The 17 Best Things To Do In Solvang: A Local Guide

Solvang, CA is a charming little town with a unique look and lots of history. Here's what to do when you visit.
April 13, 2024
Solvang, California that has many fun things to do

Found in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country, Solvang is a charming city that offers visitors a unique blend of old world charm and modern-day attractions. Known for its distinctive architecture, windmills, and delectable Danish pastries, Solvang has become a popular tourist destination for those seeking something unique.

This guide goes over the very best things to do in Solvang, so you can have a truly memorable trip.

1. See The Windmills

One of the windmills in Solvang, California

When you’re in Solvang you simply can’t miss the town’s iconic windmills, which serve as a vivid testament to its rich Danish heritage.

The very first windmill, built by early settler J.C. Wulff in 1922, was a utilitarian structure for pumping water and grinding grain. Now, it stands as a County Historical Landmark. Inspired by a trip to Denmark, Ferdinand Sorensen constructed four of the six windmills you can find in the town. His contribution played a big part in shaping the Danish architectural styling that you see in Solvang today.

The most recognizable windmill, the Solvang Windmill (also known as the Paaske Windmill) is a must-see. It’s at the corner of Alisal Road and Mariposa Drive and was built in 1963. During the holiday season the city puts lights on the blades! And if you’re looking for the other windmills, you’ll find them at Hamlet Square, the Solvang Brewing Company on Mission Drive, and the Kronborg Inn (that one is our favorite).

2. Go On A Trolley Tour

The Solvang Trolley

Embarking on a trolley tour is definitely one of the best things to do in Solvang. The Honen trolley (which translates to “The Hen” in Danish) is where visitors can choose between a horse-drawn or motorized streetcar, and both are quite a bit of fun!

The Honen trolley has been a part of Solvang since 1964, and it was initially built to shuttle shoppers between local spots. Today, it’s one of the few horse-drawn streetcars still operating worldwide and has been an iconic part of the city’s tradition since 1973. The 25-minute tours depart from outside the Visitor’s Center at Copenhagen St. and Second St., and they run quite regularly.

This tour will give you a great view of Solvang’s major landmarks without needing to do any walking. It’s guided by knowledgeable locals who share insights into over 100 years of Solvang’s history. We learned about the architecture, cultural notes from Denmark, and the significance of various buildings.

3. See The Danish Architecture

Architecture in Solvang, CA

When visiting Solvang, immersing yourself in the rich Danish heritage is unavoidable. From the moment you step downtown, you’ll be greeted by the unique and picturesque architecture. The main attractions are concentrated along Alisal Road and Copenhagen Drive. These streets, lined with charming buildings housing boutiques, shops, and eateries, showcase the town’s old-world craftsmanship.

We liked the Little Mermaid Fountain which can be found at the corner of Alisal Road and Mission Drive. It’s a well-done replica of a famous statue in Copenhagen. You’ll also see plenty of traditional elements like thatched roofs and windmills.

Because it was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911, Solvang’s architecture speaks of its rich history. And it’s clear that the town is committed to preserving its heritage.

Author Note: To deepen your understanding of the architecture and history, we recommend taking a self-guided audio tour.

4. Attend A Farmer’s Market

Food at the Farmer's Market

Attending the Solvang Farmers Market is something you have to do if you end up visiting on a Wednesday. First Street transforms into a vibrant marketplace from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. no matter what the weather is!.

You’ll have your choice of fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, breads, and cheeses. The smells were amazing and the energy was fun to be a part of. It was busy without being overwhelming.

Like many of the other things to do in this city, the Solvang Farmers Market has some interesting history tied to it. Its roots go back to the Santa Barbara farmers’ markets in 1979, which makes it one of the earliest in California! And even better, some of the original participants like Tom Shepherd, Randy Wade, and Robert “BD” Dautch still contribute to the market.

It’s clear that people in this town value the role this market plays in attracting visitors to the city, and keeping in touch with one another. If you happen to be stopping by when it’s happening, we recommend checking it out.

5. Try A Wine Tasting

Wine tasting room

When you’re in Solvang you can’t miss out on exploring the local wine scene. Being part of the famed Santa Barbara County region for wine that includes Santa Ynez Valley to Sta. Rita Hills, Solvang boasts over 20 wine-tasting rooms. This means you can easily do a self-guided tour around the town, tasting the best from over 120 wineries in the area.

Popular tasting rooms like McClain Cellars and Casa Cassara Winery are great places to start. And if you’re up for a short drive, you’ll find the Rusack Vineyards just ten minutes out of town.

If you want to kick things up a notch, consider doing a bike and wine tour. It’s a fun way to combine cycling with visits to an olive farm and several wineries, guided by a local. Or for a more relaxed experience, sign up for a private wine tour where you’ll be driven from spot to spot.

6. Stop By Old Mission Santa Ines

Old Mission Santa Ines

Old Mission Santa Ines is a historical gem and one of the best things to do in Solvang. Founded in 1804 by Father Estevan Tapis, this 19th California mission, known as the “Hidden Gem of the Missions,” is a treasure trove of history and culture. Nestled between two mountain ranges, it offers a stunning view of the Santa Ynez River Valley and surrounding beauty.

For less than ten dollars you can visit and take a self-guided tour. This will send you through the mission’s museum, where you’ll see an impressive collection of 17th-century art and artifacts. If you’d prefer a more casual or quick visit, the grounds and exterior are open to the public for free.

But the mission is more than just a historical site. It still serves as an active parish, hosting regular and special religious services for roughly 1,000 families. It’s also quite involved in the community, offering religious education, youth groups, and adult programs.

If you’re a history buff or simply want a souvenir, they have a nice little gift shop you can stop by. We found a couple interesting books that we ended up giving our friends!

7. Visit OstrichLand USA

Sign for Ostrichland USA

Now if you’re looking for something a bit more on the fun and quirky side check out OstrichLand USA. Just a quick 5-minute drive from downtown Solvang, this is home to over 100 ostriches and emus that you can feed!

Tickets are just $7 for adults and $3 for kids. You can book ahead online if you want, but it’s usually not necessary. And if you’re visiting during the summer, you might even get to see some adorable baby ostriches!

The folks at OstrichLand have made sure that the birds are trained to eat from bowls, so it’s safe and easy for visitors to interact with them. It’s not uncommon for locals to bring their out-of-town friends here, because it’s quite the unique experience! We have always found ostriches quite funny, so it was fun to get up close!

8. Roam Around Downtown

Downtown Solvang

Downtown Solvang is highly walkable with a variety of unique attractions within a mile radius. Because the town is so pedestrian-friendly, you can take a leisurely stroll and get a feel for what the city has to offer at your own pace. We loved how tidy the streets were, and the flowers that lined them created a fun and vibrant atmosphere.

You won’t be able to miss the windmills, that add a touch of charm to the village. You’ll also see some intriguing landmarks like the clock tower, a testament to the town’s love for timeless European design. The statues of Hans Christian Andersen and the Little Mermaid fountain are neat as well, each serving as a nod to Denmark’s cultural contribution to the world.

And if you’d rather not walk, there are other options available. Go rent a bike or even take the trolley! While it can be nice to systematically visit all of the popular things to do, sometimes it’s fun to discover a city without a plan.

9. Attend Solvang Danish Days

Danish Days

Seeing the Solvang Danish Days festival is the perfect way to celebrate the town’s rich Danish heritage. Held annually in the heart of September, this event offers quite the authentic experience. You’ll feel like you got transported to Denmark!

There’s plenty of Danish food and the air is filled with traditional music (there are always people dancing). You’ll witness special performances, including musical acts and folk dances, as well as a parade.

Best of all, attending the Danish Days festival is free. There are activities suitable for all ages, so it makes a great family outing.

10. Catch A Performance At The Solvang Festival Theater

The Solvang Festival Theater that hosts many events and things to do in the city

If you’re looking for things to do in Solvang and want a little entertainment, don’t miss out on the chance to see a performance at the Solvang Festival Theater. This open-air venue was built in the 1970s and is an iconic part of Solvang’s cultural scene. In fact, it attracts over 40,000 patrons each year!

The theater offers a mix of events and performances, from theatrical plays and musicals to jazz concerts. You can even catch special events like the Julefest Nativity Pageant.

But the Solvang Festival Theater isn’t just about entertainment. It also serves as a community hub, supporting local organizations and businesses through its events. The theater’s mission is to be a high-quality, accessible venue that fosters community connection, cultural understanding, and the appreciation of diverse ideas.

11. Pop Into An Art Gallery

Solvang is also home to some fantastic art galleries, where you can see tons of unique art pieces ranging from prints and jewelry to puzzles. Most of these galleries are free to enter, which means it’s a great thing to do if you’re visiting the town on a budget.

You’ll find the works of local artists that range from traditional to contemporary styles. This was great for us since we have very different tastes in art!

If you want a more thorough look, you can sign up for an art walk. These walks guide you through multiple galleries around town, and give you the chance to learn about the variety of different pieces and styles that can be found in the city.

12. Stop By The Elverhoj Museum of History & Art

Exterior of the museum

In our opinion, the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art is easily one of the best things to do in Solvang. It offers a rich blend of cultural history, artistic brilliance, and Danish heritage. It’s actually found in the former residence of Danish-born artist Viggo Brandt-Erichsen, modeled after an 18th-century Danish farmhouse!

The architectural details of the museum are enough to make the museum worth a visit, from the ornamental wrought ironwork to the carved redwood entry door. Inside, there are colorful hand-painted wall panels in the kitchen and vintage photos of the town.

Admission to the museum is free, but there is a suggested donation of $5 to support the museum’s mission.

The museum also hosts special events throughout the year, so it’s worth checking to see if any are going on during your visit.

13. Go To A Bakery

A popular bakery in Solvang which is a popular thing to do

You haven’t truly experienced Solvang until you’ve had a Danish pastry from one of the town’s many authentic bakeries. There are over 25 bakeries in the city, so you’re sure to find some kind of treat you’ll enjoy! From cream cheese to lemon Danishes, the variety is astounding and provides a fun look into some Danish cuisine.

Author Note: We recommend trying Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe. It’s one of the best in town that offers a wide selection of pastries as well as sandwiches, salads, and drinks.

14. Buy Some Souvenirs Or Gifts For Family

Buying some souvenirs in Solvang is more than just shopping, it’s a glimpse into “Little Denmark.”

For example, Mole Hole Cottage is a fun spot where you can find high-end dishes and glassware that showcase the city’s Danish influence. Over at Jule Hus, you can step into Christmas any time of the year! This charming shop is sometimes referred to as “the Christmas Store,” and is full of traditional decorations like blown glass ornaments, wooden nutcrackers, and nativities.

There are also boutiques that sell Scandinavian handcrafts, European imports, and art.

15. Experience Julefest

Julefest in Solvang
Photo credit to solvangusa.com

Julefest is a real-life winter wonderland, and a great thing to do in Solvang if you visit during the winter. Starting in late November and stretching into January, this annual Danish village holiday celebration captures the festive spirit with a medley of events, activities, and decorations.

Some of the more notable events during this festival are the Solvang Tree Lighting Ceremony and the Julefest Parade. These are the highlights that pull in a crowd every year, and illuminate the town with a warm and festive glow! We love that you can take a candlelight tour of the town, or a holiday light tour on a trolley. And if you’re visiting with children, you can see Santa in the park!

The Nisse Adventure scavenger hunt is another event that people in the area enjoy each year. And if you’re a foodie, the city food tours change to incorporate more festive and seasonal foods during this time of the year.

Compared to the rest of the year, the town transforms into a twinkling spectacle that’s adorned with traditional ornaments and seasonal treats. If you like a festive atmosphere, Julefest is definitely the time to visit!

16. Go For A Hot Air Balloon Ride

A hot air balloon ride in California

Just a ten minute drive away from downtown is an unforgettable experience that you should seriously consider if you’re visiting Solvang. Floating over the Santa Ynez Valley gives you the perfect opportunity to admire the stunning landscape full of rolling hills, vineyards, and the unique architecture of the city.

Author Note: If this is something you’re interested in doing, it’s worth noting that rides usually take place in the morning when the winds and thermal conditions are a lot calmer.

It’s possible to get picked up from the city and driven over to the ride if you’d like. Some companies even offer a glass of sparkling wine or champagne to enjoy during your flight!

17. Go To The Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum

Inside the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast or simply enjoy classic things, the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum is a must-see. It’s located downtown and is home to more than 100 vintage and classic motorcycles, some dating back to the early 1900s!

Visiting gives you the opportunity to see beautifully restored bikes from famous brands like Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Triumph. Guided tours are also available, offering interesting facts about how motorcycle design and engineering have changed over the years.

In addition to the impressive motorcycle collection, the museum also showcases a variety of vintage motorcycle memorabilia, photographs, and other exhibits.

See It For Yourself!

In our opinion, Solvang is a must-visit if you’re in the area. Whether you’re marveling at the windmills, sampling Danish pastries, or learning about the culture at a museum, you’re in for a treat.

We hope this list of the best things to do in Solvang, California makes it easy for you to plan your next trip and have a great time! If you have any pictures or stories about your time there, we’d love to hear from you!

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