Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang, known as “Little Denmark” is what I would call the Accidental Tourist Attraction, but a tourist attraction it has become. Solvang has retained much of its Danish culture through its residents – many descendants of Danish immigrants, its architecture and its businesses.
Between 1850 and 1930 it is said that Denmark was suffering economically and it was during that period that one in ten Danes immigrated — most of them to the US and specifically to the midwest. My father immigrated in 1919 at age 19 and settled initially in Iowa and then moved across the border to Minnesota.
Many sources say that Solvang was established by some “hardy” Danes who first settled in the mid-western states and became really tired of the cold winters so they packed up their belongings and headed to California. I find the descriptive “hardy” amusing as I think the real “hardy” Danes stayed to face the snow and cold. But at any rate those that headed west found “sunny fields” and the town was appropriately named Solvang which when translated means “sunny fields”. They discovered that California had drought cycles which was hard on their crops. They depended on “dry farming” for making a living . They grew hay to feed their dairy cows and they sold the left over hay and enjoyed the rainy years when they produced bumper crops. Word spread and the population grew.
Our first stop was at our lodging for two nights: Hadsten House Inn and Spa. Great place and true to the Danish architecture and furnishings. Traveling mid-week has advantages. The Hadsten House also has a deal if you stay two nights between Sunday and Thursday. The rate goes from $132 to $89. Traveling during the week seems to have its advantages everywhere during the winter months. Great place to stay!
Next stop was to the Visitor’s Center! Solvang welcomes over a million visitors each year and who better to extend a welcoming hand than this gentleman we found manning the Visitor’s Center. He was a great story teller and he even entertained us with a tune on his 1947 accordian.
The day was almost gone and shops were closing so we went over to the The Bethania Lutheran Church. It was built from a photograph of a church in Denmark, and was completed in 1928. It’s a beautiful little church.
Many Scandinavian churches have model ships hanging over the nave. These sea faring people view the “church as a ship that carries them over life’s stormy waters”
Supper… time for a Danish Smorgasbord. Food was delicious!
A Danish Village just wouldn’t be a Danish Village without…
And then there is the amazing architecture
There is so much more to see and experience in Solvang and the surrounding area, but that will have to wait for another time The area is filled with interesting history, particularly for the visitor with a Danish heritage.
(Photos by Bill Toninato)