Tuesday, February 4, 2014


"Always to go forward & never to turn back."                     -Junipero Serra

We are heading down the California coast, on our first road trip of 2014, when we decide to stop for a little taste of Scandinavia. Solvang (pop.25,245),which means “sunny field” in Danish, is located 46 miles west of Santa Barbara, and 15 miles north of the Pacific coast. It was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish educators.

With over one-half the residents being of Danish descent, the city council decided in 1945 to cultivate their heritage by developing a “Danish Village” to attract tourists. The Danish motif idea was clearly successful, because the city is currently a very popular tourist destination with thousands of visitors annually.

We had just finished our first Christmas away from Minnesota and missed Aunt Rozanne's Swedish smörgåsbord and my niece Mary Ellen's traditional oyster stew. (We searched all over San Diego for Swedish sausage and lefse without any luck.) No doubt, this little bit of nostalgia enhanced our appreciation for a “taste of Scandinavia” in Solvang. We loved our Danish dinner at the RedViking Inn enough to return for a second night. The Danish sausage, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, heavy brown gravy, pickled red cabbage and crispybread reminded us of our moms' home cooking.

The Mission Santa Inés, located on the eastern edge of Solvang, is a good diversion from “everything Danish.” It was built in 1804 on a hill overlooking the rolling green hills of Santa Ynez Valley. It is the 19th of the 21 California Missions that were built by the Franciscans between 1769 and 1823.

In addition to the beautiful chapel, there is a museum with significant original art work, including the only mission period painting by a native Indian convert.

Outside the mission, on a tree-lined path overlooking the rolling green hills, is the El Calvario. It consists of 14 wooden crosses, each with a colorful painting depicting one of the Stations of the Cross. The crosses, combined with a lovely setting, made this a very special place to linger.

“Always to go forward & never to turn back,” is a favorite quote that is frequently seen on plaques in the California Missions. It is by Junίpero Serra, who founded the first nine missions with the goal to convert the native Americans to Christianity and promote the Catholic Church. He started his journey from Mexico with a seriously infected leg and was clearly on a mission until his death in 1784.

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We also found time to enjoy wine-tasting. With over 80 wineries in the area, we had a lot of choices. Santa Barbara County, with its five distinct wine-growing valleys, is one of the top wine regions in the world. The local Pinot Noir was made famous by the 2004 movie “Sideways” which was filmed in Solvang and nearby Buellton. There is no end to picturesque wineries surrounded by vineyards, charming old towns, ranches and farmland. It is beautiful year-round, even in January, when the grapes are dormant, and the grass is not as green, and the foilage not as lush, as other times of the year. I  prefer the off-season for travel because it's less crowded, cheaper, and you can travel more freely, often without reservations. We were fortunate to have sunny, warm 70 degree days.

This was a nice leisurely place to hang out for a couple of days and I would like to return. I am kind of surprised that I appreciated the Scandinavian heritage as much as I did.



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