The 1989 movie Field of Dreams is the story of a farmer in Iowa who, when out in his field, hears voices whispering to him to build a baseball diamond and “they will come.”
Founded in 1911 following a purchase of 9,000 acres at $40 per acre, Solvang, a faux Copenhagen town, feigns a trip to Denmark, minus the cost, the flight and the passport.
Solvang, Danish for “sunny fields” and the last thing one would expect to find in Southern California, is indeed a Danish village. There it is, out in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley, a major California tourist attraction bringing in more than 1 million visitors per year.
Drawn by windmills, statues of Hans Christian Andersen, wooden-shoe shops, half-timbered houses, award-winning wineries, a 700-seat open-air Festival Theater, the nearby Chumash Casino Resort, the Elverhoj Museum preserving Danish heritage, a Vintage Motorcycle Museum, OstrichLand, and the historic La Purisima and Santa Ines Missions, Solvang is also a shopper’s paradise. Sidewalks lined with shops featuring gift items, home furnishings, authentic Danish dresses and wine tastings are everywhere. Yes, it’s a "T-shirt and fudge" kind of place with a bakery at every corner.
A Solvang specialty, medisterpolse with aebleskiver, is translated as pancakes with apple slices. But that doesn’t do it justice! These are mouth-watering, light pancake/doughnut kinds of things with buttery warm sliced apples slithered over the top. Yum.
If you tire of pancakes and fudge, there are innumerable places to dine: Root 246 at Hotel Corque for farm to table cuisine in a sophisticated setting; Mortensen’s Danish Bakery for breakfast and lunch; Paula’s Pancake House — yes, I know I’m back on the pancake kick again, but don’t miss this local hangout complete with long lines; Panino for Euro sandwiches and fresh, imaginative salads; Succulent Café, a tiny spot creating enormous flavors; and The Hitching Post for barbecue steaks, prime rib and a chance to experience one of the main settings for the 2004 Oscar-winning movie Sideways.
A quick 10 to 15 minutes away from town are more choices: Trattoria Grappolo for a taste of Tuscany; The Vineyard House for alfresco dining; Mattei’s Tavern for excellent food and a glimpse into California’s past; Los Olivos Café for an outstanding selection of local wines and cuisine; Petros for authentic Greek dishes; and Maverick Saloon for man-sized drinks and Big Tom’s BBQ.
Solvang lodging ranges from luxury hotels to charming B&Bs. At the top of luxurious would be Hotel Corque, right in town with shuttle service to the Chumash Casino. For a more bucolic experience, you can’t beat the marvelous Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, a 10,000-acre private ranch and luxury resort. Hadsten House is a favorite updated motel close to in-town attractions, and Solvang Gardens is a boutique country inn about a mile out of town. In nearby Los Olivos, the new Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa delights with country ambiance and amenities.
“If you build it, they will come” proved to be true in Iowa, and it certainly holds true in Southern California. Hans Christian Andersen, aebleskiver, the Little Mermaid, windmills, half-timbered houses, waitresses in authentic Danish costumes and smorgaasbords await here in Solvang, where you will receive a hearty, “Velkommen.”
Who’d have thunk it?!