With its wild parties, raunchy reputation, and surfeit of stores that sell all the substances legally fit to consume, Isla Vista has plenty to offer its population when it comes time to unwind. But sometimes, no matter how much you love the Isla Vista life, you need a different kind of recreation. The kind that’s more about leisure than loud parties, more focused on relaxation than raunch, and packed with more down-time than party-time. After a hectic fall quarter and a less-than-relaxing first few weeks of break, my boyfriend and I were ready for just the kind of rest and relaxation that you can only get outside of I.V. That’s why we decided to spend New Year’s weekend in Solvang.
That’s right, Solvang. Mecca for mature adults, fantasyland for family vacationers, and the furthest thing from Isla Vista we could find. With its quaint Danish theme and surplus of superior wineries, tasting rooms, and tchotchke shops, Solvang is not the kind of place where you run into a whole lot of crazy college students. In fact, for most of the trip, we felt like the only people under 30 around. Granted, we could have spent our New Year’s Eve ringing in 2008 at a hip party or hot club, like the vast majority of our fellow Isla Vistans. But instead we chose to spend it watching an Entourage marathon in the comfort of our big bed, sipping sweet white wine that we’d picked up at a tasting room earlier that day. It was pure bliss.
And it reminded me just how nice it is to get away from it all once in a while - even if you only escape to a town a few miles north of your own. All in all, it was the kind of mini-vacation that we stressed-out students so desperately need, with plenty of peace and quiet and all sorts of awesome activities to boot. So, with the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in mind, here are our picks for the best places to go when spending a weekend in Solvang. Addresses and contact information are all available here.
Of course, in a town with a Danish theme, the bakeries are a key must-stop. The Danish Breakfast at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery comes with the titular Danish, freshly-baked bread, coffee, juice, and some of the best Havarti cheese either of us had ever had. Plus, it was under $10 a piece. Paula’s Pancake House has incredible traditional Danish pancakes, which are basically like gigantic crepes that come warm and sweet with melted butter, powdered sugar, and optional fruit toppings. Plus, their three page menu is packed with other down-home diner favorites like Belgian waffles, omelets, burgers and a big machine that squeezes fresh orange juice right in front of you. Just make sure you call ahead during the busy breakfast rush - especially on the weekends.
If you’re looking for lunch fare, try The Little Mermaid for traditional Danish food like meatballs, cabbage, schnitzel, and sausages. I had the smoked salmon sandwich, and it was the perfect filling fare without being too fatty. If all the cute character has you sweating for a smorgasbord, head to The Red Viking Restaurant, where they serve up the traditional Danish buffet with both hot and cold offerings that range from pasta salad to a rich and creamy liver loaf. At dinnertime, many of Solvang’s eateries - like much of the town - are already closed. But we did enjoy decadent dinners at Cafe Angelica and the restaurant in our hotel, the Hadsten House. Both places were a bit on the pricey side, but definitely well worth it.
When you’re not eating, there’s plenty of other ways to wile away the day. We had a terrific wine tasting experiences at the Presidio Winery Tasting Room and The Olive House’s Casa Cassara tasting room. We also had a fantastic time sampling some of the best beers I’ve ever had at the Firestone Walker Taproom. We went on New Year’s Eve, so they weren’t serving food, but apparently their menu is magnificent as well. At least according to my boyfriend, who counts the big building right off the 101 as one of his all-time favorite places in the world. All I know is that I’m not normally an avid fan of all things beer related, but their Honey Blonde was enough to lure me back to the bar anytime. As for actual vineyards, head to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail - just a few short minutes from Solvang - and hit up the many major wineries that line the picturesque path. We ended up visiting Curtis Winery, mostly because it was the only one still open on New Year’s Eve. Still, the sights, smells, and sounds along this slice of California wilderness made the drive totally worth it as far as we were concerned - even without the wineries.
When we weren’t washing down Danish delicacies with decadent wine offerings, we spent our time swimming in the hotel’s indoor pool and exploring the sights in and around Solvang. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum, located in a room over The Book Loft, is a charmingly lo-tech exhibit about the famous fairy tale author. And the bookstore below had enough scintillating displays to keep us occupied for the better part of an afternoon. The town also has an old mission and a Danish museum, neither of which we had time to visit, but both of which we wanted to. There’s also a ton of shopping and the coolest playground I’ve ever seen - located on Alamo Pintado Road near Ladan Drive, and featuring Danish-themed jungle gyms, a miniature climbing wall, a kid-sized stage, and more. We started our second day in town at the Visitor’s Center and got enough free brochures to keep us booked all weekend long, a plan of action I definitely reccomend.
And, on our way out of town, we discovered Buellton’s Ostrich Land. This vast farm features ostriches, as well as exotic emus. These rare breeds live side by side on a stretch of land just outside Solvang’s city limits, and for a few bucks you can not only visit with the big birds, but feed them as well. Just watch out for the finicky ones who will try to tear the food tray right out from your fingers. Appendage-related apprehension aside, it’s a great way to end a trip to the sweet, sometimes silly and eminently entertaining town of Solvang. As cute as the area’s architecture (and just as absurd), Ostrich Land is like the perfect metaphor for our time in the town. It was cute, it was quirky, it was entirely unexpected, and it took us far from our regular routine without requiring us to travel further than a few miles north.