On Saturday I went back in time and across the world by traveling about 30 minutes into the hills to a little Danish village called Solvang.
I was fascinated with the quaintness of a town styled after the stereotypical American understanding of what Denmark looks like. It was a strange experience standing in the middle of a small Danish town just a short drive from the Pacific.
The little village in California is almost 100 years old. In 1911, a group of Danish Americans traveled across the Midwest to sort of re-colonize a tiny swath of land for the Danes. They settled on a piece of land immediately adjacent to one of the California missions, Mission Santa Inés, and swiftly began establishing a town there that they hoped could reconnect them with their Danish heritage.
My first stop in town was the visitor’s center at the front of town where I inquired what Solvang had to offer for the college crowd. The kind gentleman behind the table paused while he seemed to ponder what the hell kind of a question that was. I was uncertain whether he felt that there was nothing or everything for UCSB students in the little enclave. He eventually walked me through the varying attractions of the town: the mission, the Danish-inspired church building, the mermaid fountain and, of course, the Danish bakeries and restaurants around town.
Solvang looks nothing like modern Denmark, but rather like a huge miniature golf course. There are five full-sized windmills in the town, most of which sit on top of little shops. Part of me feared that if I tried to enter one of them, the door would swing shut, blocking me from ever leaving.
My girlfriend and I set out among many other couples, families and greyhounds, the last of which were in town for the third annual Solvang Greyhound Festival. We plotted our path toward the mission and, along the way, walked along underneath windmills, lucky stork woodcarvings on roofs and themed weathervanes.
Our trip took us into various shops in the area, each with its own distinct specialty, including toys, clothes and items “seen on TV” — including the Snuggie. Each shop and restaurant had its own unique charm, and nearly every dining establishment specialized in some sort of Danish treat, whether chocolate or aebleskiver.
Solvang is more than just a fun little town. It’s famous for the Tour of California bike race’s time trial through its streets, as well as for yielding the inspiration for one of Milhouse’s uncles on “The Simpsons” and hosting the only West Coast Greyhound Festival.
After enjoying a Danish marshmallow-chocolate thing, the name of which escapes me, we decided that it was time for some refreshment. While sitting and enjoying our fine beverages, I contemplated living in a small town like Solvang. I’m seduced by the simplicity of wandering down to a store, knowing all your neighbors and leaving the car in the driveway except for on long trips. At the same time, I love living in the big city and doing all those things while simultaneously being able to tap the resources of a large urban setting. I liked Solvang with all of its old-fashioned charm: It was cute, friendly and overall a nice place, despite my initial reservations about the architecture. I decided that despite its allure, I think it would be nice to just visit rather than move there. Turning to my girlfriend, I pondered aloud, “I think I could live in a small town, but I don’t know about a themed one.”