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Salvaging Solvang

Finding the good stuff in Central California’s biggest tourist trap.

Windmill in Solvang

Windmill in Solvang 


On the outside, Solvang is made for travelers who love kitsch. If the phony replicas of Danish landmarks, cartoonish windmills, and overly cutesy architecture aren’t red flags, the neon 6-person bicycles clogging the streets are a dead giveaway. But this town has a few secrets worthy of a detour from your route down to Los Angeles—so long as you steer clear of the wacky hat shop and rainbow sock emporiums. Beneath the artificial exterior lies a storied past and some sweet surprises—maybe not enough to warrant a long weekend in the village, but it’s certainly worthy of a stop.

Behind the glass cases at Mortenson’s lie rows upon rows of Danishes. Unlike the stale pastries orphaned in cafe cases across the country, these babies are the embodiment of what all Danishes aspire to be: crusty on the edges with a dense, cake-y interior that melts right into the warm homemade custard filling. 

On the west end of the village a Nordic bistro called the Greenhouse Café serves traditional Danish aebleskivers—a waffle-pancake hybrid in the form of a ball, topped with powdered sugar and raspberry jam. Or hang out in the real live greenhouse for lunch. Choose from other specialties like the Nordic Burger, served with and caramelized onions, or a Danish sausage sandwich. 

Stray from the paved Danish path—literally—at Bacon & Brine. Head to the outer rim of town and look for people lingering at the picnic tables with cold drinks in glass mason jars. The small rotating menu offers dishes like kimchi marinated trotter bahn mi and 36-hour smoked pig cheeks. Yum. 

Good news: If you decide to stay the night in Solvang, you no longer are forced to choose between the Motel 6 and some gaudy motor lodge. That’s right, Solvang is actually getting a new hotel, The Landsby, and so far it looks promising. The 41-room boutique hotel is designed by an LA-based firm with clean Scandinavian design and will feature a bar pouring local wines, a restaurant named Mad + Vin, and a tranquil garden in the back. It’s slated to open late in spring. 


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