A Brief History of Solvang: SoCal’s Danish Town

Solvang, CA
Solvang, CA | © SolvangUSA.com
Katie Watkins

Wandering the streets of Solvang, it’s easy to forget you’re a mere 45 minutes from Santa Barbara and not in a town in Denmark. Solvang is Southern California’s very own Danish utopia—home to traditional Danish buildings with gabled roofs, a replica of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue, and not just one, but four windmills.

So, venture into this charming Danish oasis in Southern California, where time seems to slow down, and every corner reveals a touch of enchantment. Let Solvang’s quaint architecture, delightful attractions, and warm hospitality whisk you away to a place that is both timeless and contemporary, offering a delightful escape into a world that feels straight out of a storybook. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Solvang, CA

At first, Solvang’s infrastructure resembled any other Western town in California with a Main Street. The Lutheran church, built in 1928, was the first building to incorporate traditional Danish architecture, and in the 1930s, residents started building their homes in the Danish medieval style, which is characterized by half-timber facades. Since residents could not all afford to use real timber, they mixed cement with brown dye to give homes the appearance of wooden beams.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that the idea of constructing Solvang in a Danish provincial style really took hold. Ferd Sorensen, a local plumber, metalsmith, and woodworker, built Solvang’s first windmill next to his home. Eventually, Main Street became Copenhagen Drive, and faux storks (an emblem of good luck), started to peak out from the rooftops.

Celebrating Danish Days

In 1936, Solvang held a festival to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The three-day celebration included a parade, barbecue, and concert. In the years since, this festival has become an annual tradition known as Danish Days, which is celebrated each September.

Solvang gained national recognition in 1947 when the Saturday Evening Post published a feature about the city, calling it a “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley.”

Bikers ride past nearby vineyards

Most recently, the 2004 movie Sideways was filmed in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley, bringing a newfound fame to the city as a wine destination. Today, Solvang boasts more than 20 wine tasting rooms, along with charming inns, restaurants, and adjacent vineyards.

But staying true to its roots, Solvang has maintained ties with Denmark, even welcoming Danish royalty on several occasions. Most notably, Prince Henrik visited in 2011 during Solvang’s centennial celebration.

Visit the Official Solvang Visitor Guide to learn more and for information on upcoming festivals and events.

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