Finding Denmark in Solvang, California

Finding Denmark in Solvang, California

First, we didn’t like Dodge City. It just wasn’t touristy enough. There was no old-timey bar, no real downtown, just a comical re-creation of fakeness off the main drag, a drag still used for moving cattle, from, unfortunately, just outside of town where we found huge feedlots filled with both cows and stank. It was too real.

Then Tombstone was too touristy, stagecoaches with lip-syncing tour guide drivers and everyone in costume. That didn’t work for us either. And it was too small. It was clearly just a tourist trap itching to take your money in exchange for saltwater taffy and leather novelty chaps (made in China).

Then we stumbled upon Solvang, California, a little Danish colony just north of Santa Barbara. We’d already fallen for the monied fog of Malibu and the relaxed beachiness of Carpinteria; Solvang just continued the pattern of north-of-LA picturesqueness.

Solvang is wildly committed to the Danish thing. Every building follows the style and pulls it off even if it has a Spanish tile roof or is painted in California pastels. It all still looks Danish . At least one building has an authentic thatched roof. It’s amazing. There’s Hans Christian Anderson Park. There’s Copenhagen Avenue and Fjord Street. It’s almost laughable, but it’s so over-the-top, so out-of-sight, so odd that it’s strangely endearing. I loved it. I loved having a strawberry and cream cheese Danish and a cup of coffee at the Danish Mill Bakery. Sure, our waitress was Latin American, but the Sweet ‘n Low on the table was branded with a Danish-looking logo. Somehow it worked. We were in the Netherlands … in California.

If you’re going to visit, come in from the south, take Alisal Road, and stop at Nojoqui Falls Park to hike the short trail to the tall and thin waterfall. It’s an amazingly peaceful park (and free – thanks, Santa Barbara County Parks). The road is winding and fun. And to enter Denmark via American highway just doesn’t make any sense. Take the scenic and pastoral way in from the south. This is, after all, international travel.