Have you ever heard of the small village of Solvang nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley of California? Solvang, meaning ‘Sunny meadow’ in English, was founded in 1911 by three Danish educators. Their dream was to create a Danish village with homemade arts and crafts, a folk school for their teaching, and also a desire to honor the customs of their homeland. The men purchased 9,000 acres of land called Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. The first to be constructed was a hotel close to the Mission where new arrivals could be housed. After three years they also constructed their folk school, three stories high.
The indigenous people to the region were originally the Chumash, a society of fisherman and hunters, who were integrated by the Spanish missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century. Initially the buildings were built similar to the existing houses of the region. The Lutheran church was the first to vary in style and was based on Danish architecture. However, after World War II, developers became more interested in the concept of a ‘Danish Village’ and started to build more homes in the Danish-style. Ferdinand Sorensen, originally from Nebraska, was the first to build one of the four windmills in Solvang. Even though every effort was made to replicate the true Danish style, Scandinavians have pointed out that not all work was done in the correct original style. Many of the older structures have been made ‘to look like’ Danish design to benefit tourism, even though there was nothing Danish about them originally.
Agriculture has been generous in the Valley. From wild open range land to irrigated crops, the area also includes 30 wineries and horse ranchers with their prized horses. Great climate year round contributes to a comfortable environment.
Thanks to this lovely and unique architecture, Solvang has become a major California tourist attraction, with over one million visitors per year. People love the windmills, the statues of Hans Christian Anderson and the Little Mermaid. The music and folk dancing provides entertainment, reminiscent of another era. Today, Solvang is an updated city with restaurants, bakeries, and a variety of shops. The Red Viking Restaurant is one of the original buildings. The atmosphere still speaks of historic times with horse drawn wagons, windmills and authentic arts and crafts. Solvang celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.
Visit: Elverhoj Museum of Art and History, Santa Ynez Valley Museum, Bethania Lutheran Church or several nearby forests and beach parks. The Chumash Casino Resort is located some 5 miles to the east of Solvang, or drive to the Nojoqui Falls, located in a county park of that name about 7 miles southwest of the city.