is Paula’s Pancake House, which serves both traditional and Danish style pancakes. (The flapjack was invented in Greece, but they love `em in Denmark where they add their own unique twist.)
So what to do in Solvang? Walk, eat, drink and photograph. Right? I’m not a drinker, so I can’t help you with the wine, but I certainly can point out great places to walk and photograph.
Start at Alisal Avenue, and walk towards the classic windmill. There, you will turn right, and explore Copenhagen Avenue, the center of town. (This is where the Visitor Center is. I walked in, and was pleasantly surprised by the sounds and sight of Klitgaard and her dad Dean playing traditional songs together on the accordion.)
You’ll also see Danish shops, cafes, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and amazing architecture.
Must see photos:
—The Windmill. It is the symbol of Solvang, and there are five of them in town. The most iconic one is right there at Alisal and Copenhagen, 1618 Copenhagen, to be exact. Try to get your shot in the early evening, when the sky turns light blue, and the lights of the windmill have been turned on.
–Check out the old Santa Ynez Mission (1760 Mission Drive) just a block from downtown, which was built in 1804. It is one of 21 Missions across California, has classic architecture, and beautiful grounds that overlook the valley. It’s where George and I shot the morning sunrise.
—Ballard Canyon for your wine country tour. Take Atterdag Road out of town for about 4 miles to see the scenic beauty and rolling hills.
—Armour Ranch Road. This is one of George’s favorite spots, a classic Backroads, out of the way, lonely country road, that as he describes it, “It’s an east-west road that’s almost perfectly straight…it’s one of the most scenic places in all of California.” George’s not kidding. I fell in love with it too. To get there, take Highway 246 out of town, and when you hit the roundabout in about 7 miles, turn left and prepare to be wowed.
Best time to visit? Now! Really. Solvang gets discovered after April and the summer months, and the traffic doesn’t die down until after Christmas, locals told me.
P.S.: * In the 1952 movie “Hans Christian Anderson,” starring Danny Kaye as the Danish writer of children’s stories, he sings a song in which the first line is….”Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen.” How could I resist?