December 7, 2023

Solvang: The Europe in California

The windmill churns the scent of Danish pastries as they roll out of the oven. Somewhat of a hybrid between a car and a bike, a cart with eight pedals strolls through the streets, neatly tucked in between two, slow-moving cars. A pair of gallant horses trots behind them, pulling a red carriage full of smug-faced tourists.

The quaint, pseudo-European town of Solvang is located along the sunny coast of Southern California, around 130 miles north of Los Angeles. Serving as both a second home to nostalgic Europeans and a vacation spot for Americans with less than a full pocket of money, Solvang provides a unique cultural experience that effectively blends the traditions of both continents.

Lining the streets is the occasional antique shop. With items ranging from giant books filled with newspaper clippings to clocks commissioned by French nobles in the late 1800s, these shops are a convoluted labyrinth of history and art. Along with the price, Items are often labeled with their origin and maker. It is easy to imagine a past for each item in the shops. Whether you are looking to buy or just to gaze around, the friendly store attendants (who are almost as antique as the items in the store, it seems—they know everything) will gladly show you around.

The one stop that must be made mandatory for anyone that passes through Solvang is the bakery. There are multiple bakeries, but all of them carry buttery, sugary delights that dance across your tongue and explode through your peripheral nervous system—literally. Just a few recommendations for starters include the familiar palm leaf pastry, which can be frequently seen around grocery stores, or, if you’re looking for something a bit more exotic, the princess waffle, which is two butter almond cookies half-dipped in chocolate, melded together by a mocha cream filling. All pastries can be enjoyed on sun-lit tables on the inner perimeter of the bakeries, or outside, under the cool shade of the umbrellas.

Another big attraction is the Jule Hus Christmas All Year Round Gift shop, which sells Christmas ornaments of all shapes, sizes, themes, and colors—you guessed it—all year round. Mrs. Santa (or a woman who is dressed like her, anyways) keeps the store and will help you purchase your perfect Christmas ornament in the middle of July.

There are many more things to do and see at Solvang, including the Hans Christian Anderson museum, used bookstores filled with European folktales and children’s stories, art galleries, candle shops filled with animal-shaped, chocolate-scented candles hanging by their wicks, and miscellaneous boutiques filled with matchboxes bigger than a carton of milk filled with matches that measure half a foot. But it’s impossible to dig up every magical thing to do in Solvang. An eye open and a heart unbolted is all it takes to have a good time in this city.

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