It's easy to tell when you're close to Solvang.
When you exit Highway 101 in Buellton, the silhouette of the Sideways Inn (named after the wine-centric 2004 movie that made the area famous) windmill
- Photo By Chris Mcguinness
- MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE Sure, Solvang has a lot of fun shops and activities for tourists, but its restaurants, theater, and art galleries make it a great spot for locals.
The tourist destination is known for its blocks of Danish-inspired buildings, and on any weekend you will usually find Solvang clogged with visitors browsing the little shops of tchotchkes and hauling around big blue tubs of shortbread dough. On really busy days, the huge crowds swarming downtown's fairy-tale architecture can make you feel like you're at Disneyland. But even if you aren't interested in eating
On this particular occasion, my fiancée and I drove into town to catch a showing of one of her favorite musicals, Mamma Mia!, at the Solvang Festival Theater. It's an outdoor venue that evokes the feeling of the Shakespearian theaters of yore. After grabbing a local craft beer at the concession stand, we took our seats and settled in for the show.
I'd been to several musicals and plays before, mostly ones put on at indoor venues like the PCPA theater in Santa Maria, but an outdoor show had a much different vibe. The audience, usually more reserved in the hushed quiet of the theater, seemed loose and casual out in the fresh air. Maybe it was due to the fact that we could bring our beer, wine, and other refreshments to our seats. There was more talking, laughter, and once the show started, more singing than I'd seen in the indoor venues. While I'm more of an AC/DC guy than an ABBA superfan, it was clear that everyone was having a good time. It felt more like being at a football or baseball game than a night at the theater, and I mean that in the best way possible.
- Photo By Rebecca Rose
- LOCAL COLOR Asking the locals is a great way to get off the beaten path in Solvang. This guy wasn't much of a talker, but we still got a long pretty well.
The theater isn't the only thing in Solvang that keeps me coming back. The place is home to two incredible art museums, the Wildling and the Elverhoj, as well as the Book Loft, a tiny little shop crowded with books that I could spend hours at a time in. While there are plenty of places where you can get traditional Danish fare, Solvang is also home to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, First and Oak, a super upscale joint with amazing food from a chef who came up under the tutelage of Gordon Ramsay.
I really didn't know about any of these places when I first moved to Central Coast and visited Solvang. But discovering that there was more to the town than what I initially experienced was definitely a pleasant surprise.
- Image By Eyvind Earle/courtesy Of The Elverhoj Museum
- MORE THAN WINDMILLS Solvang is home to some really amazing art museums, including the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, which has featured renowned artists such as Eyvind Earle.
When you live close enough, it's easy to dismiss Solvang as a kitschy place that only caters to tourists. But the truth is that the town has plenty to offer locals willing to look beyond the souvenir shops. Δ
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness admits