A Visit to Jule Fest in Solvang

I always remember my pit stop in Solvang two years ago. I’d been on a quick trip to the Central Coast and took my time driving home. It was chilly, grey, and beginning to sprinkle. As I walked down Copenhagen Drive, there was a particular magic in the air. When I got to Solvang Park, with ballerinas warming up and hot cocoa available to purchase, it hit me: Jule Fest starts tonight.

2019 had been a great year and I was so ready for 2020. “Six feet distance,” “Masks,” and “Vaccine Passports” were nowhere in my vocabulary nor mind yet. It’s hard to explain, but I felt powerful shifts were coming. I chalked it up to the new decade upon us.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and I returned for another kick-off weekend for Jule Fest. This time, with my 10-month-old daughter in tow. How’s that for a “powerful shift”? Once again, it was a magical experience. I’ve loved Jule Fest since I was young and lived in Solvang, but recent years have found the Danish Capital of America taking it up a few notches. They’re pulling out all of the stops to show visitors just what a marvelous place the Santa Ynez Valley is. I’ve known that since 1997!

Opening Weekend of Jule Fest in Solvang

Now that we live in Ventura County, I love that if traffic behaves, I’m under two hours from Solvang. We headed out early Saturday as the goal was to take Mabel to her first Christmas parade. She’s been so animated, cheery, and loves clapping her hands. I thought Jule Fest would be the ideal introduction to town for her. I decided to take my “back road shortcut” and exit Highway 101 at the modest Nojoqui Falls State Park exit. Playing the tour guide I am, I made sure Mike, who majored in Film, was aware we were on the road that Quentin Tarantino used to film the car chase scene in Death Proof.

It was, once again, a grey, chilly, and sprinkling morning. It made the moss on the trees look ethereal as we drove the winding road. All that was around were the horses and cows. Once we hit town and Alisal Road, it was a circus. Little did I know that the start of the parade was straight ahead. I made a quick turn and was floored at the number of cars and people everywhere. I had a humorous moment of feeling old; “Back in my day….”

My planned parking lot to park in was, alas, full. We found street parking and made a beeline to my designated watch spot in front of the Jule Hus. Come to find out, the route has changed. The parade won’t go down Mission Drive this year. Over to Copenhagen, we race. We found a great place to stand in front of the Visitors Center and we’re off.

Elverhoj Museum. (c) Mary Farah
A beautiful Winter day in Solvang. (c) Mary Farah
Delicious vegan and and gluten-free ramen. (c) Mary Farah

Christmas Parade, Art, and Ramen

The Jule Fest parade is everything you would expect for a small-town celebration. There are decorated cars, tow trucks, dancers, gymnasts, Vikings. I kid you not that I’d never seen it so well attended. The crowds seriously brought a “lightly busy” Disneyland day to mind. Mabel sat on Daddy’s shoulders, and she was in awe.

Afterward, we perused the hectic streets. The sun came out for a bit and we headed to the Elverhoj Museum. Each Saturday leading up to Christmas, they are hosting a Maker’s Market to get some holiday shopping done. Although it’s a small lineup of vendors, it’s a great chance to visit the museum and support local.

For lunch, we were excited to check out Ramen Kotori. Ramen in Solvang. Who knew? The best part is they share the space with the giant blue windmill in Hamlet Square. Given it’s a popular cafe, the patio is cozy, and it was an incredibly busy day, I was surprised our wait wasn’t too long. Our name was called after about a half-hour. Much to my delight, Ramen Kotori features a gluten-free and vegan ramen bowl. I’ll admit the broth wasn’t what I expected; I envisioned it to be lighter. This was more hearty and thick. The stand out was the fresh vegetables. Ramen Kotori utilizes the weekly farmers market for their ingredients and it shows. The mushrooms were phenomenal.

Cozy room at Pea Soup Anderson’s Inn. Since we wound up with a double bed room, Mabel enjoyed playing on one! (c) Mary Farah
View of the courtyard and putting green from our room. (c) Mary Farah
Sunset from Buellton’s Avenue of the Flags. (c) Mary Farah

Staying at Pea Soup Anderson’s Inn

Next up, we were ready to see our “digs” for the night. Ok. And maybe we were all getting tired. Despite there’s abundance of lodging options in Solvang, I love staying in Buellton. Buellton is both the “hidden gem” of the Santa Ynez Valley and its gateway. Having grown up going to the historic Pea Soup Anderson’s, I loved finally staying at their hotel. Anyone who has taken a road trip in California most likely knows of Pea Soup Anderson’s. Anderson’s has been the ultimate “pit stop diner” for decades. The dining room and gift shop haven’t changed a bit, and I love that touch of nostalgia.

Our room was ideal. It was clean, spacious, and secure. We overlooked their impressive courtyard with a pool, putting green, breakfast nook, and fire pits. It’s great for families as there’s plenty of open space and things to do right on-site. In the morning, they offer a small continental breakfast with pastries, oatmeal, coffee, and juice.

I loved that we also had a fridge and microwave. It was inevitable I’d be buying bakery treats and have leftovers. It’s always a “sell” for me when these are included in the amenities. Hung on the walls were gorgeous photographs of several windmills in Solvang.

Something that I didn’t expect to intrigue me was the Buellton Historical Society. Mabel and I stumbled upon it upstairs from Anderson’s Restaurant. It’s a free museum with artifacts as far back as the 1800s tracing Buellton’s roots. There are even photos of Santa Barbara’s Turnpike and Cold Water Springs Road when it was a stagecoach trail to the Valley.

We can’t wait to stay with them again. Especially when Mabel is older and play some some put put!

Enjoy the Magic of the Season

For dinner, I introduced Mike to the Valley’s very own independent Whole Foods, New Frontiers. With Mabel running the show a bit, we decided to keep it extra chill and grab food to enjoy at the hotel. We had the perfect dining nook and chairs. New Frontier’s has a plethora of gluten-free options, and I even got Mabel a tasty risotto cake.

When Sunday rolled around, I was eager to try Brekkies by Chomp. Just across the street from Solvang Park, Brekkie’s has several “GF” menu items and didn’t disappoint. I devoured my vegan breakfast bowl with added eggs.

This was such a wonderful visit to see Jule Fest back in full form. Events will go on throughout the month. Something to enjoy no matter what day you visit is the Nisse Adventure. A gnome scavenger hunt in Solvang will take hunters all over town and use QR codes for clues to find the nisse. Can you get any more small-town Danish? xo

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