The Santa Ynez Valley, about 45 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is the crown jewel of everything that’s un-California. And the gem at its center is the town of Solvang.
Founded by a group of Danish immigrants from Iowa as a cooperative agricultural community, Solvang ultimately discovered its niche as a tourist destination full of traditional Danish architecture, windmills, museums, and bakeries.
What may sound tacky, Solvang has been able to pull off almost without a hitch. Belgian draft horses pull streetcars along cobblestone streets, several hundred shops sell everything from hand-crafted furniture to locally cured olives, and restaurants practically duel for visitor’s taste buds with Danish waffles and pastry balls.
Old Mission Santa Ines was here before the Danish settlers,…in fact, the location of the town and folk school were chosen for their proximity to the safety of its walls. At the peak of its prosperity, this 19th of the 21 California missions housed workshops, storage rooms, living quarters and an adjoining Indian village. Restoration began in 1904, and still continues today.
Solvang was named Solvang, or Sunny Fields, for a reason. The rolling hills surrounding the town are full of horse ranches and vineyards, and terrific bicycle routes wind through the back country. Two of the more unusual ranches are Ostrich Land, on the road heading toward Buellton, and the Miniature Horse Ranch between Solvang and Los Olivos. In recent years the valley has become well known for the high quality of its grapes, with more than 60 wineries throughout the region.