Looking for a holiday escape with some Danish flair? We’ve got you covered

Illustration of a Scandinavian floral motif with California poppies over the town of Solvang, California.
(Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles is more than 5,500 miles from Copenhagen — but for those in search of some hygge this holiday season, a warm and cozy solution is a mere three-hour drive up the coast.

The city of Solvang — also known as the “The Danish Capital of America” — is in the Santa Ynez Valley, making the community of half-timbered buildings and windmills an easy day- or weekend-trip destination for Southern California travelers. What’s more, Solvang’s six-week-long Julefest kicked off last weekend, which means it’s a great time to visit the quaint Central California city.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find tips for making the most of a December visit to Solvang. Where are you heading this December? Send in your travel plans and recommendations, and I may pass them along in a future edition of Escapes.

Experience the best of Julefest

Peaked-roof storefronts with holiday lights and lighted Christmas trees in front.
Solvang stores decorated for Julefest.
(Central Coast Pictures /

What exactly is Julefest? And what sets it apart from other holiday celebrations?

The annual event, pronounced “yule-fest,” includes all the time-honored trappings of other winter holiday celebrations — colorful lights, photos with Santa Claus and Christmas music performances — plus a generous helping of Scandinavian flair.

Here are some of the highlights you can catch over the next few weeks:

  • Tree-lighting ceremony: Up for a last-minute trip? The ceremony, which includes dance and music performances, will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2.
  • Julefest parade: Floats, cars, horses and dancers will take over downtown Solvang from 11a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3.
  • Candlelight tours: Guides in Danish folk dress lead walking tours of downtown Solvang throughout the holiday season. Sign up here.

Travel back in time at Solvang’s history museum

A laughing woman inside a shop holds up a child-size traditional Danish outfit in each hand.
Travelers can purchase handmade Danish clothing at Elna’s Dress Shop in Solvang.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

How did the Danish Capital of America end up in the golden countryside of the Santa Ynez Valley?

You’ll learn this and more on a visit to the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art in Solvang. Dedicated to sharing the story of Solvang’s founding and development, as well as information about the Danish immigrant experience in the United States, the museum is a helpful stop for travelers visiting the town.

If you go, take a close look at the building itself: It was built by Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and Martha Mott, a husband-and-wife artist duo whose creative touches can be seen in details like the carved redwood door and hand-painted panels. The couple took inspiration from Scandinavian architecture, particularly the 18th century farmhouses of Jutland, in northern Denmark.

Hoping to tackle some holiday shopping while in Solvang? On Dec. 10 and 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the museum will host a Makers Market, with handmade gifts available for purchase from local crafters and artists (and if you prefer to wear your history, stop by Elna’s Dress Shop, shown above).

The Elverhøj Museum of History & Art is open Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is free.

Solvang has a surprising number of museums for a city of its size. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum and Wilding Museum of Art and Nature are also open for visitors this holiday season.

Snack your way across Solvang

A man leans on a glass counterspace filled with pastries
Bent Olsen, owner of Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, has been selling pastries in Solvang since 1970.
(Genaro Molina /Los Angeles Times)

Vaniljekranse (round vanilla butter cookies). Aebleskiver (spherical pastries made of fried batter). Kransekage (a marzipan ring cake).

You can find these desserts — and many more — at Solvang’s Danish and Danish-inspired bakeries.

“[G]oing to Solvang is the next best thing to going home,” a Times reader wrote in 2015. “For me and for many other Danish Americans, it is the only place to find and enjoy the real and actual Danish pastry.”

On a visit to Solvang, I recommend starting your day with a healthy appetite and a plan to hit a few bakeries in a row, trying a different Scandinavian treat at each stop.

Here are a few to try:

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The most hygge-forward stay in Solvang?

It’s not every day you get a view of a windmill from your patio.

I came across this Airbnb listing while researching a trip to Solvang last year and was immediately impressed by the sheer number of “hyggelig” and Danish-inspired touches sprinkled throughout the space — among them, a large piece of artwork depicting the colorful houses of Nyhavn (a popular tourist destination in Copenhagen) and fuzzy throw blankets draped across Scandinavian-style furniture.

Oh, and it’s located in a replica of the Rundetaarn, a distinctive round tower in Copenhagen.

The Airbnb in downtown Solvang, which sleeps four people, is still available on specific dates in December. It costs $550 per night (plus fees), with a two-night minimum.

Give back this holiday season

Spending the holidays in L.A.? There are plenty of worthwhile things to do this December without leaving town. The best of all: volunteering your time to a meaningful cause.

My colleague Jessica Benda recently rounded up a list of 26 ways to volunteer during the holidays in Los Angeles. It includes prepping food, handing out toys, walking shelter dogs and planting native species. Take a look at the list here.

🎸Road song

Protect My Energy,” by Little Simz. The holidays can be a challenging time, to say the least. Let this song be a reminder to take care of yourself this December.

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