Solvang: A Touristy Taste of Denmark
Immortalized in the 2004 film Sideways, the valley's largest community is also one of the state's most popular tourist towns, hosting more than a million tourists each year. Founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants longing for plenty of sunny weather, Solvang takes a lot of flack for being a Disneyfied version of its founders' vision, where everything that can be Danish is Danish ("More Danish than Denmark!" is the oft-heard local mantra). You've never seen so many windmills, cobblestone streets, flying flags, wooden shoes, and gingerbread-trimmed bakeries. In fact, the whole town looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting, so it's no wonder that America's most populist painter has an outlet on the main drag, Thomas Kinkade Places in the Heart Gallery, 1576 Mission Dr. (tel. 805/693-8337).
To reach Solvang from U.S. 101 south, turn east (left) onto Hwy. 246 at Buellton. It's a well-marked 20-minute drive along a scenic two-lane road. From Santa Barbara, take U.S. 101 north to Hwy. 154, a truly breathtaking 45-minute drive over San Marcos Pass. For a destination guide or hotel information, contact the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/468-6765 or 805/688-6144; www.solvangusa.com).
One of the biggest attractions in Solvang is the conspicuous abundance of baked goods such as Danishes, Sarah Bernhardts, kringles, and kransekage, making walking-friendly Solvang a great place to stop for a leg stretch and a sugar rush between Hearst Castle and Santa Barbara. Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, 1529 Mission Dr. (tel. 805/688-6314; www.olsensdanishbakery.com), is the town's best bakery.
Solvang is also full of Danish import shops stuffed with Royal Copenhagen collectibles, lace, and carvings. Gerda's Iron Art Gift Shop, 1676 Copenhagen Dr. (tel. 805/688-3750), and the Royal Copenhagen Shop, 1683 Copenhagen Dr. (tel. 805/688-6660), offer a large selection of china, cookware, potholders, and Danish gift items. Lemos Feed and Pet Supply, 1511-C Mission Dr. (tel. 805/693-8180), has a great selection of gifts for pets. Antiques hounds will find plenty to admire and buy at the Solvang Antique Center, 486 First St. (tel. 805/688-6222; www.solvangantiques.com), with more than 50 dealers.
Windhaven Glider Rides, Santa Ynez Airport (tel. 805/688-2517; www.gliderrides.com), runs hang glider rides over the gorgeous valley. For a different kind of thrill, you can try your luck at the Chumash Casino, a huge Las Vegas-style casino on Hwy. 246 in Santa Ynez (tel. 800/CHUMASH [248-6274]; www.chumashcasino.com).
If you want to wedge some history and culture between bites of pastries and sips of wine, the valley is the home of the historic, tragic Mission Santa Ines, 1760 Mission Dr. (tel. 805/688-4815; www.missionsantaines.org; winter daily 9am-5:30pm; summer daily 9am-5pm), with its interpretive display of Chumash, religious, and Spanish artifacts, paintings, and documents. Built in 1804, the mission fell into disuse and disrepair after a series of natural and man-made disasters, but near-divine intervention -- in the form of Capuchin monks -- helped resurrect the mission, which now serves Mass and hosts an annual fiesta in midsummer.
Dedicated to documenting and preserving America's flora and fauna, the small yet wonderful Wildling Museum, 2928 San Marcos Ave., Los Olivos (tel. 805/688-1082; www.wildlingmuseum.org; Wed-Sun 11am-5pm; $3 donation requested for admission) is solely supported by donations. Its three rooms offer a changing display of photographs and paintings depicting the history of our vanishing lands and wildlife, and it's truly a labor of love.
Both the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, 1680 Mission Dr., upstairs (tel. 805/688-2052; daily 10am-5pm), and the Elverhøj Museum, 1624 Elverhoj Way (tel. 805/686-1211; www.elverhoj.org; Wed-Thurs 1-4pm, Fri?Sun noon?4pm), cater to children -- especially the Elverhøj, which is designed to stimulate children to celebrate the life of Denmark's most famous citizen. Downstairs is the Bookloft and Kaffe Hus, with a reading area for children.
Miniature Horses & More
Miniature horses supposedly make great house pets, but you may not want to mention that to your kids until you are far, far away from Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch, 1555 Alamo Pintado Rd. (tel. 805/686-4002; qsminis.com). No more than 34 inches high, these four-legged Lilliputians can be petted and played with during visiting hours. If you prefer full-size equines, visit Day Dream Arabians, 2065 Refugio Rd. (tel. 805/688-9106; daydreamarabians.com), for a presentation, a tour, and the opportunity to stroll with and feed the mares and foals. If birds are more your bag, Ostrich Land, 610 E. Hwy. 246, Buellton (tel. 805/686-9696; www.ostrichlandusa.com), lets you view the 8 1/2-foot-tall, 350-pound bipeds from a safe distance, and then buy some low-fat ostrich meat (which, surprisingly, tastes like lean beef).
Los Olivos: A Quiet Wine Country Town
Los Olivos is a good old-fashioned country town in the middle of the Central Coast Wine Country, complete with a flagpole at the town's main intersection. If you saw TV's Return to Mayberry, that was Los Olivos standing in for Andy Griffith's sentimental Southern hamlet. But these days, the town's storefronts feature numerous art galleries, stylish cafes, and wine-tasting rooms. If cutesy and congested Solvang is definitely not your kind of scene, make the short, scenic drive over here along Alamo Pintado Road, spend a few hours browsing the town's 3 short blocks, and then enjoy an alfresco lunch at the Los Olivos Café or Panino gourmet sandwich shop. If you're looking for a place to stay, Fess Parker runs a beautiful inn and spa here.
Cachuma Lake: A Bald Eagle Habitat
Created in 1953 by the damming of the Santa Ynez River, this picturesque reservoir running along Hwy. 154 is the primary water source for Santa Barbara County. It's also the centerpiece of a 6,600-acre county park with a flourishing wildlife population and well-developed recreational facilities. Cachuma has, through agreeable climate and diligent ranger efforts, become a notable habitat for resident and migratory birds, including rarely sighted bald eagles, which migrate south from as far as Alaska in search of food.
One of the best ways to appreciate this fine-feathered bounty is to take one of the naturalist-led Eagle Cruises of the lake, offered between November and February. The 48-foot Osprey was specially designed for wildlife observation, with unobstructed views from nearly every seat. During the rest of the year, rangers lead Wildlife Cruises around the lake, helping you spot resident waterfowl, deer, and the elusive bobcats and mountain lions that live here. Eagle Cruises depart Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday between 10am and noon, with additional cruises Friday and Saturday at 2pm. Wildlife Cruises run Friday and Saturday at 3pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 10am. All cruises are 2 hours long. In addition to the park day-use fee of $5 per car, the fare is $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. Reservations are recommended; call the Santa Barbara County Parks Department (tel. 805/686-5050; www.sbparks.com).
The recreational opportunities also offer campers, boaters, and fishermen abundant facilities. Contact the Lake Cachuma Recreation Area (tel. 805/686-5055) for recorded information.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.