Whether your are just visiting California or are a true California native, a visiting Solvang should be on your must do list. Located just about three hours north of Los Angeles, and just outside of Santa Barbara, lies this quaint little Danish village that makes you feel like you stepped right into a fairytale.
I remember visiting Solvang with my family as a kid. It was often a stop on our longer road trips that we used to break up the longer adventures. But this time, I had a different purpose in visiting this sweet town.
This year I started what is to become an annual mother-daughter trip. Being a newly single mom I still wanted to take family vacations with my little one, but I had to face the reality that sometimes it would just have to be she and I. Yet, traveling without a spouse was a pretty big fear I knew I NEEDED to conquer. And I was dead set on staring that fear straight into its face. But with this new adventure, I wanted to do something fairly close to home. I knew I would feel more confident traveling on highways I was familiar with. I also wanted something that was family-friendly, safe, would keep me on budget. It had to be a place that would be easy to navigate on foot once we arrived, so I wouldn’t have to deal with getting to and from places in a car. And Solvang proved to be perfect for all of this!
Here are some of our favorite finds along the way.
Kid Friendly Activities
This place is fascinating. These funny looking birds are a site to see. It’s right off the highway as you are entering into Solvang which makes it a perfect start to the journey. They have both ostriches and emus. There are birds up close for you to feed as well as those roaming the landscape. And for an extra special encounter, you can even feed them. Both my little one and I are a bit freaked out by birds in general. (Oops! I probably passed this fear down.) But we did it and I wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. Little E preferred to stand back and watch me feed them, but it was a great experience nonetheless. I would say that a 30 to 40 minute visit is a perfect amount of time to spend at this stop. We got there near closing time so I thought these big birds might be full for the day. But nope! They were plenty hungry!
Nojoqui Falls County Park
Driving the road to this location was one of my very favorite parts of our trip. It’s a 15 minute drive from Solvang down a easy winding road, through a picturesque landscape of trees. We pulled over to see some pigs along the roadside, stopped to see what the exclusive Alisal Ranch was all about and unexpectedly got to pet their free roaming horses.
The hike itself is more of a walk. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the falls. The waterfall was more of a trickle when we were there since it was summer. I have heard that it’s a nice fall after a rain. However, there was a lush green wall of plants where the fall is normally running. It was beautiful nonetheless. We saw deer and little critters along with way which made it a nice little break from city life for us. There are picnic tables in the park if you want to make a longer afternoon of it as well. So if you want a little escape-take this adventure.
This is a quick little stop to go with the kiddos to visit the miniature horses. It is free to visit although donations are welcome in the donation boxes scattered around the property. You can see the miniature horses roaming the various grass areas on the ranch. If they aren’t too busy, the friendly ranch hands will answer questions about these sweet babies. While you can’t really pet the ponies (unless the sneak up close to the fences) they are a sweet site to see. And you will leave wanting to adopt one as your next family pet. Consider yourself warned!
Okay, this was a completely random stop on our way back into town from Quicksilver Ranch. My little one and I saw a sign for fresh peaches and just had to stop. There’s nothing better than roadside fruit stands in California! Well to our surprise the fresh peaches were part of Buttonwood Winery. This charming winery is a great place for a picnic lunch as you enjoy a glass of wine in their garden. And the peaches, according to my little one, are the “goodest peaches you’ll ever have!”
Sunny Field Park
Located just outside of the main touristy area of Solvang is Sunny Field Park. It is such a fun park for the kids to cut loose and play. The design of the play structures are unique but consistent to the architecture of the area. There is something for kids of all ages to do. There is a separate play area for toddlers, open fields for the big kids, volleyball nets, a tire swing, bbq pits and most importantly…clean bathrooms. I suggest going when it’s cooler. While there is ample shading near the picnic area, it gets pretty warm under the play structure. My daughter didn’t want to leave this place. It’s sure to be a favorite for your little ones too.
Solvang Trolley & Carriage Ride
While such a touristy thing to do, we just had to try it! After all of our visits with horses on the trip, this was a given. The ride was about 20 minutes and a nice break from all the walking we did around the city. What we loved was that the guide shared some fun history behind the city that we wouldn’t have normally picked up by just walking around. We loved learning about the little elf houses on the buildings and hearing about the old thatched roof in town. I wouldn’t have noticed either of these if we hadn’t gone on the tour. You’ll get off this little ride feeling like you really are on vacation.
Surrey Cycle Rental
If you skip the Solvang Trolley I would try to include this fun activity. My dear college friend joined us for a few hours with her kiddos in tow. So we hopped on our bikes and hit the town. The kids who couldn’t quite reach the pedals enjoyed the views while the rest of us did the hard work. But it was fun a good way to burn a few calories which we needed for the ice cream we grabbed later. While we were riding we decided to give geocaching a try. It was a great way to keep the kids entertained and exercising their brains.
Where to Eat
There really are so many quaint eateries in this town that you can’t really go wrong. But here are some of the ones we tried and enjoyed.
This fun find has a great outdoor patio we enjoyed during the lunch hour. The menu had some regular kid friendly items but also had some fun additions to the adult menu that was pleasing to me as well. This would be a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset too!
You’ll find this one smack dab in the middle of town. They have a very kid friendly menu but the main attraction is the Danish Aebleskiver pastries. We loved that you could order these famous desserts at a walk-up window and sit down on a bench around town to dig in. You’ve got to try it at least once.
Leonardo’s Ristorante and Pizzeria
If you are looking to have an upscale, sit down dinner, you may enjoy this spot. As a part of our new mommy daughter vacations, Little E requested a “fancy dinner” where we don’t have to share a meal. And quite frankly I was happy to oblige. You’ll find this upscale restaurant just outside the main town of Solvang. We had to drive a whopping 5 minutes to get there so keep that in mind. The Italian dishes were tasty, the atmosphere nice and the desserts scrumptious. It was nice to indulge a bit.
Mortensen’s Danish Bakery
Yum, yum, yum! My jeans thank me that we only visited this place on the way out of town. There’s no need to go anywhere else. Don’t even try to order just one pastry. Just fill up the whole dang box. The cream cheese danish, the cookies, that apple-y things. Get them all! And then take some home to your people as gifts. They will thank you!
Where to Stay
Solvang’s streets are lined with little inns and hotels all over. These two happen to be ones that suck out to me.
The Hadsten House is located right off of Mission Drive as you enter Solvang from the 101. This little inn is updated, clean, and located within great walking distance to town. The rates can get pretty expensive at the peak times, however we found a great deal on Hotwire. The rooms are updated and clean and there is a pool and jacuzzi. And did I mention that the rate includes a hot breakfast? This perk was helpful in keeping this mama on budget!
Although we didn’t stay here, we did peek in. This place has super hip decor and has a fun trendy vibe. It’s pretty pricey to stay but looked like a real treat. They have a happening bar that was open for happy hour. There was an inviting courtyard with fire pits to enjoy in the evening. If you are looking for something with a little more swank, give this a go!
This was a perfect,two day trip with my little one! You’ll have to let me know about your adventure when you visit Solvang! Want to learn more about how I earned the funds to play with my little one? Check out more here!