11 Aug,2016 By Jagabond
“One evening, just as the sun was setting amid radiant clouds, there came a large flock of beautiful birds out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen any like them before. They were swans; and they curved their graceful necks, while their soft plumage shone with dazzling whiteness. They uttered a singular cry as they spread their glorious wings and flew away from those cold regions to warmer countries across the sea.” – Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Ugly Duckling’
Solvang is the swan. The city that looks so good on the outside, but maybe not so much on the inside. Whereas other small towns fight for recognition, and are accused of being boring or mundane, Solvang has the touristy vibe of a Danish town set in California…heck, they even featured it in the wine-lovers movie ‘Sideways‘. A popular day trip from Santa Barbara, I had to check it out. I found a town with a Disney-esque view of Scandinavia, and a littering of tourist shops that rivals most of what you would find in Rome or Paris.
My first stop was the Hans Christian Andersen museum, which spoke frankly of his lousy love life. I’ve been known to enter the ‘friend zone’ often with women, but Hans was an expert at it. Many times he fell in love, but the woman was not reciprocating with love for him. I guess writing children’s books doesn’t prepare you for scoring with women at the pub. He professed his love to Riborg Voight in a letter, and got the response ‘Goodbye, goodbye. I hope my brother will soon tell me you are happy as before. With sincerest friendship.’ His second love, Louise Collin, spurned his literary genius for a law student, and his broken heart reacted with an impulsive trip to Switzerland. His final and greatest love, Jenny Lind, was a struggling singer in Sweden when Hans met her. He encouraged her to sing in Denmark, and after he helped her overcome her fears, she became famous and went for other lovers…always treating Hans as a brother figure. He maintained his love for her throughout his life, writing in his memoirs that ‘through Jenny Lind I first became aware of the sacredness of art and learned that we must forget ourselves in the service of something greater. No book, no person, has had a better or more ennobling influence on me as a writer than did Jenny Lind.’ I think Hans was a nice guy…sometimes to a fault…and I can relate to that.
Walking around the town you saw images that could be from Denmark, like the first windmill…
…and the second windmill.
The tourist shops in Solvang were ridiculous. I’m not even sure if the things they sold were Danish in any authentic way. They were quirky and fun, so this town would definitely be cool for kids who didn’t know any better. You could buy a traditional Scandinavian outfit…
…or choose to decorate your kitchen in blue and white.
What saved me from tourist trap hell were the wine tasting rooms. Solvang is settled in the Santa Ynez valley, one of the top wine producing regions in California. I ducked into the Casa Cassara tasting room, which ended up being a dud, as the whites were served lukewarm and the reds were too dry for my tongue. The Dascomb Cellars were much better, with some incredible semi-sweet white wine, and raspberry chocolates that accentuated the taste of the reds. The real highlight was Lucky Dogg winery, which sounds more like the name for a microbrewery. All the wines had catchy names, such as ‘Oaky Dokey’ and ‘Lucky Cougar’, but it was the ‘Everyday Chardonnay’ that stood out the most. This was a particularly strong chard at 14.9%, and was medium-bodied with a slight hint of sweet notes that created the perfect blend of flavor…yes, I ended up buying a bottle. They even had a great sparkling wine here, made with vines transplanted from the Champagne region in France, which was made even better by the small amount of port-like Syrah blended with it. The winery even had a very cool logo…
This wasn’t my first time in Solvang, as I recall spending a weekend here many years ago. Looking back, I’m curious how I kept myself occupied for a weekend, when on the current trip I barely made it four hours before the tourist mobs started driving me mad. When you’re in Santa Barbara, everyone says you must visit Solvang, which is probably similar to being pressured to visit the leaning tower of Pisa when you’re in Tuscany. It didn’t even feel like a town here, but more like the opening day of a glitzy county fair. I think Solvang should just add a Ferris wheel, water slide, and roller coaster, and totally embrace the amusement park theme.