SOLVANG, Calif. — This little Danish town is about to celebrate its 75th birthday.
An extended party is planned for June 5-8, but visitors are always welcome. In fact, Solvang has become one of Southern California's most popular tourist meccas.
It began quietly in 1911 with the establishment of a Danish folk school in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley. Later known as Atterdag College, the school no longer exists but the influence of Denmark is stronger than ever.
Reminiscent of Denmark
Especially reminiscent of the Danish countryside is Solvang's farm-style architecture with gabled roofs topped by steeples and good-luck storks. So are the windmills you'll see around town.
Many restaurants feature Danish open-faced sandwiches called smorrebrod, along with Carlsberg, Denmark's best-known beer. Gift shop windows display Royal Copenhagen china, crystal, hand-knit sweaters and other goods imported from Scandinavia.
You'll even see the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen's most famous sculpture, as well as a bust of Hans Christian Andersen.
The folksiness of Solvang will be especially evident during its birthday bash. The diamond jubilee officially begins with speeches and church services on June 5, Danish Constitution Day.
Shop windows will be decorated with themes reflecting the town's 75 years of history, and they will be unveiled simultaneously during a merchants' open house Friday evening. Entertainment on tap that night features the Village Band playing atop the Carlsberg beer wagon, plus the Solvang Village Folk Dancers in traditional costume.
A Big Parade
June 7 the party continues with a Saturday morning street parade, followed by music in Solvang Park. From 4 to 11 p.m. food and entertainment booths will draw the birthday celebrants to 2nd Street.
On Sunday, Solvang Park will be the site for an old-fashioned community picnic that begins at noon, and then an afternoon of skits, storytelling and musical entertainment.
Get to Solvang from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 beyond Santa Barbara and exiting east on California 246. That highway becomes Mission Drive and leads through the heart of town.
A Restored Mission
It also takes you to an attraction of Spanish origin, Old Mission Santa Ynez, established more than a century before Solvang in 1804. Over the years the mission suffered from earthquakes, Indian attacks and neglect but now is beautifully restored.
Sometimes called "Hidden Gem of the Missions," the adobe church and compound continues in a religious role under direction of the Franciscan Fathers. It also is home for one of the best historical museums in California's 21-mission chain.
Artifacts range from Latin missals and parchment music books to Indian paintings and tools. One room is devoted to vestments worn by the early padres from Spain.
Old Mission Santa Ynez is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; from noon on Sundays. A 50-cent donation is requested. A recorded tour of about 20 minutes guides you through the museum rooms, chapel, narrow church and courtyard gardens.
A Little History
A relaxing way to learn about the history of Solvang is during a 25-minute sightseeing tour on a horse-drawn streetcar. Get aboard at Copenhagen Drive and Alisal Road. Adults pay $1.50 for the narrated ride, kids $1.
Plenty of window shopping and tempting smells from cafes and bakeries (don't pass up the tasty aebleskiver) also make Solvang an enjoyable town for strolling. Daily visitors always outnumber the permanent population of 3,000, but there are pleasant places to escape the crowds of shoppers and diners.
One is 50-acre Hans Christian Andersen Park, named for Denmark's favorite storyteller. Go north of town on Atterdag Avenue. Stop on the way to see the 1928 Bethania Lutheran Church with its Danish tradition, a model sailing ship that hangs from the sanctuary ceiling.
Other quiet spots are north of Solvang in two vintage towns in the Santa Ynez Valley, which also is the setting for handsome horse farms and nearly 20 wineries.
The valley's oldest town, Ballard, was born in 1880 and boasts a century-old red country schoolhouse that's still in use. Also well-known is the Ballard Store, a French restaurant on Baseline Avenue that draws gourmet diners from miles around.
Across the street is the Ballard Inn, a newly built B&B with 15 country-charm rooms that opened last summer. Rates $120-$150; phone (805) 688-7770. A little farther north via Alamo Pintado Road is Los Olivos and another new hostelry, the 21-suite Grand Hotel. Rates $150-$275; call (805) 688-7788.
Small Town Flavor
Dine in the adjacent Remington restaurant or in Mattei's Tavern, a Los Olivos landmark that opened its doors 100 years ago. You'll also find art galleries and gift shops in this hamlet that was a location for the recent "Return to Mayberry" TV special starring Andy Griffith.
Well-known among the valley's other rural retreats is Alisal Guest Ranch, a deluxe family resort on a working cattle ranch. Horseback riding is a highlight but guests also enjoy sailing, fishing, tennis and golf. Rates (from June 13) with breakfast and dinner are $185-$235 double; (805) 688-6411.
Solvang has 18 other accommodations and seven more are nearby in Buellton. For a list of lodgings, write to the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 465, Solvang 93463, or call (805) 688-3317. Or stop by the office at 1623 Mission Drive.
Return to Los Angeles by rejoining U.S. 101 south. Or take a back-road highway, California 154, from Los Olivos to pick up U.S. 101 at Santa Barbara.
Round trip from Los Angeles to Danish delights in Solvang is 270 miles.
Readers are advised to confirm the hours of attractions, restaurants, etc., before embarking on any trip.