Solvang, California’s Danish Town – Travel Guide

Solvang's renowned Danish-style windmill

photography by: b r e n t

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A little slice of Denmark in Southern California, Solvang is undoubtedly an American town like no other. Situated in Santa Barbara County, Solvang was established by Danish immigrants, many of the descendants of whom still live there today. Replete with replicas of iconic Danish landmarks like the Little Mermaid and paying homage to the literary great Hans Christian Andersen, the only thing that’s un-Danish about Solvang is the warm weather. Interestingly, Solvang has even attracted royal visitors from the Nordic states in Europe, a trend started by Denmark’s Prince Frederik, who first visited the town in 1939. But you don’t have to be an authoritative Scandinavian figure to enjoy your time in Solvang. Whether you’re interested in exploring the unique cultural heritage of this Danish settlement or plan a visit to indulge in the mouth-watering Danish cuisine served up here, a trip to Solvang is an excellent way of adding some cultural diversity to your California vacation.

History and Geographic Context

Translated as “sunny field” in Danish, Solvang got its name by the three Danish educators who founded the town, regarding the sunlight rich Californian landscape as a source of inspiration. The three Danish Pioneers, Reverend Benedict Nordentoft, Reverend J.M. Gregersen, and Professor P.P. Hornsyld, wanted to enjoy the comforts and customs of home away from the harsh winters they were accustomed to.


In 1911, they purchased 9,000 acres of land in the Santa Ynez Valley and proceeded to create their very own version of their Danish motherland. The establishment of Solvang was preceded by mass Danish immigration, with approximately one in ten Danes emigrating to the U.S. in search of a better life.


Many of the early Danish settlers lived in the Midwest, most notably in Utah, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But following the educators’ purchase of the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata land grant, the expatriate Danes suddenly had a new place to reside.


photography by: The surrounding country side around Solvang

In spite of its obvious appeal, Solvang’s initial development was slow going. Like any other Californian town at the start of the twentieth century, economic activity was confined to the main street, and the community of initial residents attended the only Lutheran church in town. It wasn’t until 1940 that residents in Solvang began developing their homes in a Danish provincial style, with windmills and various other exhibitions of Danish architecture being put up in town.


By the turn of the twenty-first century, Solvang was widely revered as an excellent wine destination in California, adding yet another twist to this curious Danish settlement in the American West. Today, visitors revel in Solvang’s charming inns, frequent the award-winning countryside wineries, and marvel at the unique Danish architecture.

The iconic Hamlet Square in Solvang

photography by: Dale Cruse

Things to See and Do

Solvang’s town center is a little over two square miles, yet relative to its miniscule size, there’s an awful lot to see and do. Like a Danish Disneyland, the town is littered with Danish-style architecture that gracefully showcases the traditions of this peaceful Nordic nation.

The Danish and American flags side by side in Solvang's city center

photography by: SolvangUSA

Take a stroll through the village center

Before you do anything in particular, spend some time just wandering down the quaint streets of Solvang’s center. The streets are lined with half-timbered buildings finished with wood-shingled roofs that will make you question your true whereabouts. The colorful and vibrant shop fronts are the perfect places to capture a unique selfie, and the smell emanating from Mortensen’s bakery is insanely enticing. Strolling aimlessly through Solvang’s center helps you get your bearings before deciding what to do.

The town's mind-boggling architecture

photography by: Ansel Adams

The Old Mission Santa Inés

Before Solvang became a Danish town, the land was settled by the Spanish. The Old Mission Santa Inés is one of more than twenty missions that were built in California between 1769 and 1836, and you can enjoy a self-guided tour through the old church and the associated grounds. Within, you can see many original manuscripts that have been used throughout the mission’s history and learn about the years preceding Solvang’s establishment as a Danish settlement.

The verdant garden of Santa Inés

photography by: Sarah Stierch

Wine Tasting

You might not associate Denmark with fine wine. However, Solvang has developed an excellent reputation for its nearby vineyards, and Santa Barbara County more broadly is home to more than three hundred wineries. In Solvang, you can choose from one of twenty wine tasting rooms, sampling the various grapes that are grown nearby, before picking up a bottle of your favorite to take home as a souvenir.

A wine tasting in one of Solvang's bars

photography by: b r e n t

The Replica of the Little Mermaid Statue

One of Copenhagen’s most visited sites is the statue of the Little Mermaid. In Solvang, you can visit a replica of the statue, which is roughly half the size of the original one in the Danish Capital, and made from bronze. It was erected in 1976 by Earl and Dolores Peterson and sits atop a large stone structure amidst a fountain. Just like you wouldn’t visit Copenhagen without checking out Edvard Eriksen’s original, you shouldn’t visit Solvang without viewing this intriguing replica.

Solvang's replica of the famous Little Mermaid

photography by: Steven Miller

Where to Eat

When you’re walking around Solvang, you won’t be able to resist the various scents coming from the independent eateries dotted all over town. As you would expect from a Danish village, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to sweet treats and pastries, but you can also enjoy hearty Scandinavian cuisine at the same time.

A small part of Solvang's ample dining scene

photography by: Rafał Próchniak

Mortensen’s Bakery

If you want to indulge on melt-in-the-mouth, freshly baked Danish pastries, look no further than Mortensen’s Bakery. With an extensive menu that can be enjoyed at any time of the day, the waffles are a particular local favorite if you’re looking for a recommendation.

Mortensen's Bakery

Bit O’Denmark

If you wish to gorge on a hearty Danish food, head to Bit O’Denmark and take your pick from their Danish-inspired menu. Located in Solvang’s oldest building, the charm of the restaurant is almost as noteworthy as the food served within. The restaurant’s two most popular dishes are the Danish pork meatballs and roast pork with apples, two of Denmark’s signature delicacies.

Bit O’Denmark's entrance sign

photography by: Rafał Próchniak

Solvang Restaurant

If you’re visiting with family and friends who might not share your enthusiasm for Danish food, opt for a meal at Solvang Restaurant. They have a classic American selection of burgers and sandwiches to accompany their Danish offerings, including creamed herring and pan-fried meatballs. Be sure to also try the aebleskiver, a traditional Danish dessert that’s like a donut/pancake hybrid.

Aebleskiver, a traditional Danish desert sold in Solvang Restaurant

Copenhagen Sausage Garden

This Danish/German infusion is the ideal place to go to enjoy the simple delights of beer and sausage. With an extensive and interesting menu that includes currywurst and goat’s cheese sausage, it’s a great venue to have a snack while sipping an ice-cold European lager.

How to Get There

Solvang is at the heart of Santa Barbara County and is easy to access from pretty much anywhere in the state of California. From downtown L.A., it’s approximately a 2 ½ hour trip north on US 101. From San Francisco, travel south on the same route for approximately 295 miles.


Driving is perhaps the easiest way to get to Solvang, and you can benefit from the free parking all around town, so you won’t be stung by expensive meters when you arrive.


If you’re reliant on public transport, you can take an Amtrak bus from Santa Barbara, which takes around forty-five minutes. Buses run sixteen times weekly and follow various schedules, so be sure to plan your travel and overnight accommodation in advance.


If you’re flying from out of town, the closest airport is Santa Barbara, from where you can arrange a cab or bus to Solvang. It’s thirty miles south of town. Or, if you’re one of the lucky few to own your aircraft and want to travel in style, you can make use of the Santa Ynez Airport facility, which is just five miles south of Solvang.

Road 154 on the outskirts of Solvang

photography by: Rafał Próchniak