Road Trip to Solvang, CA: Authentic or Hyperreal?

In his article about Solvang, a local man recalls being stopped by a tourist when he was a little child. The tourist was inquiring about the admission fees and closing hours for Solvang. “What did he think this place was, Disneyland?” the author asks outraged, reflecting on the long-standing fear among locals that the town of Solvang, CA is becoming nothing more than a themed attraction. His concern, unfortunately, has some merit to it, as it has indeed become difficult to tell whether the small Californian town is an authentic hub for Danish traditions or a mere tourist attraction that is a copy of a place and era bygone.

Considering the latter option, the Disneyland comparison isn’t even that far-fetched. Walking through Solvang is a lot like walking through Main Street, USA: you pass by full-sized buildings that are “absolutely realistic” but created to take people to a “fantastic past.” They are simulations of places that once existed but no longer do, blending the concepts between reality and representation so that there are no clear distinctions between the two.

So here’s some food for thought: does Solvang provide an authentic Danish experience? Is it a celebration or an exploitation of Danish culture? At the end of the day, does Danish culture become reduced to a simple kitchen magnet? On your drive home, do you feel like you have learnt something about Denmark? And just to make answering those questions easier, I’ll add this interesting piece of info for you: in the past, people had suggested to give the town French theme instead, in order to accommodate for all the wineries nearby (are European cultures really that interchangeable?).


These are all big questions, but they’re important questions, so make sure to keep them in mind as I narrate my second day trip undertaken this summer — this time, to Solvang, CA (aka that Danish village that everyone thinks is Dutch — more food for thought!).

Solvang is about three hours north of LA, so Emily and I left at around 7 am…only to find that all the ramps to the I-10 were closed. It was a Sunday morning, duh. This made our trip there significantly longer but, after a mandatory stop at Denny’s, we arrived at the lavender farms outside Solvang by around 11. Except, it turns out, lavenders aren’t exactly in season right now, so after taking a couple of photos, we decided to drive into town instead.

 

I took some really cute photos of Emily but she disagrees with me on that so here’s a picture of my with my eyes closed instead. (PC: Emily)

Now, Solvang, as I said before, is very much a made environment, and it’s very tourist-oriented. So much that it’s mostly just stores, restaurants and wineries. There are some Danish bakeries, a year-round Christmas shop, and a bunch of other stores selling home dΓ©cor, leather bags, collectible dolls, gingerbread houses and other useless shit. Fitting into the whole simulation theme, there is a store called Edelweiss, which sells miniature versions of pretty much anything under the sun, so if you’re ever looking for inch-long plastic hot dogs, you’ve found your place. Of course, everything is overpriced, but as I like to say, if you have the funds… πŸ’ΈπŸ’Έ

 

 

 

 

This was the only half decent photo of me so this is what you get idk. (PC: Emily)
The central part of Solvang is quite small, so after walking around for a bit, taking photos and trying to hunt down cheap water, Emily and I drove down to the beach — which was, of course, a major mistake. It turns out that even when it’s 32Β°C/90Β°F inland, the beach is cold and foggy, meaning that I basically spent $10 on parking just so I could sit shivering on a rock for about an hour, holding onto my blanket as if my life depended on it. Needless to say, we did not end up going for a swim (successful beach visits this summer: so far 0/2).Β 

 

Actual photo of me at the beach. (PC: Emily)

With that being a failure, we eventually headed back to Solvang to visit the ostrich farm we had originally intended to see. Now, my knowledge of ostriches is extremely limited (until recently, I kept confusing them with flamingos), so this is the best description I can give of them: they are weird and cool. Or maybe they are weirdly cool. Coolly weird? Anyhow, they are tall af and are very aggressive eaters, unlike their emu counterparts, who are significantly shorter and eat less aggressively. I know this because they also have emus at the farm and you can actually feed both for an extra $, which, y’know, is completely and utterly worth it. 10/10 would recommend.

(PC: Emily)

 

These are ostriches.
This is an emu.

After leaving the ostriches behind (and the emus, don’t forget the emus!), we returned to Solvang to find that apart from a few Danish bakeries, there was basically no Danish food there. Or maybe we shouldn’t go by Google suggestions, but anyhow, we ended up at an Italian restaurant, eating pizza, and driving home.

 


And that was that. Did I learn more about Denmark? Probably not. Is this place an exploitation or celebration of Danish culture? A bit of both, I guess. Did I get more out of it than a kitchen magnet? Well, based on this post, I certainly did.

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