50 years ago, I made my first visit to Denmark. and memories of the two weeks I was there, staying in Youth Hostels, keep flooding back. The nostalgia is powerful. The Little Mermaid statue, windmills, Danish pastries. I remember them all. In fact, I see them all, right now. Not only do I see them but I am enjoying not only the sweet and the savory aroma of those pastries, but also the taste. It is breakfast time and sitting there in the bakery with my coffee and pastries I am so happy to be back in Denmark after 50 years.
Leaving the bakery, I walk along the street – Copenhagen Drive! Where would you expect to find a mermaid? To me that is a rhetorical question. Surely mermaid and sea are like hand and glove? So why is the Little Mermaid statue now in a fountain in a shopping center? In the park I see a bust of Hans Christian Andersen. I know it was many years ago that I was in Copenhagen but I remember, very clearly that the Andersen statue was not just a bust. It was a life-size statue of the author, on a plinth. What is happening? Was there something in my coffee or pastries that has left me so befuddled?
Hold it just a minute! It is time I really paid attention to my environment. Why, if I am in Denmark, do all of the cars have California number plates? NOW I know I am not in Denmark! I am 128 miles North of my home in Los Angeles, and 34 miles South of Santa Barbara. I am in Solvang – the Danish capital of America!
During the second half of the 19th Century a considerable number of Danes emigrated and many ended up in the United States, the majority settling in mid-western states. While many people from European countries migrated because of persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnicity, most Danes made the move to find a better economic future. Their number was estimated to be 10% of the population?
The European migrants brought, to their new country their belief in the inter-relatedness of education and religion, linking their traditional folk schools with their Lutheran religion. In 1906 they begun to discuss, the idea of creating a Danish colony on the west coast. In 1910 a group of Danes left the bitter mid-west winters and headed further west planning to establish such a community. In 1911 they received a land grant of about 9,000 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in California, and the new community was named Solvang – “a sunny field” in their native language.
Over one million tourists come to Solvang each year. For a small city with a resident population of less than 6,000 it is easy to see how important visitors are to the local economy. Why do so many tourists visit Solvang? The attraction of this Californian town became more widely known as a result of a feature article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1947. With the title of Little Denmark, it introduced hundreds of Americans to a “piece of Europe” in California.
Local entrepreneurs started to capitalize on the publicity and now, in and around Solvang, tourists can see half-timbered houses, other typically Danish architecture and windmills go with other Danish icons already mentioned. The Oscar-nominated film “Sideways” in 2004 gave a dual boost to the economy of the Solvang area. A general increase in tourists was accompanied by a renewed commercial interest in wine. Today there are more than 120 vineyards, including a number of small boutique wineries, in the area with 20 Tasting Rooms in the city itself.
You can sample delicacies from one of the five “authentic” Danish bakeries. Would you like something more substantial? Dine at one of the 30 restaurants and cafes, offering US, Mexican and other International cuisine. Accommodation? Book in to one of the 25 accommodation facilities. The options range from a luxury guest ranch, through full-service hotels to bed and breakfast.
Detailed information about accommodation, restaurants, places to visit and local tours is available from the Solvang Visitor’s Bureau at 1639 Copenhagen Drive. Solvang. CA. 93463.Tel. (805) 688 6144, or from the Website: solvangusa.com.