This post was most recently updated on July 27th, 2019
I’d been waiting all week to jump in the car and hit the road. I love road trips — especially when I can travel with my husband. This trip was special because we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. And we were exploring new places we’d never been before. Doesn’t a road trip to Solvang from San Diego sound wonderful?
Road Trip to Solvang
We left Friday mid-day from San Diego, skirting the worst of Los Angeles traffic and making our way north to Solvang. If you’re not familiar with Solvang, it’s a Danish town in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 35 miles NW of Santa Barbara. It’s a little slice of Denmark, right down to the cross-beamed architecture, windmills, and replica of the “Little Mermaid” sculpture found in Copenhagen. We wanted to make the best time there so we could start exploring and make a more leisurely road trip from Solvang back to San Diego over the weekend.
We arrived in Solvang at about 7:00 pm. With plenty of daylight remaining, we set out to explore the town and find a place to eat dinner. Armed with a list of top ten things to do and places to eat from Tripadvisor, we were very surprised to find everything but a few restaurants closed. We still enjoyed strolling around the town and Mission Santa Ines, as well as the outdoor Solvang Festival theatre. And we chose highly-rated Fresco Valley Cafe for dinner and just barely got in before they closed to new patrons for the night!
(click on photos for an enlarged image)
Dining in Solvang
By now, we were exhausted and hungry–and happy to be sitting down to eat. I didn’t even take any pictures. BUT I will tell you we had an amazing dinner. Service was very quick and prices were more than reasonable. We both ordered quiches–I had asparagus and cheese, while my husband had sausage and red pepper. Totally mouth-watering quiches! Our sides were fresh gorgonzola walnut salad and creamy vegetable puree soup. And they served flavor-infused water–ours was cucumber water, and it was so refreshing! No dessert because we were saving our calories for a famous Solvang breakfast the next morning!
Where to stay in Solvang (or not)
To make this trip more affordable, we opted not to stay in a Solvang hotel, with average rates of over $250 per night. We stayed at the Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn and restaurant (made famous by their pea soup, ambience, and gift shop). It’s located in Buellton, CA — only three miles from Solvang. With a AAA discount, we only paid $130 for the night. Our king room was immaculate and had all the amenities we would expect from a more expensive hotel — free wi-fi, breakfast, and parking plus mini-frig, microwave, toiletries, and comfortable bed. And quiet. We didn’t hear another soul! When we checked in, we could smell that famous pea soup wafting across the parking lot from the restaurant. The staff was very friendly, too.
Breakfast in Solvang
We awoke Saturday morning to beautiful sunshine without a single cloud in the sky. In the courtyard below, two hard-core bicyclists were getting a workout on their stationary bikes. (We saw lots of bicyclists in the Solvang area — apparently there was a huge bike event going on during the week). We drove straight to Mortensen’s Bakery in Solvang for their highly-recommended Danish Butter Ring. With some fresh whipped hot cocoa, we sat down to enjoy the incredible buttery, flaky pastry with a kind of pudding filling. Words can’t even describe how amazing it tasted.
We’d also been told we should try waffles and aebleskivers. So off we went to find them. At the Danish Mill Bakery, we found the waffles first. But seriously, I could not eat more than a bite of the lady-finger styled, raspberry-filled pastry because I was so full. The asbleskivers would have to wait for another time.
Exploring the shops in Solvang
By now, most of the shops were open in Solvang. There are a lot of really fun and unique shops including shops that specialize in knives, lace, Skandinavian costumes, shoes, Skandinavian Christmas decor, chocolate(!), jewelry, souvenirs, baby clothes, shabby chic outdoor decor, and books. Tourists began to fill the streets and shops, and Solvang was no longer the sleepy town it was the night before.
We continued to stroll streets and shops, spying various statues, museums, a trolley, historic information, and a cute little tourist information booth. We learned that most of the shops and businesses in Solvang are locally owned and have maintained the Danish tradition. Street names also reflect the Denmark heritage with names like Atterdag Rd., Copenhagen Dr., and Elverhoy Way.
Solvang parks and Quicksilver Ranch
I wanted to see the parks of Solvang AND the miniature horse ranch nearby before leaving the area. Driving through this part of the country is like driving through Tuscany, Italy — except that there aren’t any medieval villages setting atop the hills. There are lots of vineyards, farms, ranches, lavender fields, and even ostrich and quail farms. Here are a few pictures from the parks and Quicksilver Ranch:
Coastal Highway 101
By 10:30 am, we were on the road again. We headed southwest toward the coastal highway 101 and a lunch date with my aunt and uncle in Carpenteria. Stopping to take pictures at a few state beaches was a bonus. We took advantage of a roadside view point and a beach access trail behind Bacara Resort & Spa in Goleta, to take some photos.
I loved the more rugged beaches. The scenery was beautiful and the beaches relatively undeveloped. Nothing can beat the beautiful beaches of San Diego, but these were still spectacular in their own right. We stopped in Carpenteria to visit and share lunch with my Uncle Ron and Aunt Donna at their home. Uncle Ron is my dad’s older brother, and being with him brought lots of fond memories of family reunions at my Grandmother’s home before she passed away! We enjoyed catching up on family news and noshing on pizza, and too soon, it was time to be on our way.
Exploring all the way home
The return from our road trip to Solvang went like this: one of us would drive while the other would consult their GPS to choose the next place they wanted to visit. Alternating who drove and who chose the next destination was a fun way to split up the trip and do some exploring. It was my husband’s turn to choose first: Ventura Pier it would be!
As we strolled along the pier, I was just thinking how incredibly lucky I was! Pretty sure I even shed a tear or two. A beautiful day, perfect weather, holding hands with the man I love, nothing else to do but savor everything. How often do we get moments like that in our life? That’s why traveling (if only a few miles away from home) is so good for relationships.
Point Dume State Beach
Next it was my turn to choose a place to explore. I chose Point Dume State Beach in Malibu because I read in a review that Iron Man’s home was there. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I love the Iron Man movies, so we went to check it out. We missed the turn to the beach, so the GPS navigated us to the Point Dume Natural Preserve, east of the beach and up on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Spectacular! But no available parking. So we took turns staying with the car and walking along the trail overlooking the beach. Is Iron Man’s home really there? Well. Not exactly. There are no homes on the bluff of Point Dume, except in the movies, where Iron Man’s home is placed in that location with computer graphics.
Back to my husband’s choice for our next location and dinner. He chose the #1 rated restaurant in Santa Monica, Tar & Roses. We found a great parking spot near the Santa Monica public library, and walked to the restaurant, only to learn it was closed due to a recent kitchen fire! (Update: Tar & Roses is open again now.) The next top-rated restaurant turned out to be vegan and we weren’t in the mood for that. And the next had a line halfway down the block.
So we turned down 3rd Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only scene with fun businesses, restaurants, and lots of street performers! My husband spotted the Hummus Bar Express, and the Mediterranean cuisine sounded great! He ordered a combo kebab plate and I had a chicken & rice dish. We both had their signature flatbread, too. It really hit the spot, and service was quick. My dinner’s portions were so large, I had enough for lunch the next day, too.
The final stretch of our road trip to Solvang
After Santa Monica, we finished our drive to San Diego, passing several other beach neighborhoods we’ve checked out on past trips: Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Long Beach, Naples, Seal Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente. We’d had a great anniversary getaway, but it was also good to get home. We logged over 12,000 steps, re-connected as a couple, enjoyed a family visit, ate some great food, and saw so many beautiful places. How do you nurture your marriage or celebrate anniversaries? Do you have a favorite road trip memory?
You don’t really need a big occasion to warrant taking a weekend road trip. You can even be impulsive about it and just start driving without knowing exactly where you’re headed. In fact, I dream of doing just that sometime soon! I hope I’ve convinced you to explore Solvang and Highway 101 if you’re in southern California. And if not, take your own special weekend road trip getaway!