Tucked away in the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley, about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, is the charming village of Solvang, founded by Danish immigrants early in the 20th century. It is known for windmills and wineries amidst authentic Danish architecture such as thatched roofs and old-world craftsmanship, and presents Danish culture in dozens of European bakeries and shops. The Elverhoj Museum of History & Art explores the city’s Danish heritage through personal stories and photographs. Plus, the Old Mission Santa Ines, an early-1800s Franciscan church, stands adjacent to downtown and provides additional historical material.
Besides being named “The Most Christmassy Town in America” by Time Magazine, Solvang was labeled “One of the Most Magical Christmas Towns and Villages Across the World” by Oprah Daily. Many occasions are celebrated in Solvang, notably the Danish Days Festival in September, but none is more apropos than the Christmas season’s Julefest! While Solvang feels like Christmas all year round, Julefest brings the season to a fabulous finale. The month-long holiday event includes the Solvang Tree Lighting Ceremony, a Julefest Parade, Santa visits in Solvang Park, a “Nisse” Adventure of finding hidden Elves, Solvang Food Tours, Candlelight Tours and more! After last year’s highly modified version of the beloved annual event, “Solvang’s Julefest festivities are happily making a triumphant return this year.
The Julefest Tree Lighting Ceremony included ballerinas encircling the Solvang Christmas Tree plus live-entertainment and caroling in conjunction with lighting the tree. The following day brought back the famous Solvang Julesfest Parade, an exciting event that brings out many locals in festive formations and demonstrations; sometimes even including their livestock!
Saturdays throughout Julefest include town-wide Solvang Food Tours (led by the foodie and photo experts at “Eat This, Shoot That!”), and the popular evening Candlelight Tours, which have returned on select Saturday nights. Tickets for these events include holiday-themed refreshments and a VIP Santa meet and greet experience. Both tour options present the means to explore and experience Solvang on foot while enjoying the festivities.
Besides visiting Santa in Solvang Park’s Gazebo-turned-Santa’s-Workshop, once again the “Nisse” (Christmas Elves) have returned and hidden themselves throughout downtown Solvang. Participants can join in a city-wide hunt for these mysterious elves and check with the Visitors Center for information about prizes upon completion of the hunt.
Providing the backdrop for the magical celebration of Julesfest is the ambiance of everyday Solvang. The spirit of Christmas exists here all year long. From the charming, fairy-like toy stores to the dozens of boutique shops, the atmosphere is always enchanting.
When it comes time to eat, there are endless possibilities in Solvang! Besides the authentic Danish bill of fare such as Aebleskiver (a kind of pancake ball served with powdered sugar and raspberry syrup), Danish Sausage Medisterpolse (sweet Danish sausage filled with pork, garlic, ginger, onions, allspice and other seasonings), Danish Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs), and delicious Danish pastries of all kinds, there are plentiful wine tasting options from many of the 150 wineries in the valley. Elevated street cuisine includes locally-sourced fish tacos on hand-made tortillas, comforting ramen noodles, European-style pretzels and sausages, and Italian standbys. Elevated new-Californian fare is in the form of Michelin-honored menus, heritage grain sourdough loaves, limited edition cheese releases, locally-roasted coffees, exotic and familiar hand-bottled spice blends, and Tiki cocktails and craft beers.
There are more than 20 lodging options in Solvang where Scandinavian design meets Old World charm with interior courtyards and cozy communal spaces. Additionally, there are plenty of free parking options for locals and day-trippers. While walking around Solvang is very comfortable, don’t miss the fun of a “Family Surrey Cycle” adventure, with seats and pedals for six, or a relaxing and informative Trolley Tour behind two beautiful Belgian draft horses.
Surrounding Solvang are several fun and spectacular tourist options. There is the towering, classy Chumash Casino, just east of Solvang. A little beyond that is the beautiful Lake Cachuma, a fishing and camping paradise, nearly 5 miles long. If you take that route, Highway 154 (also called the Chumash Highway or the San Marcos Pass Road) toward Santa Barbara you will cross the Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge, the highest arch bridge in California, about 400 feet above the canyon floor. Continuing about 20 winding miles to get over the mountains and back down to Santa Barbara, the scenery becomes spectacular, as the view is the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands.
Traveling south out of Solvang on Alisal Road you pass cattle dotted pastures, then wind through moss-laden oak and sycamore groves, stunning as the sunlight flickers through. You might enjoy the pretty and public Nojoqui Park, with its 10-minute walk to a waterfall. This scenic route takes you briefly onto the Old Coast Highway and then onto the main Highway 101, south of the Buellton exit.
No matter how you go, or when you go, you will always enjoy Solvang. And don’t forget, it’s the “The Most Christmassy Town in America”! So, if you’re looking for some seasonal enjoyment for Christmas, go there in December and experience the magic of