25 Things to Do in Solvang, California’s Little Denmark

Yes, Copenhagen is incredible. But if you can’t get yourself out to Denmark anytime soon, there are all kinds of things to do in Solvang, California, that will scratch that whimsical itch.

Solvang sits quite delightfully in central California’s beautiful Santa Ynez Valley and is pretty legit as a Danish alternative within the United States.

As someone who has actually been to both, I can confirm that Solvang is very cute.

Intrigued already? Check out this guide to things to do in Solvang, California’s Little Denmark. 

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Is Solvang, CA, worth visiting?

Solvang is absolutely worth visiting. The city of Solvang makes for excellent Santa Barbara day trips, as there’s enough here to fill a full day. 

With more time, you’d be able to explore more of the Santa Ynez Valley and wine country, or putter around the sites of Santa Barbara proper and greater Santa Barbara County.

The Old Mission Santa Barbara or outdoor pursuits like the Nojoqui Falls park and the Santa Ynez River are all highlights if you’ve got more time.

Solvang itself, though, is well worth the trip, if only for all of those dang sweets as one of the top things to do in Solvang, CA.

Delicious bakery treats, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California

Can you do a day trip to Solvang?

You can do a day trip to Solvang if you’re staying in Santa Barbara. It’s just 45 minutes from Santa Barbara to Solvang. Day trips from Los Angeles are also doable, but it really depends where you’re starting from and the traffic that day.

It could take you two hours from Los Angeles or it could take up to three hours, in which case a Solvang day trip sounds less fun.

You’ll need a car to do any of that, though. I typically use sites like Hotwire or Priceline to find the best deals on car rentals, as I’m not loyal to any one company.

Best Things to Do in Solvang, California

There will be a lot of indulging on your visit to Solvang as you’ll see in my highlights below. Just put a pair of stretchy pants on and go with it.

You won’t regret it.

Interested in a map of all of these fun spots I’ll mention here on your California trip? Click on the link below:

GIMME THAT SOLVANG ATTRACTIONS MAP!

1. Start on Mission Drive.

Mission Drive, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

What is the main street in Solvang? Mission Drive is the main street in Solvang, but don’t ignore all of the little offshoots that offer up their own wonder if you give them some attention. There are all kinds of little nooks to explore on a walking tour of your own making.

2. Find your favorite Solvang bakery.

A well-stocked bakery, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California

Solvang travel is food travel, and any town that purports to be of European inspiration has to be host to some delicious pastries. 

Kick things off with a visit to Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery. Kringle and danishes, strudel and crispy waffles…it’s all fresh and delicious and some of the best food in Solvang.

Brian had a princess waffle that was actually two waffles with a filling in the middle, dipped in chocolate. Yes, he felt like a royal while eating it.

If you’re feeling like treating yourself, they sell butter cookies by the bucket, but as you’re likely just starting your day, you may want to save that purchase for later.

Want to do a taste test of your own making? Mortensen’s Danish Bakery and The Solvang Bakery are two more popular options in town. The second is known for its gingerbread if you’re looking for things to do in Solvang at Christmas.

3. Save room for pancakes.

A plate of pancakes, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California
Photo courtesy of Paula’s Pancake House.

If you’re up for a more substantial breakfast, Paula’s Pancake House is Solvang’s most popular option.

They have a variety of traditional American fare, but if you want to get traditional Danish about it, you’ll want to try their (self-proclaimed) WORLD FAMOUS pancakes. 

The Paula’s Pancake Special involves two large, thin Danish pancakes topped with warm cinnamon apples, blueberries, or strawberries and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. 

4. Don’t forget the aebleskiver.

A plate of aebleskiver, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

When I was telling people I was visiting Solvang for the day, they’d ask me one thing first: “Are you going to try aebleskiver?” 

The Danish pancake ball, dusted aggressively with powdered sugar and served with raspberry jam, deserves its own category. I’m not one for sweets, but I am one to try what towns are known for. It’s aebleskiver, or æbleskiver, in Solvang.

I mean, it’s sweet as heck. It’s not really my thing. Would I do it again?

Probably.

You’ll even find these on appetizer menus throughout town as if it’s not a dessert. Whatever pleases you while in Solvang is what you should do. 

Fun fact: The name of this sweet treat means “apple slices,” but that doesn’t really come to fruition in Solvang. The variety there and in most modern versions of aebleskiver aren’t filled at all. As far as where they come from, popular legend suggests it was the Vikings that created these spherical wonders first.

We had our aebleskiver at the Solvang Restaurant, a great lunch spot if you’re interested, too.

5. Count the windmills.

A whimsical windmill, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

There are five windmills to be found while in Solvang, and four are within four blocks of each other. These are mostly just decorative, but they only add to the ambiance of this Danish-style village.

You’ll likely come across the windmills within the center of town just by exploring Solvang, but if you want to see the most well-known, start at the Solvang Windmill next door to the Solvang Bakery.

You’ll know it by the tourists in the median taking its photo from afar.

Note: It bears mentioning that you should watch out for distracted drivers if you’re one of those distracted photographers in the median.

6. Meet the mermaid.

The mermaid statue, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

The Little Mermaid Fountain is a rite of passage on anyone’s visit to Solvang, so you may as well head over and snap your pics.

She’s about half the size of the original she’s going for, a sculpture in Copenhagen that tourists flock to from around the world from sculptor Edvard Eriksen.

This mini-mermaid may look surly, but she’s the only replica of the Copenhagen original that has been approved by the original sculptor’s family. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.

7. Do some window shopping.

Window shopping, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

I honestly don’t know how all of these places are staying in business, but here they are, selling fancy rabbits dressed as butlers and any manner of Danish tchotchkes and year-round Christmas decorations.

Highlights while shopping in Solvang include the bookshops. Head over to The Book Loft for your favorite Scandinavian literature.

If you’re here for the aforementioned Christmas decorations, Jule Hus is your joint. Treat your tree to something special this year.

For those looking for something unique to bring back to friends at home, gift shops abound. Rasmussen’s and Edelweiss are legit options.

8. Shop for local goodies at the Solvang Farmers Market.

If you’re lucky enough to be there on a Wednesday, the weekly Solvang Farmers Market offers fresh produce to get your health back on track after an otherwise indulgent day. Find it in Downtown Solvang on the 400 Block of First Street.

9. Eat like a Viking.

A platter of Nordic food, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California

At least eat like a Nordic local while you’re dining in Solvang. Our pick was the Solvang Restaurant, already mentioned here for their well-known variety of aebleskiver.

They had creamed herring as an appetizer, which I had to investigate as a Pole and lover of pickled herring. It was pretty great. 

The eatery is also known for its open-faced sandwiches, a plate of four little-ish sandwiches on a thin slice of pumpernickel.

Brian got the creamy peas on ham from that one. 

Note: If you’re into the movie Sideways, keep your eyes peeled for the booth featured in that movie’s breakfast scene. We inadvertently sat right in front of it, all delighted by our fortune.

The Bit O’ Denmark Restaurant is another local favorite if you’re looking for traditional cuisine among Solvang restaurants. Meat eaters won’t want to miss the roast duck.

10. Try on a clog.

A woman poses with a clog, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California.

The real clogs you’ll find at the Solvang Shoe Store are pretty expensive for what I’d consider a novelty item in my current lifestyle, so I’m mostly talking about the giant red clog that sits in front of the shop.

Many Instagram photos have been snapped here, including my own. Also, calling the shoe giant is a little bit generous.

It’s a large clog, certainly, but maybe more of a ladies’ size 6 or 7 on a giant’s scale.

11. Go on a mission.

A historic mission, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California
Photo courtesy of NNehring.

By mission I mean the Old Mission Santa Inés, one of 21 original missions built across the state starting in the 1700s. This one was founded in 1804. 

Take a self-guided tour of the church and gardens on all but Sundays from 10am-2:30pm. There is a small admission fee.

Want to see more of the town’s historic churches? 

The Bethania Lutheran Church is also striking and built in the Danish style of churches. If you step inside, you’ll see a wooden ship hanging from the nave, or the center of the church.

12. See the Round Tower.

The Round Tower, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California
Photo courtesy of Jack N. Mohr.

The 17th-century Round Tower in Copenhagen is an important historical stop in the Danish city as the oldest observatory still functioning in Europe.

The Round Tower in Solvang is a third of the size of the original, but I’m sure you can use your imagination, especially when you hear that it’s actually home to a pizza place.

The pizza shop is called Tower Pizza, and no, it’s not leaning. Solvang is nothing if not a fun time.

13. Look up at the town clock tower.

A clock tower, one of the best things to do in Solvang
Photo courtesy of Backyard Productions.

The town’s clock tower isn’t the same as the Round Tower, although some confuse the two. Both are scenic sites you shouldn’t miss.

The clock and bell tower, another replica of a similar site in Copenhagen, chimes holiday songs during the Christmas season.

14. Take a walk in Hans Christian Andersen Park.

Looking for free things to do in Solvang? Hans Christian Andersen Park is all whimsy as soon you enter through the castle-like archway.

Admire the shady oak trees, hang out in the picnic areas or just have yourself a moment of quiet, as you’re unlikely to find many of the tourists from Mission Drive here.

For those wearing appropriate footwear, a dirt path will take you deeper into the park

If you time things right and the nearby school just let out, you may spot some kids in the skate park.

Ah, the confidence of youth!

Sunny Fields Park just east of all the action is another option for outdoor activities if you’re looking for things to do in Solvang with family. That one has a castle-themed playground that sounds like a good time if you’re a five-year-old or into fantasy role-play games.

15. Grab a few more sweets for the road.

Outside a fudge shop, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California

You’re likely not hungry in the slightest at this point, but you can’t leave Solvang without a few more sweets.

Head to the Old Danish Fudge Kitchen for, expectedly, some fudge. You really can’t go wrong in here, and they have milk, white, and dark chocolate varieties at reasonable prices.

Need more options? I feel you. Here are a few more dessert options:

  • The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a good option for more varieties of chocolate just in case you need to supplement that bag of fudge.
  • The Swedish Candy Factory is known for its Polkagris, a Swedish candy stick. They’re the only bakery that makes the Polkagris sticks within the United States, and they come in a variety of flavors.
  • The Solvang Trolley Ice Cream Parlor serves up 20 different flavors of McConnell’s for your pleasure. It’s a must-do in Solvang during the summertime.
  • Solvang Flavors across the street from the Old Danish Fudge Kitchen serves up delicious gelato. They also have a great wine list if you’re in the mood.

16. Visit a Solvang winery.

Sorry, beer fans. Solvang is a wine town. Finding a wine tasting while in Solvang’s CBD isn’t a difficult task, unless you’re seeking one specific winery as we were.

We wanted to try Caravintas Winery, as they’re known not only for their wines but their philanthropic efforts with local animal organizations.

Alas, they were still observing winter hours in the springtime, so we had to continue onward. Sometimes even websites aren’t accurate, so have a backup plan for wine bars in town!

Luckily, there are over 20 downtown Solvang tasting rooms to choose from while you’re here. It’s a preferred activity for things to do in Solvang at night.

Our eventual pick within the Solvang CBD was Royal Oaks, which specializes in sweeter varieties that are reminiscent of your childhood juice boxes.

Those aren’t my words, by the way. It was right there in the descriptions.

Wine tasting, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California

Interested in a few more options? Check these out:

  • Cali Love Wine: Experience one part guitar museum and two parts delicious wine at this one. Be warned that karaoke may be expected if you enter.
  • Casa Cassara Winery & Vineyard: The family-owned operation has been growing grapes since 1992. Enjoy one of their bold reds or crisp whites on their back patio.
  • Crawford Family Wines: The folks at Crawford Family Wines here have adopted the garagiste style of winemaking. While that’s literally translated to “garage wine,” the focus here is more on small batches.
  • Sanger Wines Tasting Room: An added bonus at this one is their olive oil. Enjoy an olive oil tasting alongside your wine for the ultimate in fancy experiences.
  • Toccata Tasting Room: Toccata prides itself on approachable wines that offer easy pairings no matter what you’re making for dinner. Focus your efforts on any of their “fun wines” to get a taste for yourself.

Fun fact: To get in on the annual harvest, plan a trip during the Solvang Stump. Work for that wine by stomping some grapes. There’s also live music and great dance party potential at this event if you’re not so into foot stuff.

17. Take a trip to Santa Ynez Valley wine country.

A woman at a tasting, one of the top things to do in Solvang, California

If you’re here for wine, there are so many options just outside of downtown Solvang. I’m not even talking about day trips. You can be at some of these within minutes.

Here are a few favorites from my own trip to the Santa Ynez Valley:

  • Blackjack Ranch Vineyards: The name of the game here is Bordeaux. Try their take on the bold reds just five miles north of Solvang.
  • Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyards: Come for the wine and stay for everything else that’s grown here, like seasonal vegetables and fruit orchards, just three miles north of Solvang.
  • Roblar Winery & Vineyards: Sip those crisp whites in a playful environment with its own horse parking, just five miles north of Solvang.
  • Rusack Vineyards: The patio at Rusack was made for picnics. Head about four miles north of Solvang for one of the most picturesque wineries you’ll visit on your Santa Ynez wine tour.
  • Sunstone Winery: Just four miles east of Solvang, the outdoor area at Sunstone resembles a French villa, which I’m all about.

If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a designated driver, there are a number of tours you can book that promise delightful wine times for those seeking things to do in Solvang for couples or gal pals.

Here are a few options:

More Solvang, CA, Things to Do

We had ourselves a busy day in Solvang, but that doesn’t mean we got to everything there is to see here. Check out some more ideas for things to do in Solvang this weekend.

  1. Get a primer on the history of Solvang at the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art. The building this one sits in is adorably Scandinavian, so it’s worth a peek just for the exterior.
  2. See amber from 80 million years ago (seriously) at the Solvang Amber Museum. This one is inspired by a larger museum of its type in Copenhagen.
  3. View the private collection of local Virgil Elings at the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. The vintage motorcycles and race bikes on display here date back to 1910.
  4. Visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. This small exhibition above The Book Loft hosts some of the famous author’s works, including perhaps his most famous, the dark original version of The Little Mermaid.
The Book Loft, one of the best things to do in Solvang, California
Photo courtesy of The Book Loft.
  1. Learn about all things nature at the Wildling Museum of Art & Nature. Rotating exhibits explore the natural offerings of the local community and beyond. Don’t miss the giant oak tree mural on the second floor.
  2. Take in a show at the Solvang Festival Theater. The theater hosts musical performances from artists across genres and theater shows in their outdoor venue. It’s a must for theater fans seeking what to do in Solvang, California.
  3. Celebrate fall at Danish Days. This fall heritage festival celebrates all things Danish. You’ll see folk dancing, live music, parades, and eat even more Danish treats than you did on your Solvang day trip.
  4. Plan a Christmas trip to Solvang for Solvang Julefest. This holiday event proves that Solvang is indeed one of the Most Christmassy Towns in America, a title bestowed upon Solvang by Time Magazine.

What to Do in Solvang, CA: FAQs

How many hours do you need in Solvang?

You need at least three hours in Solvang to enjoy downtown Solvang, get some sweet treats, and enjoy a sit-down meal. A full day in Solvang will give you more options, including taking advantage of one of the many wine-tasting rooms in town.

Is Solvang a Danish or Dutch town?

Solvang is a Danish town. It was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911 who were escaping Midwestern winters. The name of the town means “sunny field” in Danish. Expect authentic Danish architecture, foods, and replicas of what you might see in cities abroad like Copenhagen.

What are things to do in Solvang during Christmas?

Things to do in Solvang during Christmas include participating in Solvang Julefest, visiting Santa’s Village, and enjoying the holiday decorations. Enjoying the holiday ambiance is one of the best things to do in Solvang in December.

Is Solvang a walkable city?

Solvang is a very walkable city, especially if you stick to downtown Solvang and the main historic village. You’ll likely need a car to get to Solvang from where you’re starting from or to get out of the city for wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley.

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding free parking in town. There are several free public parking lots on top of free spots along the street.

Where to Stay in Solvang

We visited Solvang from our accommodations in Santa Barbara, but if you’d like to spend more time in Solvang, there are many options for lodging to keep you near all of the action. Use the map below to peruse both hotels and apartment-style listings in Solvang:

What are some fun things to do in Solvang, California?

Some fun things to do in Solvang, California, including indulging in Danish pastries at any of the local bakeries, taking a scenic stroll through town to take in the unique architecture and windmills, and wine tasting in the town’s tasting rooms.

While Solvang won’t ever be Europe, it is very charming, especially if you’re interested in ticking things off your California bucket list.

Ready for the Solvang Danish Village?

Your Flight: I use a variety of tools to find cheap airfare, but if you’re looking to book during a particular period of time, especially during busy times (e.g. school breaks), you should use Skyscanner.

It’s a great tool for when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc.

For Solvang things to do, you’ll want to fly into either Los Angeles for the best chance at budget flights or Santa Barbara for proximity. From there, you’ll need to rent a car to get to the Danish town. We visited on a weekend getaway from San Diego, but it’s about four hours and 30 minutes from there.

For adventurous folks who travel on the reg, I also subscribe to Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights. You’ll get cheap flight deals from your home base straight to your inbox

Your Accommodations: Scroll up for my tips on where to stay in Solvang from Booking.com and Vrbo. Hotels.com is a great hotel comparison tool, and Hostelworld is good for budget travelers.

Etc.: For general travel goodies, visit my Favorite Things page. For more information on planning your travel, visit my Travel Tools page.

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Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is the creator of Travel on the Reg, a travel/humor blog for regular people who travel in a regular fashion. She has been to 50/50 U.S. states and explored 30+ countries, most often as a digital nomad. She's all about sharing the honest truth about travel, real experiences, and all the quirky stuff about her favorite (and not so favorite) places.

8 thoughts on “25 Things to Do in Solvang, California’s Little Denmark”

  1. I had never heard of this town (New England native), but I’m adding it to our road trip list from LA to San Francisco, it looks like a lot of fun!

  2. I love towns that are full of European inspiration! This looks super charming and like there’s a ton to experience! Especially perfect for right now when international travel isn’t really an option!

  3. Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities ever, so I’m loving that this town kind of resembles it! Definitely going on my USA bucket list.

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