Ah, dear, sweet Solvang. Founded by Danish Americans, this Santa Barbara County town of 5,385 bursts with windmills, turrets, cupolas, half-timbered inns, bakeries and souvenir shops that make you want to pinch their stucco-coated cheeks, even if sophisticates sneer at the kitsch. Solvang felt dated when I first visited in the ‘90s, and in June it felt scarcely different (the biggest change: bus tours from China). Yet a new crop of establishments may make Solvang savvy for a new generation. The tab: $181 for one night (midweek) at the Landsby (weekend rates will be higher), and $105 for meals.
I stayed at the 41-room Landsby (1576 Mission Drive;  688-3121, www.thelandsby.com), which opened in April in a renovated half-timbered inn. Santa Monica firm Studio Collective handled the design; it also did projects at L.A.'s SLS and Hollywood Roosevelt hotels. Although those are rock ‘n’ roll, the Landsby is cool ‘n’ comfy. The white-walled lobby is fitted with modernist furniture, minimalist bar, plenty of windows for watching street life and piped-in Ella Fitzgerald buh-buh-booing “I’ve Got a Crush on You.” In my room: soothing lighting on dimmer switches; a writing desk with leather drawer pulls, multiple power outlets and an Eames-reproduction chair; soaring oak bed frame; and a roomy dresser and fridge stocked with water.
Solvang’s restaurants have traditionally played it safe (aebleskiver, Danish pancake balls, remain a popular treat), but new establishments are pushing the envelope. The Landsby’s Mad + Vin was both stylish and tasty. The name means “food and wine” in Danish, though the menu was more Central California Coast — great by me. I sampled a farmers market salad and seafood hot pot for dinner, and the hotel’s continental breakfast of fresh-made granola, yogurt, berries and a fresh cinnamon bun in its own skillet. Across the street, Succulent Café (1555 Mission Drive;  691-9444, www.succulentcafe.com) is a buzzy gourmet spot with righteous charcuterie platters. And pretty much every local praised Industrial Eats (181 Industrial Way, Buellton;  688-8807, www.industrialeats.com), which opened in 2014 in neighboring Buellton. At a long communal table under a warehouse-style ceiling, I happily munched on white shrimp with pancetta, chiles and garlic, and a revelatory beef tongue pastrami Reuben; there’s also a pizza menu. After dinner I did a tasting at sleek new Santé Wine Bar & Lounge (433 Alisal Road, Solvang;  691-9641, www.santewinebarandlounge.com), which pours its private label wines as well as other local vintners’ and hosts live music on Saturday nights.
I dropped in on the Elverhoj Museum (1624 Elverhoy Way;  686-1211, www.elverhoj.org) for a taste of local and Danish history. The Solvang Festival Theater (420 2nd St.;  686-1789, www.solvangfestivaltheater.org) is also going strong with Pacific Conservatory Theatre productions through Sept. 13. I found a gracious escape in the circa 1804 Old Mission Santa Inés (1760 Mission Drive;  688-4815, www.missionsantaines.org), which lent its name to Solvang’s Santa Ynez Valley, an area now famous for wine thanks in large part to the cult film “Sideways.” Uber Wine (www.uber.com/cities/santa-barbara), Uber’s new ride-sharing service for wine touring, launched this spring. Pricing varies by car size, mileage and wait times; my 2-hour-and-20-minute ramble among wineries and tasting rooms as far as charming Los Olivos cost $62, a fraction of the cost of traditional taxis or limos. Plus, my driver was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about local wineries and eateries.
The lesson learned
Solvang is still no hipster haven, but change is brewing, as in the taprooms of beer makers (in wine country) Solvang Brewing Co. (1547 Mission Drive;  688-2337, www.solvangbrewing.com) and Figueroa Mountain Brewery Co. (45 Industrial Way, Buellton; (805) 694-2252, Ext. 110, www.figmtnbrew.com). As I sipped, I couldn’t help but think about what’s happened to another once dowdy town, now a millennial magnet: Palm Springs.