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Solvang

A picturesque town with Danish roots (and amazing bakeries) in the Santa Ynez Valley makes for a charming wine-tasting outpost

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Imagine a village where fresh-cut flowers and warm-from-the-oven pastries scent the air. Add gingerbread architecture, twirling windmills, and exceptionally friendly people, and you’ve got the Danish hamlet of Solvang. A wine rush inspired by the 2004 film Sideways only added to the appeal of this quaint little tourist town in the Santa Ynez Valley. While it’s certainly true that wine lovers can easily fill their day with tastings and winery tours here, this picturesque community has history, cuisine, and cultural events to offer as well.

Located in the heart of the Santa Barbara wine country, a region that includes not just the Santa Ynez Valley but the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills as well, Solvang could not be better positioned to be a showplace of exceptional wines. Grab a map of the more than a dozen and a half tasting rooms in its downtown for a self-guided walking tour, or set out to explore the surrounding countryside—while leaving the driving to someone else—with a luxury guided wine tour.

For a different kind of tour, hop on the Solvang Trolley (aka ‘The Honen,’ or little hen, in Danish), a horse-drawn streetcar that will take you, at a leisurely pace, on a narrated 25-minute excursion through the downtown area. Other nods to the town’s Scandinavian roots include the tiny but informative Hans Christian Andersen Museum, dedicated to nurturing interest in the famous Danish author, and the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art, which has photos, artifacts, and videos that shine light on Solvang’s history as well as ever-changing exhibitions by local, national, and international artists. A historical site that actually predates the arrival of the Danish is the Old Mission Santa Inez, built in 1804 as the 19th of 21 missions built in the state by Father Junipero Serra. Still an active parish, the mission has great views of the Santa Ynez River Valley and the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges, and is open daily.

Speak to anyone who’s visited Solvang, it’s likely that one of their first comments will be the bakeries (which shouldn’t surprise—some of those delicious treats are called “danishes,” after all). Danish Mill Bakery, Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, and Æbleskiver Café, among others, all delight fans of baked goods with their fresh daily offerings. To experience a bit of old Central Coast charm, plan a lunch stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s, a local landmark since 1924, and be sure to try the namesake family recipe.

For a live theatrical performance, check out what’s on the calendar at the 700-seat Solvang Festival Theater. And twice a year, two major festivals take over downtown: Danish Days, typically held in September, is a celebration of Solvang’s Danish heritage with authentic food, music, dancing, and Viking re-enactments; Julefest, which is the town’s festive holiday celebration in December, features candlelit tours, a tree-lighting, a tree-burn, and the kickoff early-December Julefest Parade. Check their calendar for other upcoming events.

For accommodations, Solvang has plenty of options, with a few standouts: Alisal Guest Ranch, a luxury dude ranch minutes outside of town, offers visitors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in a Western experience with 50 miles of trails and 100 horses waiting to be paired up with riders. For a more urbane stay in town, boutique hotels The Landsby and Hotel Ynez both combine magazine spread–worthy style with amenities like private patios and fire pits.

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