This Small California Town Offers a European-style Holiday Getaway — With Christmas Markets, Festive Events, and Dazzling Decor

Danish holiday traditions shine bright in this sun-splashed Southern California destination.

<p>HaizhanZheng/Getty Images</p>

HaizhanZheng/Getty Images

The ultimate passport-free escape that feels like Europe without needing to hop on a long-haul flight, Solvang is an enchanting village in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley with Danish-style architecture, wineries, and postcard-worthy scenery. Dazzling decorations, an abundance of yuletide events, and holiday markets make it particularly popular during the festive season. Plus, you're bound to get some tasty gløgg (or Scanvidnan mulled wine).

This sun-soaked Southern California gem is also proof that you don’t need heaps of snow, or any flakes at all, to feel merry and bright. Besides, the comfortable climate just means it’s more enjoyable to walk around the quaint downtown, marvel at the light-bedecked thatched roof buildings, snap photos of the iconic windmill, and feast on smørrebrød at the outdoor eateries. And it certainly wouldn’t stop you from rocking a cute Christmas sweater. Here's how to plan the ultimate holiday getaway in Solvang, California.

Best Things to Do in Solvang

<p>Courtesy of the City of Solvang</p>

Courtesy of the City of Solvang

‘Tis the season to make festive memories in Solvang. Every year, the village hosts a holiday extraordinaire known as Julefest that runs from late November through the beginning of January. During the month-long celebration, visitors can delight in the wonder of twinkling lights, nostalgic family fun, music, markets, food, and booze. Things really kick off with the annual tree lighting ceremony at Solvang Park, which also features dancing ballerinas, live music, and caroling. Other holiday highlights include photos with Santa, a parade, candlelight strolls, Danish dancing, a live nativity scene, and a makers market.

Beyond the expansive list of Julefest festivities, the entire downtown gets into the spirit of the season. The main drag is dotted with garland-clad tasting rooms and souvenir shops to pick up presents for friends and family back home (though we’re guessing your suitcase will already be stuffed with crafts and trinkets from the nighttime artisan marketplace). In between attending festive events and shopping, pop over to the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art to learn about the deep-rooted Danish heritage and hop on the trolley for a ride around town.

Best Places to Stay in Solvang

<p>Eddie Sanchez</p>

Eddie Sanchez

The Danish capital of America has a handful of charming accommodations sure to fill travelers’ hearts with glee during the holidays. The most Instagram-worthy stay in the area, The Landsby brings contemporary Scandinavian style and hygge vibes to downtown. Not surprisingly, the seasonal decorations at this chic, 51-room boutique hotel follow the same cozy approach (think: a Christmas tree adorned with tiny Nordic gnomes and peppermint-dusted hot cocoa). Another great choice that’s right in the mix of things, the newly renovated Corque Hotel offers a warm atmosphere, spacious guest rooms, and elegant decor. The lobby looks particularly lovely when done up with festive flourishes. Colorful and rich in character, The Winston shows off jewel-box rooms with needlepoint headboards, textured wallpaper, and comfy beds to catch some Zs after a day full of merriment.

<p>Courtesy of Alisal Ranch</p>

Courtesy of Alisal Ranch

Visitors can play cowboy at Alisal Ranch, a luxury dude ranch set on 10,500 rolling acres just outside of the village. Expect horseback riding, rodeos, line dancing, and Western-themed accommodations, plus plenty of upscale resort amenities such as tennis courts, a full-service spa, two golf courses, and fine dining. The property also sparks cheer with yuletide programming. Besides the marquee adults-only workshop with interior designer Nathan Turner, which is replete with wreath-making demos and holiday cocktails, there’s a host of festive happenings for the whole family to enjoy, including an elaborate custom gingerbread house display in partnership with The Solvang Bakery, caroling, holiday movie showings, and Santa Claus greeting guests on Christmas Eve.

Best Places to Eat and Drink in Solvang

Solvang sits in the Santa Ynez Valley, which puts it in close proximity to many excellent vineyards — notably Larner Vineyard & Winery and Coquelicot Estate Vineyard. The village itself also has some wonderful tasting rooms where visitors can sip local wine. Royal Oaks Winery, Dana V. Wines, and Feliz Noche Cellars are some of the top spots to grab a glass. More in the mood for a seasonally inspired craft cocktail? Head to Vaquero Bar.

Hearty and authentic accurately describes the food scene in Solvang. The tastiest way to fuel up for a full day of festive fun? Breakfast at Paula's Pancake House. Order the signature crepe-like pandekager (Danish pancakes) or stick with the American buttermilk short stacks. The quality and quantity of European bakeries is quite impressive. Birkholm's Bakery & Cafe promises some of the best cherry Danish and buttery, flaky apple boats this side of the Atlantic. And, yes, it’s open on Christmas Eve, in case you need to pick up a last-minute tub of butter cookies for Santa. Swing by Olsen's Danish Village Bakery for a mouthwatering marzipan log made by a third-generation master baker from Denmark. Aebleskiver (puffy Danish pancake balls) from Red Viking Restaurant are the perfect sweet pick-me-up in between caroling and mingling with the Clauses. On the savory side of things, Copenhagen Sausage Garden serves traditional pork medisterpølse, as well as vegan options, in a laid-back outdoor setting with communal picnic tables.

Of course, it’s not all Danish delicacies. The farm-to-table cuisine is absolutely delicious. Thoughtfully sourced and prepared plates earned First & Oak the prestigious Michelin Plate designation. Seasonal ingredients from California's Central Coast are also the star at Mad & Vin. Diners rave about the duck fat fries. The Christmas decorations dazzle as well. Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn pairs traditional American favorites like grilled pork chops with local wine and standout desserts. Holiday additions to the year-round sweet offerings include spiced cheesecake topped with cranberry meringue and a gingerbread cookie.

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