The Weekly Postcard: Solvang, California’s Danish Town

Solvang simply stole my heart with its European-style windmills, flower-lined streets and Danish architecture. The first time I visited the village I remember feeling like I was walking in one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Half timbered buildings, horse-drawn wagons, storks on the rooftops, clogs and Danish bonnets in the windows, everything was reminiscent of the old Danish countryside.


The Birth of a Danish Town

Just a short 40-minute drive from Santa Barbara, the little town of Solvang was the dream of three Danish immigrants: Reverend Benedict Nordentoft, Reverend J. M. Gregersen, and Professor P. P. Hornsyld, who planned to established here a Danish community. In 1911 they bought 10,000 acres of land next to the beautiful Santa Inés Mission in Santa Barbara County, California. They named the new settlement ‘Solvang,’ which in Danish means sunny field. The first settlers were almost all Danish farmers from California, the Midwest and Denmark. The community began growing very fast. AGA_9126-2

By 1914 they already had schools, businesses, churches and even Danish-language newspapers in town. Although they cooked Danish food, celebrated Danish holidays and kept alive their culture and traditions, the Danes in Solvang  tried hard to integrate themselves in the American culture. They learned English and sent their children to grammar school to learn the language too. The tradition of building Danish-style houses and mills continued throughout the years, even as other nationalities started to move into the area.


Solvang Today

After World War II visitors began to discover the quaint town with windmills and half timbered houses that was so unlike any other place in California. As the number of tourists began to grow, so did the number of hotels, restaurants, attractions and the inevitable souvenir shops in Solvang.Today Solvang has about 5,500 residents, but only 10% of them claim to have Danish ancestry. Even though not many Danes still live here, the town still hosts an annual Danish Days celebration, a tradition that began in 1936 when the Danish king and queen visited the town.

Modern Solvang is no longer as unique and authentic as it was in the beginning. In time, the town is a major tourist center, a fusion of Danish and California life. Like any place that tasted success, it turned into a commercial hub that markets and sells anything so it can to continue to run as a business. There is still a string of restaurants along Copenhagen Drive where you can try some Danish specialties, such as pork with red cabbage, spicy beef stew with egg, pickled herring and elegant smorgasbord. But most business in town just display a Danish façade while selling local foods or goods.


Is Solvang Worth a Visit?

Even though many people are turned off by its somewhat touristy atmosphere, Solvang still remains a very appealing place. Due to its great geographical position, the town is an attractive destination for food a wine lovers. From farm-to-table rustic Italian cuisine, American and Danish foods, sweets in all form to award-winning beers and world-class wines, there are plenty of temptations for your taste buds here. So if you happen to be in Los Angeles and you are in the mood for a unique experience, Solvang is a good choice. You’ll be able to experience some great scenery, good food, Danish pastries and fine wines in a relaxed European atmosphere. The town is small enough to be able to walk from one end to the other within a couple of hours.





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26 Comments on “The Weekly Postcard: Solvang, California’s Danish Town

    • Even that it looks a little touristy, it’s still a nice little town in you’ll have a lot of photo opportunities and good food.

  1. We love visiting Solvang for weekend trips. The Santa Ynez area is so beautiful. We love walking around here and going into the bakeries. We actually took the kids to Solvang before we visited Copenhagen to get familiar with Danish things 🙂 Love the photos and I feel inspired for a weekend trip soon now.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…11 Things To Do In Old Town Tallinn, EstoniaMy Profile

  2. Wow, this is such a pretty town! I’ve never been to Denmark but it definitely looks like what I’d imagine a Danish town to be. I remember reading about this when I was planning my California trip a few years back but it sounded quite touristy so I didn’t bother. It’s certainly picturesque, though. I guess it’s almost inevitable for picturesque towns to end up being touristy sooner or later. I also didn’t realise that smorgasbord was a type of food – I only knew it in the sense of “a wide range of”. Learn a new thing every day!
    Michelle | michwanderlust recently posted…Chiang Mai: Ziplining with GibbonsMy Profile

  3. Although most people don’t like a place that has become touristy, it seems like Solvang would be worth a visit to experience the mix of Danish culture and history. I imagine it would be a nice place to escape Los Angeles for a little bit too.

    • Most people don’t mind touristy places, but if you visited this little town 30 years ago you wouldn’t like that much the difference that you see today.

  4. Solvang is one of my favorite places but I have to admit it can get crowded. Having said that, I will avoid it during the holidays (it is totally clogged the last days of the year), long weekends and when there are special events in town. The town (and other towns in the area) are at its best when there are not that many people around.

    • Unfortunately, almost all the nice places in the world started to become crowded lately. Before the Internet era, you could still have a nice town all to yourself, but now the word goes out fast about beautiful spots so people rush to visit them.

  5. LOL, European inspired places outside of Europe always freak me out a little. They look so stereotypical to me, and often have nothing to do with the country they’re supposed to depict (Nederland, Texas, I am talking to you!!).
    Thank you for the linkup!!

    • Yea, I hear you, Esther. Even if they start by looking authentic in the beginning, they eventually turn out into a touristy place.

  6. Solvang looks like a storybook town! The windmills really give an old-world vibe. It’s great to have a tiny slice of Europe in California – if I lived there, I’ll probably “escape” to Solvang for some European food and atmosphere every now and then. 🙂
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