Just a hop, skip and a jump from the pancake restaurants and pastry shops of Solvang is Hans Christian Andersen Park, where a hiking trail offers the chance to walk off breakfast.
The park is only a quarter-mile from Little Denmark but a world apart. True to its namesake author, it's a fairy-tale setting of rolling green hills and antiquarian oaks. Adobe Creek meanders through the kid-size (52-acre) bucolic preserve.
To say the park shares Solvang's Denmark-to-the-max theme might be an understatement. Offering a grand Velkommen (Welcome) is an impressive entry arch. The archway, built by the Danish Brotherhood Lodge, is supported by two towers of Danish design. One looks like a Danish church; the other resembles a castle tower, perhaps the one where Rapunzel let down her hair. Danish influence extends to an outdoor amphitheater modeled after one in the mother country, and even to the heavy-timbered restrooms and trash cans.
The park's path heads west down a semi-wild corridor between the edge of suburban Solvang to the south and the park's north-side picnic grounds and tennis courts. En route are some truly enchanting oaks, with long mossy beards hanging from their branches.
The trail crosses Adobe Creek and dead ends at California 246. For a change of scenery, join an alternate trail branching left from the main one; it leads back to the developed part of the park.
Directions: To get to Solvang, exit U.S. 101 in Buellton and drive three miles east on Highway 246. From downtown Solvang, turn north on Atterdag Road, which turns into Chalk Hill Road in 0.3 mile. Almost immediately thereafter, turn left into Hans Christian Andersen Park. The park road leads under the entry arch and down to the canyon floor, where there's ample parking. Look for the signed Horse/Hikinq Trail on the south side of the entry road. Solvang has another park nearby that's particularly enticing to visit during the rainy season: Nojoqui Falls County Park. A quarter-mile-long trail leads to the seasonal falls, located in a pretty little grotto. The park is a great rest stop or picnic spot for drives along U.S. 101.
To reach the park, follow U.S. 101 a few miles north of Gaviota Pass, exit on Alisal Road and continue 1 1/2 miles to the park. From Solvang, follow Alisal Road 6 1/2 miles south to the park.
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WHERE: Hans Christian Anderson Park.
DISTANCE: 1.3 miles round trip.
TERRAIN: Oak-dotted canyon in Santa Ynez.
HIGHLIGHTS: Nature walk aids digestion of Danish pastry.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Solvang Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information (805) 688-3317.