In the 20-plus years I’ve called California home, I’ve heard Solvang thrown out there more than once, but had never been. My husband has entertaining memories of being dragged.. I mean taken.. antiquing with his parents when he was a kid. So when a family get-together looked to drop us in the center of the Danish tradition-based town, a family-friendly challenge was born.
Solvang, which means "sunny field" in Danish, was founded 101 years ago. As the city grew, Danish architecture and traditions stuck, creating a little, fairly commercial slice of Northern Europe, about a half an hour north of Santa Barbara.
My typical internet research didn’t return exactly promising results for visiting with kids. This was going to be one of those trips where we’d be making some of it up as we went along.
Solvang’s a good place to introduce the kids to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It’s much smaller than the one in Copenhagen, Denmark, but Solvang has its own Little Mermaid bronze sculpture that welcomes visitors as they come into town. It's just one of many ways California’s Little Denmark pays tribute to one of its adopted own.
Less than a block away you’ll find the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. Born in Denmark, Andersen wrote more than 150 tales including The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina and The Emperor’s New Clothes. The museum is located on the second floor of The Book Loft bookstore. It’s tiny, so you’ll be in and out in no time.
If you’ve got some energy, take a spin on a colorful, four-wheeled surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals. You can pile the whole family on and get the lay of the land in no time. Rolling beats walking anytime! A colorful map in the front of the surrey will help you find your way.
Hungry yet? Solvang is not a good place for a diet. There are Danish bakeries on almost every corner serving up pastries, kringles and almonds rings, just to name a few baked goodies. Or try Aebleskivers, a Danish dessert that’s kind of like a warm circular pancake, served with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. If you haven’t hit sugar overload yet, Ingeborg’s is known for hand-made Danish chocolate and its old fashioned ice cream and soda fountain.
Grab all your goodies and head for Solvang Park. The small triangular stretch of green is a great place to sit and relax, or roll around in the grass. You can’t miss the bronze statue of Andersen at the end of the shady park.
Mission Santa Inés
Every fourth grade student in California studies the Missions established along El Camino Real. Get some homework out of the way early and stop at Old Mission Santa Inés. Headed out of town toward Santa Barbara, the Mission is walking distance from downtown Solvang. It’s worth the short trip, even if you’re not a history buff. Built in 1804, it’s number 19 in the string of 21 Missions. With incredible views of the Santa Ynez River Valley and the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges, it’s easy to understand why the site was chosen more than 200 years ago.