Velkommení to Solvang for the holidays

Nov 29, 2016
Velkommení to Solvang for the holidays

Velkommen’ to Solvang for the holidays

By Kathy Strong, Going My Way

This holiday, hop on the Christmas Lights & Sights Trolley Tour that takes riders on a journey to view festive décor throughout Santa Ynez Valley.(Photo: Courtesy)

Considered one of the most “European” cities in North America, tiny Solvang ensconced in winery-rich Santa Ynez Valley is more than a parody of a Danish village—it is the authentic experience.

The town was founded by a group of Danes in search of a better lifestyle, and everything from its Old World architecture to its mouth-watering pastries and celebrations bring the Scandinavian culture to light.

Julefest all month

The city hosts the celebratory Danish Days in the fall, however, the Julefest holiday festival has earned Solvang the honor of being one of the “Most Christmassy Towns in America” by Time magazine. This year’s celebration will fill the streets, parks, restaurants and shops with holiday cheer from December 1 through January 6. The theme, “Celebrate Together,” will roll out “Shop, Mingle & Jingle Weekends,” a Holiday Wine & Beer Walk, a Julefest Parade with more than 300 celebrants, a Christmas Lights & Sights Trolley Tour that takes passengers on a journey to view the best of holiday décor throughout Solvang and Santa Ynez Valley. On January 6, the festivities end with the Annual Christmas Tree Burn in the fields of Old Mission Santa Inés when residents are invited to bring their trees to be added to the burn pile that will literally “ignite” the New Year. For event details, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.

One of the most "European" cities in North America, Solvang offers an authentic Danish village experience. (Photo: Courtesy)

Windmills and aebleskivers

The name “solvang” means “sunny field” in Danish, which perfectly describes the agrarian area that surrounds the town. The quaint, walkable village, known for its windmills that catch the first morning rays, roofs topped with “lucky storks” and Denmark’s national symbol of the Little Mermaid, is a short pastoral drive away from the smaller, frontier-style communities of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, Buellton and Los Alamos.

Park your car and wander the pedestrian-friendly village, offering quaint shops offering one-of-a-kind artisan Scandinavian gifts and take a trolley ride on the historic wooden streetcar. One of the main pastimes in Solvang is savoring its food, from signature Scandinavian fare to more cutting-edge cuisine. Definitely give in the temptation of the local Danish bakeries, such as the famed Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery or stop by The Solvang Restaurant famous for delectable aebleskiver—Danish pancake balls swathed in raspberry jam and topped with powdered sugar. Danish smorgasbords delight with meatballs, sausage, red cabbage and open-face sandwiches. Beyond traditional dishes, you will also find some cutting-edge wine-country fare at a few newer bistros such as Root 246, featuring organic, local cuisine paired with local vintages; First & Oak at the Mirabelle Inn; or Bacon & Brine, helmed by Food Network’s Chef Pink.

If you don’t have time to traverse the surrounding countryside’s wine trails, you can still taste the best of the local vineyard bounty in several in-town tasting rooms, such as The Wandering Dog Wine Bar that always serves up some “under-the-radar” Central Coast labels.

Beyond Solvang

Solvang is an ideal central touring location for all points in the Santa Ynez Valley. In just a couple of days you can sample the diversity of the valley and take in a bounty of roadside fruit stands along the way. Six communities and, within them, six distinct personalities dot the oak-studded valley. Famous residences from the late Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch to President Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo have brought some notoriety to the area. But, it was the 2004 movie “Sideways” that put the local, prestige wine industry on the map, capturing the area’s rural allure imbued with ample sophisticated pleasures.

There are a few must-sees, none more engrossing than the Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch on Alamo Pintado Road, on the way from Solvang to the Victorian-western towns of Los Olivos and Ballard. Eye candy for kids of all ages, Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch is one of the largest miniature horse facilities on the West Coast. About the size of a German Shepard, these fully grown petite ponies romp, graze and play on the 20-acre state-of-the-art breeding facility. Originally bred in Europe in the 1600s as pets for royalty, the horses were imported to the United States in the 1930s to work the coal mines. Today, the miniature creatures have come full circle and are bred as pets. An added plus is Quicksilver’s location set along a verdant wine tasting and apple-picking route between Solvang and Los Olivos. Open every day but Sunday, visitors are welcome to stop by. (www.qsminis.com)

The tiny township of Santa Ynez near Solvang, just off Highway 246, is an authentic slice of the old west. Set in the heart of horse country, its main downtown streets feature 375 horseshoes embedded in the pavement. Stroll along the historic Horseshoe Walkway to the Maverick Saloon, a colorful watering hole with live entertainment populated by local wranglers. The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum & Carriage House along here offers eight rooms filled with local history, from the Chumash Indians through 20th-century ranching days.

Velkommení to Solvang for the holidays

The abutting towns of Los Olivos and Ballard serve up rustic charm with in-town tasting rooms, a handful of art galleries and a few inns. Make sure you stop for lunch in the area, at well-known bistro such as Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café or Sides Hardware and Shoes—just a few steps from the town’s famous flag pole.

Explore the oak-studded valley around Solvang on horseback. (Photo: Courtesy)

Explore the wineries

Gourmet decadence sums up a day of touring and tasting the best of Santa Ynez Valley’s wine country tasting rooms—especially when you pair your last sips with gourmet cupcakes laced with mango Chardonnay or blackberry Syrah. Wine tasting tours abound in the valley that now holds more than 120 boutique wineries cradled within 23,000 acres draped in lush vines and oaks.

Solvang is nestled in Santa Ynez Valley's wine country with more than 120 boutique wineries cradled within 23,000 acres. (Photo: Courtesy)

Several tour companies will take the driving and tasting out of the equation, but one tour offered by Santa Barbara Adventure Company, which specializes in bike and kayak adventures, has added its own brand of wine tasting excitement with the opportunity to pair cupcakes with wines.

Santa Barbara Adventure’s air-conditioned van with knowledgeable guide picks up guests at Santa Barbara and valley hotels. The tour makes stops at several wine tasting and vineyard spots, pausing along the way for a deli picnic lunch on winery grounds, until the cupcake grand finale. A final stop at a wine tasting room in Los Olivos is the ultimate in decadent tasting—six miniature cupcakes paired with prestige boutique wines. www.sbadventureco.com

Daniel Boone stay

The late Fess Parker, a staple in Santa Barbara County for decades, left us two prime hotels in the area and a winery to celebrate his coonskin hat legacy. The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa in Los Olivos is tucked along the downtown street that is lined with quaint bistros and equestrian and wine-themed shops. The inn is the perfect complement to the rural roots of the area. The resort, named after the former owner and tall Texan first graced the studios of 20th century Fox as Daniel Boone, carries the frontier theme further with a tour that pairs a horseback ride with wine tasting. Vino Vaqueros is a unique way to explore and taste at the Fess Parker ranch and vineyard. (www.fessparkerinn.com) (www.vinovaqueros.com)

Follow “Going My Way” on twitter@KathyStrong2.

Posted in Featured Articles.