SOLVANG, Santa Ynez Valley—Nestled in Santa Barbara County, in the triangle of highways I-101, I-154, and a sliver of green jutting out of Los Padres National Forest, sits a historic Danish village that always floats a very specific yet blurry childhood memory to the forefront of my mind. For a few minutes on the road my brain flips through several fingerprint smudged Polaroids of melting chocolate ice cream, curious windmills that peek over thatched rooftops, horse-drawn carriage rides and fancy quadricycles that cling to any exposed skin beneath cut-off shorts—oh, and way too many annoying cousins inciting petty quarrels for attention.
I was probably around four or five, and the entire family on my mom’s side decided that a road trip along California’s coast would be a good idea. Solvang was one of the stops. I recall it was a sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable summer afternoon in the middle of a Southern California heatwave, as if the region would permit any other kind of weather pattern. But because I felt a draw to this little village almost immediately that first time around (after all, Solvang wasn’t to blame for that miserable early-childhood experience), these days I try to leave some room for a quick stopover on long drives so that I can paint over the past and make better memories—a Danish do-over, you could say. Now, of course, I understand that the faux-thatching and half-timbered architectural style were mere attempts by locals to contrive Danish authenticity, but I still think the chocolate ice cream tastes amazing.
The Hamlet Inn was a lovely stay with free WiFi, a small refrigerator, and complimentary bike rentals (that I tell myself I would have taken advantage of if we’d had more time). Funny that my favorite part of the room was the tiny breakfast nook, which consisted of two dainty wooden chairs and a long, thin shelf affixed to a portion of the wall directly beneath lace-curtained windows. Also, the dangling reading lights by the bed. Just enough eccentricity to satisfy my inexplicable need for a bit of fun and quirk in my hotel rooms.
Essential travel breakfast indulgence (at least once per trip):
new day, new city
a cuppa & something sweet
always spurs the feet!
For Solvang that means hot tea in my favorite Wake Up Adventure mug and tasty pastries from Olsen’s. It was a quick, sunny walk to the bakery, a gorgeous morning for a stroll, and I had to restrain myself from grabbing a tub of their scrumptious butter cookies. Next time, next time.