Have you ever wanted to travel to Denmark without leaving the confines of the United States? Velkommen to Solvang! Located in the heart of the Santa Barbara’s wine country near the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Danish Village of Solvang is 132 miles north of Los Angeles. The town is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark. Solvang hosts over one million sightseers every year.
Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who were interested in establishing a Danish colony far from the Midwestern winters. The years between 1850 and 1930 saw a considerable influx of Danes into the United States. Due to poor economic conditions, it is estimated that one in ten Danes emigrated and settled in Utah, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. In 1910 two Danish gentlemen named Nordentoft and Gregersen formed the Danish-American Colony Company in San Francisco along with other Danish-Americans. Their intent was to create a new Danish colony with a dedicated Lutheran church and school on the west coast. On January 23, 1911 after having found a suitable location consisting of 9,000 acres in the Santa Ynez valley, they signed the contract purchasing the land for $40 an acre and Solvang was formed!
Initially, most of Solvang’s buildings were built in the same style as others in the area. It wasn’t until after World War II that interest in a Danish Village grew and Ferdinand Sorensen led the proliferation of Danish Provincial style building by constructing his home, the Møllebakken and the first of the village’s four windmills in the Danish rural style. Later, Earl Petersen, a local architect, gave the older buildings a new look, adding facades in the Danish Provincial style and a new tourist attraction was born.
Tourists were initially attracted to Solvang due to a visit to the town by Denmark’s Prince Frederik in 1939. It wasn’t until 1947, when an article appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, that they began to flock to the town.
Today, one can appreciate the Danish windmills, the statues of the famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and the replica of the Little Mermaid statue found in Copenhagen as well as the half-timbered houses, the Danish rural church, the Round Tower and the Danish music and folk dancing. Since 1936, Solvang has celebrated Danish folk traditions at its annual Danish Days, usually held during the third weekend in September. The event consists of eating competitions, music, dancing, and processions through the downtown area with floats, marching bands, folk dancers and singers.
There are a growing number of wine-related businesses which have sprung up in town due partly to the 2004 release of the film, Sideways, which was set in the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley.
Explore Solvang area wineries: http://www.solvangusa.com/explore-solvang/what-to-do/wine-country/wineries-and-tasting-rooms/
Visitors can also tour the grounds of Mission Santa Ines, a national historic landmark located near the center of the town. Established in 1804 by Father Estévan Tapís , the mission was devastated by the great earthquake of 1812. Through the efforts of Father Alexander Buckler in 1904 reconstruction of the Mission was undertaken, though major restoration was not possible until 1947 when the Hearst Foundation donated money to pay for the project. Today the mission serves as a museum and a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Solvang has several museums: The Elverhøj Museum, devoted to preserving the Danish heritage of Solvang with its Danish-American pioneer spirit, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, located above The Book Loft, devoted to presenting the author’s life and works and The Vintage Motorcycle Museum which displays machines from the private collection of Virgil Elings, a veteran motor cross and road racer.
Five miles east of Solvang, you can find the Chumash Casino Resort which opened in 2003 and offers 94,000-square-feet of gaming space with slot machines and table games galore.
All in all, Solvang is a great place for a day trip where you can immerse yourself in Danish culture without having to travel overseas. While there, be sure to take advantage of the various hard to find Danish delicacies, such as aebleskivers (traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere served with berry jam) and medisterpølse (Danish spicy sausage made of minced pork). You will be glad that you did!