If you thought Solvang was a kitschy hamlet fortunate to be nestled in the warm, golden hills of the Santa Ynez Valley, you’d be partly right. But you’d be describing only the thin veneer of a venerable old town with a rich history and deep cultural foundation. You’d also be missing a premier California wine country experience, just a couple of hours from home.
Founded in 1911 with a purchase of some 10,000 Santa Ynez acres by the Danish-American Colony, the town was appropriately christened Solvang (“sunny field”) and sought to draw Danes to this Western outpost rooted in Danish culture.
Today Solvang proudly wears its Danish heritage on its sleeve—including the mandatory windmills, lots of delicious pastry, wooden shoes, and authentic Danish provincial architecture, all of which creates an authentic and festive old-world atmosphere. But given Solvang’s location in the heart of California’s Central Coast Wine Country, where sustainability is the name of the game and the earth provides opportunity for locally inspired culinary excellence, fine wining and dining can and should be at the heart of any visit.
On a recent late-summer weekend in Solvang and the nearby hamlet of Los Olivos, we experienced much of this bounty firsthand. We pulled up to the Mirabelle Inn on a Friday afternoon, parking directly in front on a charming residential street. Built as a bed and breakfast, the quaint but comfortably elegant boutique hotel was acquired by new owners in 2015. Guests arrive through a vaulted, three-story lobby, then head to one of 12 well-appointed guest suites with wraparound balconies.
Just off the Mirabelle’s lobby is First & Oak. This amazing restaurant was recently awarded a Michelin Plate honor, the only restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley to ever receive such a distinction. The inn and restaurant are owned by the family that owns Coquelicot Organic Estate Vineyard. First & Oak’s locally sourced three- to five-course tasting menus expertly pair a selection of Coquelicot wines chosen by sommelier and GM Jonathan Rosenson.
After very comfortably sleeping off a wonderfully sumptuous meal, we had a full day of adventure and wine tasting before us, beginning with breakfast at the Mirabelle. This full-service affair is included with a night’s stay.
Before getting serious about wine, a little yoga was in order, so following breakfast we headed to Vineyard Yoga SYV to get in touch with nature and ourselves. One-hour classes (all levels) are taught at a number of vineyards. In our case, it was Gainey Vineyard, which has been producing wine since 1982. In a beautifully relaxing outdoor environment, expert instructor Cori Lassahn, who has been teaching classes in the Valley for 18 years, got us well centered.
Following yoga, it was time for some wine tasting. First, we stopped at Cailloux Cheese Shop where they know exactly how to put together a care package for a day at the vineyards. From there it was on to a private tasting just down the road in the Santa Rita Hills between Lompoc and Buellton.
If your idea of a tasting is bellying up to a crowded winery bar top and competing for the attention of a busy server, a private tasting at Spear Vineyards and Winery (offered by appointment only) will be both edifying and delicious. Sitting on a comfortable leather couch beneath the beamed and vaulted ceiling and looking out massive windows to views of rolling hills beyond, I asked our server who the winemaker was. “Well, I am,” said Kat Gaffney, who, it turns out, was promoted to winemaker just last year. From the quality of her wine to the amazing depth and breadth of her knowledge, it’s easy to see why.
Wine tastings are like potato chips: One is not enough. So on we went to the nearby town of Los Olivos. What began as a lone train station in 1881 is now a lovely, quiet little town with a population of about 1,200. Within this Western village dominated by Victorian architecture are a number of tasting rooms representing local wineries. Kings Carey Wines and Liquid Farm share a building and winemaker, the uber-talented James Sparks, and we had a delicious and informative experience at both.
If you’re in Los Olivos and thirsty, but not for wine, definitely check out the gourmet lemonades at Los Olivos Lemons, housed in a giant lemon. They are immensely refreshing.
Amazingly, we weren’t done yet so we headed back to Solvang to check in at the Hotel Corque. Owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who also own the Chumash Casino Resort, this luxury boutique hotel is located in the heart of downtown. Transportation to and from the resort is available should you wish to get in a little time at the tables or enjoy a relaxing spa treatment.
Dinner that night was right next door at Root 246. With a menu created by Crystal “Chef Pink” DeLongpre, the offerings on hand are original and as delicious as they are artfully plated. The service is also impeccable, as patient and informed as I’ve received anywhere.
The next morning, after coffee and fresh-baked toast at the charming Good Seed Coffee Boutique, we did a bit of shopping and strolling around a town. Retailers of all types abound, from the classic Danish design store The Copenhagen House to the heady aromas of the Solvang Spice Merchant and, the rarest of things, independent bookseller The Book Loft.
Lunch was at Mad & Vin inside The Landsby, a charming downtown hotel that boasts 50 completely remodeled rooms and nine luxuriously appointed guest suites. Mad & Vin specializes in locally sourced ingredients and wine country–inspired cuisine. Happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m. daily; brunch is served on Sundays.
There was still plenty of day left, but it had already been a busy and adventurous weekend and we needed to get back to reality. We were sad to leave, but one of the best things about Solvang is its proximity, and with so much left to discover, we are certain to be returning soon.
When you think Dutch, it’s unlikely that ramen is the first thing that comes to mind. But if you visit APF Ramen next time you go to Solvang that is sure to change. Thursday through Saturday Chef Golzar cooks up deliciously authentic ramen in a creamy tonkatsu broth, along with the requisite char shu pork and scallions and hard- boiled egg (vegetarian ramen also available). For change of pace, visit on Sunday’s for an authentic Persian brunch. Craft cocktails and full bar. 448 Atterdang Rd., Solvang
High Roller Tiki Lounge
If you like “secrets” you’ll love High Roller Tiki Lounge in downtown Solvang. “Hidden” behind the tasting room for Sort This Out Cellars, winery owner Michael Cobb has created a tiki bar with all the requisite tropical kitsch that implies. In this evocative space, tasting room and bar manager Alanna Dixon expertly crafts a full slate of wine-based tiki cocktails. Insiders Tip: “Tiki Tuesdays” features 2 for 1 drinks all day long. “Virgin” tiki drinks available for little ones.