To out-of-towners, Solvang is most recognizable for its windmills that dot the Danish-themed village, while the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley is notable for the movie Sideways where a couple of middle-aged dudes embark on an epic road trip, indulging their way through one of the golden state’s wine region. What may not be apparent, however, is that while the area boasts of some grown-up offerings (i.e., wineries, vineyards, and a casino), it also does a fantastic job of providing some good, clean, wholesome family fun.
The Santa Ynez Valley is located in Santa Barbara County on the northern end of Southern California (SoCal). The valley is composed of the towns of Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang, and has a total population of more than 20,000 residents.
Of the five communities, Solvang is the most popular amongst tourists. Solvang is a quaint community founded by a group of Danes in the early 20th century. Since then it has evolved into a popular Southern California attraction for its Europeanesque charm and Danish-styled provincial architecture and aesthetics. But due to its spattering of windmills in town, it’s oftentimes confused for a Dutch (Netherlands) settlement rather than a Danish (Denmark) one.
So if you and your brood find yourselves in the Santa Barbara region or making your way up or down the coast of California, do consider visiting the Santa Ynez Valley, but most especially the town of Solvang. To help you enjoy the area, below is a list of fun things to do in Solvang with kids. Forstat god dag!
Sample Some Aebleskivers
Originating from Denmark, aebleskivers (pronounced a-blah-ski-wah) are essentially spherical fluffy pancake balls. Topped with raspberry jam or sauce and dusted with powdered sugar, they can be found in many of the bakeries and restaurants in Downtown Solvang. Consider them a must-have treat while in the area.
Fun Facts for Kids: In other parts of the world, an aebleskiver might also be considered a French beignet, a Portuguese malasada, a Dutch oliebollen, or an Italian bomboloni.
Feed the Ostriches and Emus at Ostrichland USA
Just a few miles west of Solvang on Highway 246 sits a most peculiar roadside attraction. Ostrichland USA offers its guests an opportunity to feed the two largest birds on the planet, the ostrich and the emu
. For a small fee, you’re provided with feed in a bowl that rests on a dust pan. With both hands holding tightly onto your dust pan you feed these huge flightless birds. As ostriches can get mighty aggressive during mealtime, it’s best to leave the feeding up to the adults. In addition to the feeding, another neat feature of Ostrichland is its gift shop that contains unique items including fresh ostrich and emu eggs. They also carry and sell ostrich meat, but indicate on their website that they are outsourced from other businesses who specialize in the exotic delicacy.
Fun Facts for Kids: Ostriches originate from Africa and are the largest birds in the world while emus are the second largest and are native to Australia. Ostriches only have two toes while emus have three. The contents of an ostrich egg is equivalent to approximately 21 chicken eggs (+ or -) in comparison to only about 11 chicken eggs for the emu.
610 East Highway 246
Solvang, CA 93463
Phone: (805) 686-9696
Delight in the Miniature Horses at Quicksilver Ranch
The miniature horses at Quicksilver Ranch, less than three miles north of downtown Solvang are just the most adorable equine, and visiting the ranch will render you giddy with delight for their sheer cuteness. While visitors aren’t allowed to feed or ride the minis, some will mosey close enough to the fence that separate the two of you. As harmless as they look, I wouldn’t necessarily advise the little ones from petting them for safety reasons. The ranch is well maintained and clean, and the minis look quite healthy, but perhaps somewhat bored. According to the Quicksilver Ranch website, “The ranch breeds for small, well-mannered show quality miniature horses that have good driving ability…” Entrance and parking at the ranch is free and the ranch is closed on Sundays.
Fun Facts for Kids: Ponies and miniature horses are not the same. Miniature horses are precisely that, pint-sized horses. Envision a horse, but scale it down some. While ponies are also small horses, they are generally bigger than minis and have thicker builds and legs that are disproportionately shorter to their bodies.
1555 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, CA 93463
Phone: (805) 686-4002
Fax: (805) 686-2444
Visit the Alpacas at West Ranch
Continuing on what seems to have become an animal-centric tour of Solvang and the valley, we have now come to alpacas. Yup, you read that right. Just like the ostriches and emus mentioned above, I’m sure you weren’t expecting to see alpacas in this part of the world either. But low and behold, there are at least a dozen alpaca ranches throughout the golden state. Alpacas are prized for their exquisite fleece that make for fabulous sweaters and are oftentimes confused for their larger cousins, the llamas.
The alpacas can be found at two locations in the valley; West Ranch at the Firestone Vineyard on Zaca Station Road, and the boarding facility on Old Calzada Road. The facility breeds, sells, and boards alpacas for their coats. After calling the number listed below, I received a text with directions to the boarding facility and not West Ranch. The hillside property is huge and has two separate lots/enclosures for the alpacas to wander about and graze. In one enclosure, a handsome llama stood guard over the alpaca herd to ensure that visitors wouldn’t engage in any funny business. Unfortunately, Ry was sound asleep in the car so he didn’t get to see these lovely animals. Come to think about it, Ry napped a lot during this road trip.
Fun Facts for Kids: Alpacas originate from South America and can be confused with llamas, but there are noticeable differences between the two. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and typically weigh in at about 150 pounds while llamas are usually double that or more. Alpacas have short ears while llamas have longer ears kind of shaped liked bananas. Alpacas spit when under a lot of pressure, so don’t stress them out.
Alpacas at West Ranch at the Firestone Vineyard
5009 Zaca Station Road
Santa Ynez, CA 93454
Alpacas de Calzada (boarding facility)
3250 Old Calzada Road
Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Phone: (805) 698-4540
Go on a Hunt in Search of the Windmills in Downtown Solvang
There are four windmills in Solvang’s downtown. The most popular and frequently photographed is aptly called Solvang Windmill (featured photo above) and is located on Alisal Road between Molle Way and Copenhagen Drive. It’s on one of the main thoroughfares, so you shouldn’t miss it. The other three windmills are listed below in order of popularity.
Hamlet Square Windmill
On the corner of Copenhagen Drive and 2nd Street.
Solvang Brewing Company Windmill
1547 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463
Kronborg Inn Windmill
1440 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463
For a handy walking map of Downtown Solvang, click here.
Fun Facts for Kids: Windmills capture the wind’s energy and converts them into other useful forms of energy. Centuries ago, windmills were oftentimes used to pump water or mill grain. The modern day equivalent of a windmill is a wind turbine.
Take a Rest Break at Ballard’s Little Red Schoolhouse
Ballard’s little red schoolhouse was the first public school in the Santa Ynez Valley. Still in operation since its inception in 1883, it’s also dubbed a Santa Barbara County Historic Landmark. Because of its quiet surroundings it made for the perfect rest stop during our weekend jaunt through the valley. While the adults rested our weary legs on the grassy field, Ry took full advantage of the small playground next to the school. We also munched on some snacks and I got to snap a few photos of the charming little red schoolhouse.
Since the school is still in use, I’d venture to say that it’s best to stay clear of the grounds during the weekdays, but probably okay on the weekends since school isn’t in session. I also didn’t notice any signs indicating that visitors weren’t welcomed. But if you see anything to the contrary, please heed it.
2425 School Street
Solvang, CA 93463
Phone: (805) 688-4812
Play at Sunny Fields Park
A kid’s favorite, Sunny Fields Park is a place full of fun and whimsy with a fairy tale theme; the wooden play structure that encapsulates the playground resembles that of a castle. I haven’t seen a park quite like it anywhere else in SoCal. Not only does it have the traditional park features such as swings and slides, but it also promotes plenty of creative and imaginative play. When we went, Ry was fast asleep in the car, so there was no way I was going to wake him up just so that he could further exhaust himself. But if you’re ever in Solvang and want your kiddos to burn off some energy, head here. It’s just a five minute drive north of downtown. I’d also suggest bringing a picnic lunch for a perfect afternoon with the entire family. There’s ample covered tables and benches.
Sunny Fields Park
Alamo Pintado Drive
Solvang, CA 93463
Phone: (805) 688-7529
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