18 Fun Things to Do in Solvang, CA: The Denmark dupe of America

Hamlet Square Windmill in Solvang, CA

Sometimes, you’re just itching for a trip to Europe but you don’t have the PTO or money to be able to book that round-trip flight. You’d be delighted to learn that there are a handful of European-inspired towns scattered across the US. Solvang is a small Danish village nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley of Central California. Their tagline is “Like Denmark…Only Closer” (I like to call Solvang America’s Denmark dupe).

I was fortunate enough to visit Copenhagen a few months ago, and it’s just so funny how I found myself in this little town that turned into a mecca for Danish immigrants since the early 20th century. Hell, there are even replicas of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue and Rundetårn! Unfortunately, there is no replica of Nyhavn 🙁

And if you’re wondering, yes, there is æbleskiver and smørrebrød in Solvang!

You’ll find that the main street where most of the restaurants, tasting rooms, and gift shops are on Copenhagen Drive. Funny, isn’t it?

Give yourself a night or two, and you’ll never run out of things to do in Solvang!

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Denmark Square in Solvang, CA

Solvang’s History

From the mid-19th to early 20th century, Danes emigrated to the U.S. due to the poor economy in Denmark (funny how that works, it’s completely the opposite today). Most of them lived in the Midwest, East Coast, and Utah, planting Danish Lutheran Churches and folk schools.

In 1911, three Danish immigrants from the Midwest purchased 9,000 acres of land near Old Mission Santa Ynez for around $75,000. Originally, they were planning on settling in San Francisco, before they realized that the Central California coast had an abundance of land.

Since then, Solvang has been renowned as the Danish village of America. Danish Royalty has visited the town, from Prince Frederik and Princess Ingrid in 1939 to Princess Margarethe in 1960 (who then later returned as Queen Margarethe in 1976).

Today, Solvang attracts around 1 million tourists a year. Visitors get to experience European charm and hyggelig vibes without having to pay an arm and a leg to go to Europe (although I cannot recommend visiting Denmark enough; it’s now of my favorite destinations).

How to get to Solvang

Solvang is 2.5 hours north of Los Angeles, so you can take the LAX or Burbank Airports and drive on over!

But since Solvang is super near Santa Barbara, you might find it easier to fly into the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. It’s small with only one terminal, but that makes it easier to get out and avoid LA traffic. The downside is that not many airlines fly over there, and they mostly come from airports on the West Coast.

From SFO and Sacramento International Airports, Solvang is a 4–5 hour drive.

Solvang Trolley with horses

FAQ About Solvang, CA

What’s so special about Solvang?

You feel like you’ve stepped into Denmark without paying hundreds of dollars for a round-trip flight. Solvang is known as the “Danish Capital of the USA”. This quaint little town is walkable (like Denmark and most European cities) and filled with Danish restaurants, bakeries, and shops. There are even replicas of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue and Round Tower!

Where all the shops, restaurants, and action are, you are going to stroll down Copenhagen Drive. It is right smack dab in the center of Solvang. This includes The Copenhagen House, a building filled with Danish brands, Danish Mill Bakery, and Solvang Shoe Store (which sells clogs). Copenhagen Drive is also where Hamlet Square is, which contains even more shops and a windmill.

I highly recommend stopping by the Visitors’ Center off of Copenhagen Drive, which has a list of businesses and museums to support in Solvang. There are even magazines and brochures about Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez areas.

Is one day enough for Solvang?

One day in Solvang should get you to do, see, and eat almost everything since it’s such a small town. But to fully experience and immerse yourself, I highly recommend 2–3 days in Solvang. But if you are staying in Santa Barbara, then one day in Solvang should suffice.

Fun things to do in Solvang, CA

Wine tasting down the streets

Napa Valley isn’t the only wine central in California. Santa Ynez Valley is a certified American Viticultural Area (AVA), and its climate makes it the perfect region for growing and harvesting grapes. As a result, there are wineries and tasting rooms all around Solvang. Since it’s such a walkable town, you do not need to worry about driving should you plan on staying overnight!

Since Cecilio doesn’t drink, we usually don’t go to wineries and tasting rooms (I also feel guilty about making him wait for me outside). But this is a great activity for fellow vinos!

Ostrichland USA

While not technically within Solvang’s city limits, Ostrichland is just a few minutes away in the small town Buellton, CA. It’s a large ranch housing over 100 ostriches and emus. Ostrichland is like a zoo, overlooking the stunning Santa Ynez Mountains.

General admission to Ostrichland is $7, and an extra $1 if you want to feed the birds. Cecilio and I both decided to feed them, and that was when the staff handed us a bowl superglued to a dustpan giving us clear instructions on how to feed the ostriches and emus. You have to use both hands to hold the handle firmly, and not get too close to the ostriches, because they get pretty aggressive as you feed them. You don’t want to risk them taking your bowl away, or worse, pecking you (I’ve gotten pecked by my pet parakeets before, and it’s not fun. I can’t imagine being pecked by a beast 10 times my size).

Ostrichland USA
34 year old man feeding an ostrich at Ostrichland USA

It’s a cute and fun experience for couples and families! You might even see some gophers, as we did.


Elverhøj Museum of History & Art

Walk a few blocks away from the main streets of Copenhagen Drive, and you’ll end up in Solvang’s residential area. If you’re struggling to find Elverhøj Museum, you’re not alone. It blends into the neighboring houses, after all. In fact, it was a house converted into a museum. Elverhøj showcases the art, life, and culture of Danes.

Originally, the former Danish artist Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife, Martha Mott lived in what’s now the Elverhøj Museum.

The house was made in traditional Scandinavian fashion, with no nails used, hand-painted and stenciled panels, and wooden doors. Each room displays furniture and design mimicking life in 18th-century Denmark’s farmhouses. You’ll see a Danish coal-burning stove, æbleskiver pan, and a rullepolse (Danish deli pork seasoned with spices and salt) press.

Elverhøj Museum in Solvang

You’ll walk into a room with a model of the now-defunct Atterdag College, a Danish folk school, and Solvang’s beating heart of education and culture.

Diorama of Atterdag College

Step outside into the garden for a bit of fresh air or head to the shed and check out the diorama of Solvang and Santa Ynez.

The museum has a gift shop dedicated to all things Danish, Scandinavian, and hygge!

Admission to Elverhøj Museum is free, but a donation is always encouraged to keep it running.

Take photos in front of windmills

Is it really a mini Danish village without windmills? Well, Solvang houses six windmills, two of which are in residential areas. They are purely decorative, housing restaurants and cafes, but they add that old-town European charm and Instagrammable factor to your photos.

33 year old woman in front of Hamlet Square windmill in Solvang CA

Hans Christian Andersen Museum

As one of Denmark’s most famous authors, it’s no surprise that Solvang has a museum and park dedicated to him. You know him from his most famous pieces, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, Snow Queen (which inspired Disney’s Frozen), The Ugly Duckling, and The Princess and the Pea. It’s almost a replica of the original Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense, Denmark, his birthplace.

Olive Oil + Vinegar Tasting at Olive Press

If you’re like me and love to slather olive oil on everything (especially salads and pasta), you’re going to love Olive Press. The tasting is free, and Olive Press provides small paper cups where you can sip the different types of olive oil. There are different types of flavors, such as black (or white) truffle, garlic, basil, and garlic. Everything was so delicious, but the fat lingers in your mouth. That is where the Balsamic vinegar comes in.

On the other side of the store, there are tables of olive oil paired next to the perfect corresponding vinegar to cut through the fat and provide a hint of acid for balance. The bottles of vinegar were imported from Modena, Italy.

I’m usually not a fan of Balsamic vinegar as it is too tart for me, but I loved these kinds of vinegar. They had a bit of acid, but not too much. I never would’ve guessed that there were flavors of Balsamic vinegar such as vanilla, dark chocolate, honey, and espresso!

Olive oil tasting in Solvang CA
Olive press olive oils in Solvang, CA

Visit the Little Mermaid replica

Don’t worry if you can’t fly all the way to Copenhagen to see the iconic Little Mermaid bronze statue. Not many people are impressed by it (I personally enjoyed seeing her!). The replica is mounted on a fountain off Mission Drive and Alisal Road, a few streets away from Copenhagen Drive. It’s right next to a coffee shop and across the street from Hans Christian Andersen Museum.

The statue was sculpted and installed by Earl and Dolores Peterson in 1976 and is half the size of Copenhagen’s original.

Little Mermaid Replica in Solvang, CA

Shop (or window shop) your heart out

If you’re a shopper, you’ll be in for a treat in Solvang. There are cute consignment stores for women’s clothing such as The Clique. For the sweet tooth, grab yourself some candy or fudge from Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates, Swedish Candy Factory, or Old Fudge Danish Kitchen. You can even get yourself a pair of clogs from Solvang Shoe Store!

Off Copenhagen Drive lies The Copenhagen House, a building filled only with brands made in Denmark. This includes (but is not limited to) Lego, Pandora, and Bering.

And of course, you have to stop by the kitschy gift shops for a souvenir to take home!

gift shop in Solvang, CA

Catch a concert or show at Solvang Theaterfest

Solvang Theaterfest is an outdoor amphitheater that hosts concerts, plays, and other performances. They attract around 40,000 patrons a year. Right now they are undergoing renovation to update technical machines and parts, and to make the theater more ADA-compliant. You are free to learn more and/or donate here!

Visit the replica of Copenhagen’s Rundetårn (Round Tower)

The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen’s many replicas in Solvang. If you’ve ever visited Denmark’s capital, you’ve probably walked by (or visited) Rundetårn in Strøget. I got to visit the 17th-century Rundetårn, and reach the top for panoramic views of Copenhagen at 34.8 meters (114.17 feet) high. Well, it turns out that Solvang also has its own version that’s about a third of the size of the original. It’s off of Copenhagen Drive and Alisal Road, right behind one of the windmills.

There is no spiral ramp on this version; I’m not even sure if you can climb all the way to the top! Regardless, it is strikingly similar to the original. There is a pizza shop inside if you’re hankering for a quick lunch!

round tower (rundetaarn) replica in Solvang, CA

Where to eat in Solvang, CA

Red Viking Restaurant

If you haven’t tried Danish cuisine, Red Viking Restaurant is the place to sample it! They offer smørrebrød, the famous Danish open-faced sandwich. If you’re not hankering for that, you can try other entrees such as Danish sausages and meatballs. While there are American dishes, you can have those any other time of the year.

Order your dishes with a bottle of Carlsberg, the well-known Danish beer, and some æbleskiver for dessert!

Danish Mill Bakery

Your head will spin with all of the baked goods, cookies, and chocolates! You won’t know where to start because everything sounds delicious. From jelly-filled pastries to gåsebrysts (princess cakes) to of course, æbleskiver, you’ll find something to satisfy your sweet tooth in Danish Mill Bakery! There are also French desserts like croissants and macarons. Order anything for breakfast with a side of coffee or orange juice to jumpstart your day.

Latte and cherry filled pastry at Danish Mill Bakery

Mad & Vin

Mad & Vin is translated to Food & Wine in Danish. This upscale restaurant is located in The Landsby Hotel and serves New American fare like calamari, duck fat fries, pork belly quesadillas, Korean short ribs, and charcuterie boards. I love a fancy cocktail, and Mad & Vin offers that; you bet I got myself an espresso martini!

Mad & Vin restaurant in Solvang, CA. Pork belly tacos with guacamole, burger sliders, espresso martini, and calamari.

Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe

This family-owned bakery offers even more baked goods, coffee, and sandwiches for lunchtime. Cecilio ordered the black forest ham sandwich while I ordered grilled cheese, and it helped fuel us on the way for a day trip to Santa Barbara.

Solvang Restaurant

Yeah, the name sounds boring, but people fall in line to get Solvang Restaurant’s freshly-made æbleskiver to go. I did too on our last day, and let me tell you, it had the perfect amount of crispiness and batter! Solvang Restaurant is also a sit-down diner offering breakfast, lunch, and mimosas. They also sell everything related to æbleskiver such as pans, cookbooks, mixes, and jams!

The Coffee House by CHOMP

This café right next to The Little Mermaid fountain not only offers delicious specialty drinks but also baked goods and breakfasts. They have different kinds of quiches which I always love having for breakfast, with the carbs from the crust to energize me and the protein from the eggs and ham to keep me full.

coffee and quiche

Day Trips from Solvang

Santa Barbara

This upscale beachy college town is only about 45 minutes away from Solvang. Santa Barbara is known for its gorgeous beaches, breweries, wineries, and Spanish-inspired architecture with the Santa Ynez Mountains as its backdrop. Make sure to park in Downtown and walk a few blocks to Stearns Wharf, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You can scope out the restaurants, ice cream shops, go fishing, or even on a mini cruise!

Don’t miss out on Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone in Downtown, a district full of murals, breweries, tasting rooms, vintage shops, and eateries.

If you’re young and looking for nightlife and partying, head over to Goleta and Isla Vista, home of UC Santa Barbara.

Don’t forget to explore more of the coast; El Capitan and Gaviota State Beaches offer romantic vibes, kid-friendly activities, and campgrounds. There’s something for everyone in Santa Barbara!

Pismo Beach

For something more laid back and casual, Pismo Beach is on the opposite side of Santa Barbara, bordering San Luis Obispo, another college town off the Central Coast. Pismo Beach is a surfer’s haven; you can rent out surfboards and kayaks! It’s also another great place to go fishing.

Don’t forget to check out beautiful monarch butterflies at the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove (I wish I knew about this place earlier!).

Pismo Beach pier

Having your cake and eating it too: European charm with beaches

You can experience a taste of Denmark without leaving the US or having to fly across the world. With this guide of things to do in Solvang, CA, you’ll feel like you’re in Europe; no passport needed (If you’re an American citizen and flying domestically). If you want to get away even more and explore the California coast or go wine tasting, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo are just around the corner.

Planning to visit Copenhagen?

Here are a few of my guides to help you plan your visit to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and hygge central!

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Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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