When I first arrived in Solvang on a cloudy Monday afternoon, I felt like I had stepped into a smaller version of Copenhagen. With gourmet chocolates, friendly people, and vibrant buildings, Solvang transports Denmark’s rustic charm to California. Over the years, this city has developed from a small farm town with Danish immigrants into a picturesque place that people travel to for the homemade desserts, windmills, museums, and wine. Surprisingly, the restaurants and streets were full of people sitting at outside patios while they enjoyed their lunches and visitors who were walking around.
Although I wasn’t completely sure about what I wanted to do, I knew that I was hungry, so before doing anything else I visited Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery. The smell of freshly baked goods wafted outside the bakery and enticed me to try a Danish waffle and an almond apple bear claw. The Danish waffle had a sweet, fluffy buttercream sandwiched between a crispy puff pastry. The almond apple bear claw was more dense and was stuffed with soft, cinnamon apples and custard that melted in my mouth as I savored the almond pieces and the powdered sugar on top. Surely, the bear claw brought me back to eating my grandma’s homemade pies during the holidays.
After I devoured the two pastries, I made my way to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum to take a break from eating. The museum is very small and features dollhouse replicas of Andersen’s childhood home and several of his books in glass cases. Because the exhibits are all in one room, the museum does not demand a lot of time. However, I enjoyed reading through the displays and going downstairs where there is a coffee shop and bookstore.
Because I wanted to learn more about what to do in Solvang, I went to the visitors center after I went to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. There, longtime Solvang native Susan Lee (née Klitgaard) directed me to several museums that I did not go to and several bakeries that I did go to without hesitation.
“Definitely try some Danish pastries while you’re here,” Lee said. “You should get some aebleskivers; they’re similar to a pancake. They’re called aebleskivers, which means apple pieces, and they did sometimes put apples in the middle, but these ones are just plain.” At the Solvang Restaurant, you can buy aebleskivers coated in raspberry jam and powdered sugar, as well as with vanilla ice cream. The sweet doughiness and sugar reminded me of beignets from New Orleans. As I savored the aebleskivers, I sat down at one of the many benches near the shops and watched horse-drawn carriages go down the streets.
Right next to the Solvang Restaurant, I tried my first marzipan pastry at the Danish Mill Bakery. Marzipan, which is popular in Danish desserts, is an almond paste made of sugar, honey, and almond meal that Lee suggested that I taste while in Solvang. The icing on this puffy pastry dissolved in my mouth and reminded me of a cinnamon roll but with creamy almonds in the middle.
Still not yet feeling the effects of a food coma, I walked across the street to Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates, which Lee also recommended. Although chocolates here are a little pricey, Danish chocolate is more rich and creamy than American chocolate so it’s worth a try.
While I sat at the mini ice cream bar inside Ingeborg’s, I sampled a milk chocolate marzipan roll with a dense, chewy marzipan inside. I also tried a dark chocolate marzipan roll, which had a small chocolate piece inside which breaks up the thick almond paste. The almond paste was too sweet and chewy to have inside chocolate, so I preferred the marzipan-filled pastries, as they offer a lighter taste.
To finish my walk down Copenhagen Drive, I went to the Solvang Bakery, a glorified gingerbread house straight from a fairytale. Even if you don’t buy anything, this bakery is pleasant enough to simply sit outside, take pictures, and try samples inside. Here, I bought a cream cheese danish, as I was ready for something a little more savory.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the lack of cream cheese in the middle; there was only a small dollop. However, I can’t say that this bakery is worse than others in Solvang because there were other baked goods that caught my eye.
Although I mainly sampled pastries, Solvang also offers museums, wine tasting, and cafés. In particular, there is the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art, which features a Scandinavian-inspired house, or the Wildling Museum, which exhibits nature paintings and photographs. You can also do a Windmill Wine Walk or attend a concert or musical at the Solvang Festival Theater.
The 45 minute drive to Solvang is certainly worth your time even just for a day of strolling around and enjoying the Danish delicacies to your heart (and stomach’s) content. If you’re interested in a mini vacation to Denmark minus the price of an international flight and jetlag, Solvang is your place.