Christmas in Solvang

By Nora Heston Tarte

Eleven months out of the year Solvang operates as the Danish capital of America.
Windmills reminiscent of those found in Denmark, Tudor-styled buildings, and statues that nod to fable writer Hans Christian Anderson transport visitors to another world. In December, Solvang transforms itself into a Christmas spectacular with the city’s annual Julefest—a celebration of lights, food, and all things Christmas. Plan an escape during the month to embrace the holiday spirit and the Danish culture.

Enjoy Julefest
Julefest (pronounced yulefest) is Solvang’s annual Danish Christmas celebration. Lasting the entire month, visitors can enjoy the California stop rated amongst America’s 10 most Christmassy towns. Festive lights are strung over every windmill and building in the city while Julefest brings visits from Santa, holiday parades, and more to California’s Central Coast.

Schedule your stay around the Skal Stroll, one of Julefest’s best December events. For two days, December 15-16, wine and beer lovers can grab a passport and enjoy sips from craft breweries and tasting rooms throughout the Santa Ynez Valley—there’s more than a dozen in all. Special for the holidays, wineries also invite guests to judge Gløgg, a traditional holiday mulled wine served in Denmark.

On the same weekend (or any other Saturday leading up to Christmas) Solvang hosts VIP Candlelight Tours perfect for newbies. If you’ve never been to Solvang before—or if you have but haven’t taken a tour—this event will tell you everything you want to know about the history of California’s Danish town, established in 1911. Tour guides wear costumes and sing carols as you stroll through downtown before heading to a private reception with Santa Claus and snacks (hot cocoa and cookies). Expert Tip: Jump on this event early—tickets sell out fast!

In the evening, show up for the Nativity Pageant, an elaborate stage production that tells the classic nativity story with live animals, musical accompaniment, and narration at the Solvang Festival Theatre (420 Second St.)

The second weekend in December (December 7-8) offers some of Julefest’s biggest attractions. Get into town on Friday evening to watch the festive tree lighting ceremony on December 7 (5-6:30 PM). Entertainment includes performances by ballerinas, live music by local musicians, caroling, and an appearance by Santa Claus. On the next day, the Julefest parade brings more than 400 participants and 50 individual entries to the streets of Solvang. Participate in the Santa Sprint beforehand. Starting at 10:30 AM costumed (or not) runners can sprint through the parade route before everyone else. After the parade, Santa will be at Solvang Park to take gift requests from kids (12:30-4 PM).

Finish off either weekend with downtown shopping. Clothing boutiques, specialty stores, tasting rooms selling wine-themed goodies, and candy shops will all be in the holiday spirit. Carolers and live musicians walk the streets on and off throughout the weekend while shops offer discounts and gift suggestions to shoppers.

Located in Santa Barbara County, Solvang is a favorite destination for those who love wine. There are more than 20 tasting rooms showcasing Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, and Santa Rita Hills wines to choose from.

Take a self-guided tour through downtown. It’s a good opportunity to stop off at local bakeries, eateries, and boutiques in between tastings. While you can’t go wrong with any of the stops, we definitely have some recommendations you shouldn’t miss. Here are some of our favorites:

Cali Love Wine
This boutique business combines wine and music in a California-themed tasting room/guitar museum. Stop in during the day to be serenaded by the sweet stylings of the owners-musicians, or come back in the evening to enjoy karaoke and spinning DJs. As if that wasn’t special enough, Cali Love is dedicated to preserving old-world winemaking techniques such as native yeast fermentations, multi-varietal co-fermentations, and extended macerations to create hand-made wines sourced from local vineyards. (1651 Copenhagen Dr.)

This location is kid and dog friendly.

Crosshatch Winery
Have you ever wanted to sip wine inside of a windmill in the middle of town. It’s the bucket list item you never knew you had. Cross it off at Crosshatch Winery. Come in for a tasting or order wines by the glass. Crosshatch wines run the gamut with a lineup of Rhone and Bordeaux roses, whites, and red. (436 Alisal Road–in the windmill)

Dascomb Cellars
Dascomb Cellars has a rich history in Santa Barbara County, boasting grapes from one of the oldest vineyards in the county. The family owned and operated business pours handcrafted wines and from California Central Coast, all approved by the resident master winemaker David Dascomb. Order a glass—or a few—of the winery’s small-lot reds, ranging from merlot to sangiovese, cinsaut to vintage port. (1659 Copenhagen Drive, Ste. B)

Lion’s Peak
Lion’s Peak serves up Bordeaux and Rhone styled red and white wines offering a little something for every palette. What is truly special about this Solvang gem, however, is its collection of library cabernet sauvignons that date back as far as 1994. (1659 Copenhagen Drive)

Lion’s Peak and Jules Festival Wine Walk, Dec. 15-16
Schedule your travel for mid-December and take advantage of this Julefest exclusive. From 11 AM-4 PM on Saturday and Sunday Lion’s Peak participates in the wine walk event. The winemaker has selected a few special pours for the weekend and will offer special bottle pricing, plus appetizers, live music, and more.

Wandering Dog Wine Bar
There’s a reason Wandering Dog was voted the best place to wine taste in the Santa Ynez Valley. Pull up a seat and order a flight. In addition to local sips, Wandering Dog features pours from around the world, plus gourmet appetizers and other treats. For the beer lover, there are more than two-dozen craft beers to choose from. Expert tip: order a cheese platter created to compliment your individual tastings.

Every Thursday the wine bar hosts a blind tasting event. From 4-7 PM, sip four half-glasses of red wine and try to guess the varietal, alcohol percentage, region, vintage, and price of each one. (1539-C Mission Drive)

Julefest Calendar
Solvang has been dubbed one of the top 10 “Christmassy” towns in America. Explore all there is to love about Julefest.

Nisse Adventure
Dec. 1-31
Jule Nisse are elf-like gnome creatures that are a popular part of hagge. Search out the hidden figures throughout downtown Solvang for the entire month to win a prize.

Live Music in the Park
Dates throughout December
On unscheduled days throughout the month shoppers and strollers will be surprised with holiday music and walking musicians.

VIP Candlelight Tours
Dec. 1, 8, 15, 22, 4:30-6 PM
Behind-the-scenes walking & caroling tour of downtown Solvang.
$25 includes tour and souvenir LED candle

Solvang Park Santa Meet-n-Greet
Dec. 1, 8, 15, 22
Every Saturday in December Santa will be at Solvang Park.
Free photos

Farmer’s Market
Dec. 5, 12, 19, 26, 2-6 PM
The farmer’s market gets a little festive this time of year.

Solvang Julefest Tree Lighting
Dec. 7, 5-6:30 PM
Downtown tree lighting ceremony includes ballet dancers, live music including caroling, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Shop, Mingle & Jingle
Dec. 7-9, 14-16
Win Christmas shopping this year by perusing the goodies at Solvang’s merchants. Discounts and other deals plus gift ideas will be highlighted.

Santa Sprint
Dec. 8, 10:30 AM
Before the Solvang Julefest Parade costumed Santas (and other festive participants) can sprint the parade route.

Solvang Julefest Parade
Dec. 8
Mission and Copenhagen drives come alive with parade participants and festive decorations.

The Solvang Nativity Pageant
Dec. 15, 5 PM and 7 PM
Nativity stage show at the Solvang Festival Theatre, suitable for the whole family

Skal Stroll
Dec. 15-16
2-Day Wine & Beer Walk
$45 includes tastings at all participating tasting rooms and a souvenir glass

Holiday Lights Tour
Dec. 17, first tour at 6 PM
Residents get into the holiday spirit, too—tour the Santa Ynez Valley while sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas tunes.

Third Wednesday
Dec. 19, 3-7 PM
Extra discounts and festive décor make this third Wednesday extra special.

Solvang Shopping
The sweet shops in Solvang are a unique experience for visitors. There are a few small bakeries and other stores that serve traditional Danish goodies, a far cry from the pastries you’re used to picking up.

Stop into Mortensen’s, a busy bakery located in Petersen Village Square. Macaroons, fruit-filled treats, and almond-everything are favorites on the menu. The shop carries some history, too—it was opened in 1967 with Ove Mortensen, a native Danish from Copenhagen. (1588 Mission Drive)

The Swedish Candy Shop is unlike the other sweet stores in Solvang. The storefront hocks traditional Swedish goodies but its specialty is polkagris, a Swedish stick candy that dates back to 1859. (485 Alisal Rd., Ste. 135)

If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic tasting adventure, stop into Solvang Olive. The downtown shop boasts locally grown and produced cold-pressed olive oils, flavored vinegar, and other culinary treats. Mix and match to create new flavors. We recommend the champagne mimosa vinegar and blood orange EVOO. (1578 Mission Drive)

At Jule Has (Danish for Christmas House) it’s Christmas 365 days each year. The year round Christmas store features costumed sales people selling ornaments, nutcrackers, and other holiday décor. In December the store offers a little extra magic as the streets of Solvang finally match the interior of the favored shop.

Hans Christian Anderson
Hans Christian Andersen is a famous fable writer from Copenhagen best known for stories like The Little Mermaid and The Princess & The Pea. His propensity for fairy tales with dark undertones makes him a favorite of both kids and adults.

Perhaps the most famous piece of Andersen pop culture in Solvang is the replicated Little Mermaid statue located outside of Chomp that looks much like the famous Denmark piece. And not far away you can find a statue of the author himself. (1693 Mission Drive)

Step into the Hans Christian Andersen museum to learn more about his life and stories. Original artwork, a collection of works, and more give guests a deeper look at his life, both personal and professional.

If you brought the kids, make a final stop at the Hans Christian Andersen Park. Drive under a castle archway to enter to extensive play area complete with hiking trails, a playground, and full skate park. It’s the ideal spot to sit and enjoy goodies purchased earlier in the day. (633 Chalk Hill Rd.)

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