One of the attractions of a trip to wine country is the charming towns filled with restaurants, tastings rooms, and boutiques selling anything from clothing to art to local products. There are the sophisticated towns of Healdsburg in Sonoma and Yountville and St. Helena in Napa. There is the rustic town of Paso Robles. In Santa Barbara Wine Country, there is the delightful town of Los Olivos and the kitschy turning “cool” town of Solvang.
Known for its windmills, souvenir shops, and pastry shops selling aebleskivers, Solvang was founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants and was called the “Danish Capital of America.” The town, named by Sunset Magazine as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the Western United States” showcases authentic architecture and thatched roofs that reflect an old-world style. However, Solvang had always felt like a dated tourist destination rather than a hip town in wine country until lately.
In 2015, the Landsby opened, introducing a most elegant option for travelers. The converted hotel, with its white-walled lobby and shabby-chic décor, is an upscale hotel offering for the hipsters coming to Santa Ynez. In addition, the Landsby opened the stylist restaurant Mad + Vin, which means “food and wine” in Danish, serving season ingredients on their California Coast menu.
While the Landsby offered the type of accommodations that Healdsburg, Yountville, and other wine country towns offered, chic, sophisticated, and hipster were still not words one would use to describe Solvang. But, within the last year, even with a global pandemic, the town of Solvang has been quickly modernizing with new lodging, new restaurants, and new wineries and tasting rooms that offer modern, hip options for the weekend traveler.
WHERE TO STAY
In addition to the Landsby, a couple new sophisticated hotels have opened in the town of Solvang. Highway West Vacations acquires distressed properties and gives them a new life and two of these properties are in the heart of Solvang.
The Winston (486-C, 1st St, Solvang, CA 93463)
The Winston is a 14-room hotel offering large uniquely designed suites with large beds, high ceilings and the utmost privacy. From the outside, it does not look like anything special. But inside, the modern space feels like being a welcome guest in someone’s home. There is no front desk as The Winston is a self-service hotel. Before your arrival, you receive an email with instructions to access the building with a personal entry code and your room number. In addition to your room, The Winston offers public spaces accessible only to guests. There is a stocked private, guest-only honor bar and breakfast is delivered to your door each morning. The Winston touts “invisible service” and while you check yourself in and make yourself comfortable, the service is reflected in the luxurious touches found throughout your stay.
Vinland Hotel & Lounge (1455 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463)
The Vinland Hotel & Lounge is a pet-friendly 82-room hotel. The completely renovated hotel offers a clean, modern design and all the basic comforts, including a large flat-screen TV and a workspace. The Vinland also offers special “wine suites”. They have partnered with three local wineries to create curated experiences that include tasting vouchers for vineyard visits, as well as a special wine inventory and Vinland wine glasses in your room. Vinland Hotel & Lounge also has a swimming pool and cocktails and small plates are available at the V Lounge.
WHERE TO EAT
Restaurants line the streets of Solvang but a few new places stand out.
Peasants FEAST (487 Atterdag Rd, Solvang, CA 93463)
Opened in April 2020, Peasants Feast is a family-owned restaurant with a solid pedigree. Executive Chef and Owner Michael Cherney worked under Chef Christophe Eme and Chef Joel Robuchon before moving to Santa Ynez where he worked at Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos, Cat Cora’s Mesa Burger, and Firestone Walker Brewing Company before launching Peasant Feast with his wife Sarah Cherney who has worked front-of-house for more than 25 years. At Peasants Feast, the seasonal menu features new American comfort food.
Every dish is enticing but some favorite stand-outs are the Solvang Hot Chicken sandwich, the Atterdag Smash Burger, and the Gold Coast Grilled Cheese, as well as the Brussels salad, the tacos, and the Peasant’s Bacon as a starter. It is hard to go wrong in ordering at Peasants Feast but save room for the ice cream made by Michael and Sarah’s daughter Reina.
Cailloux Cheese (1661 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463)
For cheese lovers, Cailloux Cheese is for you. Cailloux Cheese offers artisanal cheese and charcuterie, fresh bread, cheese board accouterments, as well as picnic baskets. In addition to a selection of cheeses, Cailloux offers a changing selection of grilled cheese sandwiches. On one visit, I had a grilled cheese with mozzarella di bufala cheese and pickled watermelon jam which was odd-sounding and yet utterly delicious. Owner and cheesemonger Janelle Norman also offers cheese classes if you are looking for a break from wine tasting.
WHERE TO DRINK
There are more than 20 tasting rooms in Solvang but two new wine bars offer a selection of interesting finds.
Clean Slate Wine Bar (448 Atterdag Rd, Solvang, CA 93463)
Tucked in King Atterdag Court, just off Mission Drive, Clean Slate Wine Bar is a hidden gem. Featuring a selection of Spanish-style tapas from Chef Melissa, Clean Slate Wine Bar also offers 50 wines by the glass. All of the wines are limited production wines from small independent winemakers. Clean Slate Wine Bar offers an opportunity to taste some of the delicious wines in the area that are not otherwise available as these small producers do not have public tasting rooms.
Arrowsmith’s Wine Bar (1539C Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463)
Owners Anna and Tim Arrowsmith, who are originally from England, offer a selection of international wines at Arrowsmith’s Wine Bar. A selection wines from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada can be found on the list, as well as local Central Coast producers, including Anna and Tim’s own wine label Arrowsmith. A selection of European beers is also available.
Vaquero Bar (1635 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463)
When you need a break from wine, head to Vaquero Bar for a cocktail. Vacquero Bar is part of a dual concept with Chefs Lincoln Carson, Anthony Carron, and Steven Fretz, as well as award-winning winemaker, sommelier, and restaurateur Rajat Parr. Coast Range is a steakhouse and seafood restaurant opening soon and Vaquero Bar is an upscale Western bar with a full cocktail list, local beers and wines, great appetizers, and a large selection of classic rock & country vinyl.
Good Seed Coffee and Bakery (607 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463)
Every town needs a good coffee spot and Good Seed is that. Owned by Brad Williams, a certified “Q Grader” by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and his wife Leyla, Good Seed Coffee roasts small batches of unique and rare coffee beans which can be enjoyed with a selection of organic baked goods and a range of heritage grain sourdough bread loaves.
Even a global pandemic could not stop Solvang from quickly becoming a cool destination for the wine traveler.