Get A Taste Of Denmark In Solvang, California

Traveling around Europe is a dream for many, but it can be pricey to get there and take a long time, and nobody likes to experience jet lag. Fortunately, it turns out that you can basically visit parts of Europe while you're in the United States. For example, we have Frankenmuth, known as Michigan's Little Bavaria after having been declared a mission colony by a Bavarian Lutheran priest. There, you can find beautiful Bavarian architecture and, of course, yummy German food.

Lindsborg, Kansas aka Little Sweden USA was founded by Swedish immigrants, and the small town in the Smoky Valley of Kansas holds Swedish-inspired events during the year, like Midsommar, and you'll see the symbol of the town, the traditional Dala Horse toy, per Hemslöjd. Vail, Colorado draws direct inspiration from Zermatt in Switzerland, according to Vail Daily.

And in California, one town in Santa Barbara County has held onto its Danish heritage, making it perfect as a European getaway while staying in the US.

Solvang became known as a Danish destination in 1947

Solvang is a picturesque town approximately a 50-minute drive from Santa Barbara that celebrates its Danish heritage. In 1911, three Danish men who were living in Iowa bought land in the Santa Ynez Valley, and named it Solvang, which means "sunny fields", according to the Santa Barbara Independent. It was the first Danish settlement in California, and the Danish-style architecture that can be seen throughout the town still today started with the Lutheran Church built in 1928, per the City of Solvang.

While Solvang has always been proud of its Danish heritage, it wasn't until the 1940s that the town really leaned into the quaint Danish village vibe, per Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau. And an article in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1947 about Solvang called "Little Denmark" solidified that idea, which has persisted ever since, according to Santa Ynez Valley News. The town was described as "a spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California's charming Santa Ynez Valley."

Many decades later, that description still applies, and over 1 million people visit the town each year.

The windmills help give Solvang its old world feel

One clear sign of Danish heritage and inspiration in Solvang is the windmills you can see around town. While their forebears in Denmark were used to help harness wind energy to make flour, the windmills in downtown Solvang are primarily decorative. Several of them were specifically built to help bring tourists to the town in the 1950s and 1960s, and they definitely play a large part in giving the town its unique charm, per Santa Ynez Valley Star.

You can even check out the town's very first windmill, built in 1922 for function and not just for decor. Called Wulff's Windmill and on Fredensborg Canyon Road, it was renovated in 2019 after having been named a County Historical Landmark in 1980, notes Santa Ynez Valley Star.

Another iconic Danish building was also reproduced in town: the Round Tower. One-third the size of its namesake 17th-century tower in Copenhagen, Solvang's Round Tower is home to a pizza restaurant, per Rundetaarn.

Solvang's Danish Days is an annual three-day festival

Here are some can't-miss spots in the charming town. Downtown has bakeries serving traditional Danish pastries, like stroopwafels and Kringle slices. And Bit O' Denmark has been serving tasty Danish and American food since 1963. Learn about the area's history at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art.

In Denmarket Square, you can see a reproduction of The Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, per Mermaids of Earth. Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is also honored at the small museum that bears his name above The Book Loft.

And you may recognize the town from the 2004 movie "Sideways," via Solvang Conference & Visitor Bureau. Set in California wine country, visitors can stop by some of the filming locations.

If you want to go all-in on some Danish excitement, make sure to visit in September for Solvang Danish Days. The free three day-event has parades, concerts, axe-throwing, beer and wine gardens, and plenty of traditional Danish costumes.

Explore wants to acknowledge that this is the traditional territory of the Chumash, Inseño, Shmuwich (Barbareño).