Solvang, California is known as the “Danish Capital of America.” It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and has shown no signs of slowing. Much of the 2004 Oscar-winning film Sideways was filmed in Solvang and in nearby Buellton. This is wine country, beautiful and rustically sophisticated, nestled between old horse farms and the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez valley.
Weather & Geography in Solvang
The town sits at 505 feet above sea level in the Santa Ynez Valley, and over 5,000 miles from Denmark itself. It is approximately 46 miles northwest of Santa Barbara and 15 miles north of the Pacific Ocean. Located along the Central California east-west Pacific coast, the Valley is renowned for its wines and the idyllic scenery. Nojoqui Falls are located in a county park of that name about seven miles southwest of the city, on Alisal Road.
The population was 5,245 at the 2010 census; however, frequent visits tourists considerably raise the number of people in the town at any given time. The variable terrain near the town is popular with cyclists and has been a featured Tour of California race location. The town itself hosts two annual amateur cycling events: the Solvang Century in March and the Solvang Prelude in November.
The area around Solvang enjoys plenty of sunshine year-round with clear, warm days and cool nights. Average temperatures rainfall is approximately 19 inches per year, and snow is virtually unknown in the Valley. The very name “Solvang” means “sunny fields” in Danish. The Valley is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains ranges.
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History of Solvang
A small group of Danish teachers seeking to establish a colony far from the harsh Midwestern Winters founded the town of Solvang in 1911. They settled on the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata, almost 9,000 acres of Mexican Land Grant. The Chumash Indians, discovered by Father Pedro Font, chaplain of the 1776 Anza Expedition, originally inhabited the area. Spanish missionaries arrived in the early 1800s to covert the local tribes to Christianity and to serve the missions.
The Mission Santa Ines was created in 1804 and is today located in the center of Solvang. It is midway between Mission Santa Barbara and La Purisma Concepcion in Lompoc. For a time the Mission Santa Ines was a seminary, until it began to deteriorate. The Donahue family repaired the mission in 1884, and Father Alexander Buckler renovated it in 1904.
The Danish architecture so prevalent in Solvang today did not become popular in the town until after WW II, when interest grew in creating a “Danish Village.” Ferdinand Sorenson completed his Danish styled home and then the first of the villages four windmills after a trip to Denmark in the mid-1940s. Architect Earl Petersen then restyled the older buildings facades in the “Danish Provincial” style. The half-timbered building style of Danish rural houses proliferated, creating a new tourist attraction.
Solvang is full of shops, parks, bakeries, restaurants, and of course wine tasting rooms. The town is built for walking. The tasting rooms are tucked into interesting Danish-appearing buildings. Many restaurants serve traditional Danish food, with bakeries and merchants also offering a taste of Denmark in California. Solvang is also home to Apple Lane Farm, a family-owned and operated local business that sells different apples available at different times during the harvest season, including gala, golden, red delicious, fuji, and granny smith apples.
The town has a copy of the Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, as well as a bust of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. A replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower is at Mission Santa Ynez near the center of town. The village attracts more than 1 million visitors per year, and hosted Denmark’s Prince Frederik in 1939. It was featured in the Saturday Evening Post in 1947, and the tourist rush began.
Today visitors enjoy the Danish windmills and rural church, as well as the Danish music and folk dancing. The town has a replica of a 19th century Danish streetcar – the horse drawn Honan – taking visitors on sightseeing tours. The wine related businesses in the downtown area have multiplied thanks to the 2004 film Sideways, which was set in the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang features a 700 seat open air Festival Theater. The exterior style is reminiscent of both Danish and Elizabethan architecture.
Solvang is home to two museums devoted to Danish culture and to one presenting vintage motorcycles:
- The Elverhøj Museum is devoted to preserving the Danish heritage of Solvang with its Danish-American pioneer spirit. The 18th-century farmhouses of northern Jutland inspire the building, completed in 1950. The museum opened to the public in May 1988.
- The Hans Christian Andersen Museum, located above The Book Loft, is devoted to presenting the author’s life and works. Displays include models of Andersen’s childhood home and of The Princess and the Pea. The museum also contains hundreds of volumes of Andersen’s works including many illustrated first editions.
- The Vintage Motorcycle Museum displays machines from the private collection of Virgil Elings, a veteran motorcross and road racer. While there is an emphasis on vintage racing bikes, the collection is quite broad and ranges from 1910 to the present
Annual Events & Festivals in Solvang
Since 1936, Solvang has celebrated Danish folk traditions at its annual “Danish Days” event, usually held during the third weekend in September. Led by a “Danish Maid,” the program consists of æbleskiver eating competitions, music, dancing, and parades through the downtown area with floats, marching groups, marching bands, folk dancers and singers. A Danish Days breakfast on Sunday morning features medist housed in the former residence of artist Viggo Brandt-Erichsen, erpølser, a spiced pork sausage recipe of Danish origins, and æbleskiver.
Solvang hosts several other festivals and events throughout the year. The focus is on music, wine and bicycling, with a few more cultural events thrown into the mix. The Solvang Blues Festival starts the year in January, followed by the individual time trials for the Amgen Tour of California Bicycle Race in February. March features the Solvang Century and Half Century Bike Rides of 50 or 100 miles. The Taste of Solvang Weekend, full of strolling downtown for food and wine tasting, occurs in March as well. The Santa Ynez/Solvang Half Marathon is run in May. Solvang hosts the area’s largest Fourth of July fireworks celebration every Independence Day. The Old Mission Santa Inez Fiesta falls in August, as does the Wheels ‘n’ Windmills Car Show in Solvang. Danish Days, an entire weekend devoted to celebrating Solvang’s Danish heritage falls in September. Jazz Festival Solvang warms up November, and the Prelude Bike Ride of 25, 50 or 100 miles will get visitors’ hearts beating. Winterfest, a month-long holiday, is also celebrated.
If you are planning to visit Solvang, California in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, click this link to view photos and video tours of vacation rental homes in Solvang, as well as read reviews of the properties and make a reservation. Explore this beautiful selection of Solvang vacation rentals to get started:
- Bella Toscana Hilltop Estate
- Circle L Ranch
- Copenhagen Court
- Elegant Ranch Retreat
- Elegant Ranch Retreat Guesthouse
- Hacienda Alamo Pintado
- Oak Valley Ranch
- Rancho Los Venados
- Wisdom Horse Acres