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Solvang & Santa Barbara
California's Hike-Oar-Bike Paradise

My wife and I stepped from our inn into warm November morning sunshine and the sight of Danish shops topped by stork sculptures, heralds of good luck. From our vantage we could see two of Solvang's signature windmills. It seemed like a northern European country village as we walked to the corner cafe. Enjoying a breakfast of tasty aebleskiver, powder-sugar-dusted pancake balls served with raspberry jam, I queried, "Would you like to hike or bike today?"

"Why not all
three?" my wife, Rita, proposed. "We have our walking shoes, our kayaks, and our cycles. Let's hike-oar-bike."

"Hike-Oar-Bike." The phrase captured our penchant for all three activities. In the coming week we'd discover that Solvang would become a favorite destination and that Santa Ynez Valley and nearby Santa Barbara would well furnish our hike-oar-bike ventures.

Solvang street scene

Solvang Farmer's Market

Danish Solvang

Solvang was settled in 1911 by Danish-Americans who purchased a large Santa Ynez Valley ranch for their town and farms. The founders constructed a Danish folk school and church to promote and preserve their culture. Throughout the ensuing years the growing population, now totaling 4,000, has maintained the Danish farm-style architecture of cross-beamed timbers with brick and stucco, roofs of blue-green copper or jagged wood shingles, and handsomely carved doorways and eaves. The town even includes a "Little Mermaid" bronze sculpture in the style of Copenhagen's famed landmark.

Produce at Farmer's Market

Mission Santa Ines

The core of the town, 1/2-mile long by 1/4-mile wide, includes dozens of shops, cafes, restaurants, wine bars, museums, and parks. It's easy and fun to meander for a morning or afternoon along Mission Drive, Copenhagen Drive, Middle Way, and the small interconnecting streets, stopping at a boutique or eatery whenever the urge hits. The farmers market held on First Street every Wednesday afternoon offers colorful local flowers and produce of apples, berries, nuts, and organic vegetables. Santa Ynez Valley wines are also featured at more than a dozen wine shops. Just past the downtown core lies the historic site of Mission Santa Ines, founded by padres in 1804 as part of the chain of Spanish missions from San Diego north to Sonoma. We found the sights and history to be a particularly interesting vestige of California's past. After a day exploring Solvang, we didn't doubt why the town was named by
Sunset magazine to be one of the "10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the Western United States."

Santa Ynez Valley - Wine Explorations and More

Cycling is an ideal way to explore the Santa Ynez Valley and its small villages, vineyards, and wineries. Although we came with our own bicycles, convenient rentals are available in downtown Solvang. Within minutes of leaving our inn we were in the countryside pedalling past the vineyards featured in 2004's movie, Sideways. We cycled through the quaint villages of Santa Ynez, Ballard, and up Alamo Pintado Road to Los Olivos. It was a great stopping point for a deli lunch. As we cycled the quiet streets we spotted the Los Olivos Cafe, one of the restaurants featured in Sideways. We couldn't resist making reservations for dinner and their weekly wine tasting. On returning to Solvang we stopped en route at Lincourt Vineyards tasting room situated amidst well-cared vineyards. Samples of their Chardonnay and Syrah, two outstanding Santa Ynez varietals, got us in the spirit for the gourmet experience to come. A few hours later the Los Olivos Cafe provided us with the most enjoyable evening of our stay, with a savory selection of Zinfandel and hors d'oeuvres, followed by an incomparable salmon dinner.

Santa Ynez Valley vineyard

Lincourt Vineyard's tasting room

On another day in the Santa Ynez Valley, we hiked and cycled in the morning and kayaked in the afternoon. We were able to launch at the county park on Cachuma Lake, just 12 miles from Solvang. The shoreline of golden hills and oak trees provided ever-changing vistas as we paddled a number of coves west of the boat ramp.

Los Olivos Cafe wine tasting

Los Olivos village scene

Santa Barbara - California's Riviera

Our best hike-oar-bike day was in nearby Santa Barbara. The Pacific coastline here is oriented uniquely east-west, looking across the sea to the Channel Islands. Adding to the natural splendor are the beautiful San Rafael Mountains which tower just north of the town at 3,000 - 6,000 feet altitude. Although Santa Barbara has a population of approximately 100,000, its harbor, wharf, and main beaches are only 1/2-mile from its lively historic old town. We walked up and down old town's mile-long State Street, exploring its many shops and cafes. A worthwhile detour to El Presidio State Park on Santa Barbara Street gave us a view into this Spanish fort founded in 1782 with its chapel, bell tower, and commander's quarters.

Santa Barbara from the sea

Santa Barbara marina

Author cycling on wharf

We then cycled the bike paths along beautiful East Beach past Cabrillo Pavilion and around Andre Clark Lagoon with its bird sanctuary full of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls. Then it was time to rent an ocean kayak from the marina. We paddled around the main wharf and along the shore for a couple of miles as we enjoyed vistas of beach, surf, palms, city and mountains. We did all this on a winter day when the temperature stayed a perfect 75 °F. Our day of seaside adventures left us certain why Santa Barbara claims to have the world's best climate and deservedly calls itself California's "Riviera."

Any Time of Year

Based on our great experience in November at Solvang, we returned in January to find the weather just as perfect. Besides hiking-oaring-biking, we also lounged on the beaches at El Capitan and El Refugio State Parks and swam in the gentle but admittedly chilly surf. No doubt about it...the area of Solvang, Santa Ynez Valley, and Santa Barbara has become one of our favorite vacation destinations.

Santa Ynez Valley (courtesy Google)

Santa Barbara (courtesy Google)

Les Furnanz
Photos by Rita Furnanz

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