Solvang: A New Look at an Old World Town
By Kathy Chin Leong
"When you get to Solvang, don’t even stop. Just drive on." During a dinner party at a friend’s home, I finally admitted I had never been to Solvang even though I had lived in California my whole life. My host, Helen, told me that the only thing Solvang had were butter cookies, and that was it.
But that got my curiosity up, and when someone tells me not to do something, the rebellious kid in me just has to do it. So I made reservations at the Wine Country Inn, right smack in the center of Solvang, and reserved the weekend of the "Taste of Solvang" food and wine festival in March. And, let me tell you, there is much, much more than butter cookies in this quaint town.
For a weekend getaway, Solvang is an excellent couples or girlfriends’ retreat. I went with dear friends Pearl and Merrianne to celebrate our birthdays. We would all be turning fifty this year, and it was a great opportunity to kick off the festivities. The weekend met our cravings for shopping, hiking, along with food and wine tasting.
TASTE OF SOLVANG FESTIVAL
Many communities in California have what they call "A Taste of (You Name the Town) Festival" where restaurants, bakeries, and wine bars fling open their doors to the public and offer samples of their specialty wares. At this year’s Taste of Solvang Festival , we reserved tickets via the Solvang Chamber of Commerce ahead of time. The cost was less than $30 per person, and each participant got a wine glass, a commemorative bag, and tickets for the festival.
On Friday night, the festival began at the community hall with a dessert night… an all-you-can-eat dessert night.
Talk about a sugar high. Tables from every local group and bakery and restaurant were lined along the walls as well as in the center of the vast multi-purpose room. With live swing music wafting in the background, we proceeded to stroll down the aisle of tables and picked up tiny plates of cheesecake, brownies, tiramisu, cherry pie, and more. Dessert wine makers were also in abundance, and fortunately, a coffee, tea, and water stand was also set up to quench and neutralize our thirst.
Within minutes of our arrival, a busload of senor citizens burst on the scene- canes, limps, wheelchairs and all. These dear grandmas and grandpas were so excited to be here, but I noticed that many were so careful not to eat too much as they were watching their weight and also their sugar levels.
I felt sorry for those who were diabetic! We were surprised at how full we got even though we had tiny smidgens of sweets on our plates. After an hour, our stomachs told us to wave the white napkin of surrender. We crawled out of there, our dignity still in tact. After all, none of us ate to the point where we had to be carried out on a stretcher.
On Saturday, we were smart. Before gorging at 11 a.m., we woke early to go on a hike at the nearby county park. Parking was free, and no one was there except for a few skateboarders. Our little trio hopped on a trail and walked until it dead ended about 20 minutes later. Okay, so a 40-minute hike that is flat may not amount to much of a calorie burn, but we noticed moms and strollers who also came soon after enjoying the trail, so it was a perfect little trek for a bit of stretching.
By 11 a.m., we made sure to examine our sheet of tickets carefully. With over 30 places to eat and sample, we wanted to choose wisely. At each restaurant and bakery, a table was usually set up outside or in the entryway with the sample items. Festival goers would show the sheet of tickets, and the vendor would cross off the ticket with a marker. It was simple.
Like the dessert night, we would get tiny plates of food. As we roamed about town, we had a thorough look at all the retail shops in between and enjoyed window shopping while snacking. Great eats included ebil skievers, the town’s signature Danish culinary treat that looks like a giant donut hole covered with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. Other treats included pizza, Chinese chicken salad, sausage, and butter cookies (at least 3 times at 3 places). Even non-food places participated with generic treats. We had cookies at a sports clothing store, apple cider at an art gallery, and more cookies at a souvenir shop.
It was a non-traditional eating day, to say the least. By nightfall, the senior set was no where to be found. Out came the 20 and 30-somethings to participate in the wine tasting events happening all over town. There were at least 9 participating wine bars, each with different wines and looks about them. One had a kid’s crayon table. Another had outdoor seating. Yet another had a musician’s corner where we enjoyed listening to flamenco music.
Towards the end of the evening, people got rowdier and louder, but t no one was out of control. It was a friendly atmosphere all around, although so crowded in some places that we didn’t want to wait around to get a taste. There would be over 50 people lining up with their festival wine glasses, and sometimes I waited, and sometimes I didn’t . There was no way to get a number or anything organized like that, so you literally had to belly up to the bar and shoulder your way in and hope that one of the pourers would see you.
Nearby is the Clairmont Farms lavender farm, another great delight. We didn’t see the aromatic purple heads of lavender depicted on the brochure, but we saw open fields with the lavender shrubs. We were told later that the flowers don’t bloom until June.
The farm is the real thing. We saw a lavender oil still outside, and the owner showed us how he shoves all the blooms into this huge silo, and boils it down with water, and siphons off the oil into a glass jar. So many, many flowers distill into a small vial of oil that is my most favorite fragrance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Folks, there is definitely much, much more to Solvang than butter cookies. The variety of shops ranges from boutique clothing, toys, stitchery, home décor, quilts, and a plethora of wine bars with quality gift items. And outside Solvang you will discover fruit and flower farms, bike trails, and horse stables, and interesting towns you’ll stumble into with delight.
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