East of Buellton and the 101 is Solvang, the Danish capital of North America. It is a tourist destination, full of restaurants, hotels, and shops. But it also boasts the Hans Christian Anderson park, the Little Mermaid fountain, an outdoor theatre, windmills, museums, and a giant wooden shoe! We first visited Solvang in October, mid-week. Everything was open and the crowds were light. I’m sure at peak summer it is wall to wall people!
The shops were fun to browse through. We especially liked the Eco Wine Furniture shop where everything from tables and chairs to wall plaques and coat racks are made from repurposed wine barrels. I’m always on the look out for Christmas ornaments and there were a couple of Santa shops to meet that need. And of course the “As Seen on TV” shop filled with all of those hilarious “But wait, there’s more” products sold only on TV provided lots of laughs.
If you like wine, Solvang has more than 20 tasting rooms. If it is cheese, chocolate, or pastries you are hankering for, bring your appetite! There is a restaurant, bakery, or specialty food shop on every corner. Always ready to try something new, we stopped at the Solvang Restaurant for an aebleskiver. As best as we can describe, an aebleskiver is a spherically-shaped pancake. A pancake batter is poured into each well of a specially designed pan, then slowly rotated until browned on all sides. Aebleskivers are served with powdered sugar and jam. Yum!
Solvang Festival Theater, an outdoor theater, hosts the Pacific Conservatory during the summer months performing shows like Cinderella, Newsies, Twelfth Night, and Shrek. Concerts showcasing local talent as well as nationally known artists also fill the schedule. When we visited Solvang during Julefest in December, we were on hand for the Live Nativity, a wonderful evening of music and a play re-enacting the first Christmas. At one point, Mary and Joseph did have a bit of trouble getting the donkey to Bethlehem, but it just added to the fun of the evening.
One could easily spend a full weekend in Solvang, browsing through the shops, tasting the different food options, taking in a play at the Theater, or visiting nearby wineries.
La Purisima Mission State Historic Park
Outside the city of Lompoc is La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, a nearly 2,000 acre preserved and restored Franciscan mission. Founded in 1787, La Purisima ministered to the Chumash Indians, baptizing and converting thousands to the Catholic faith. It was a thriving community, raising crops and livestock, constructing over 100 buildings, and developing a water system. Then the earthquake of 1812 struck, destroying the mission beyond repair.
A few years later, the mission was moved to its present location which had several advantages, better climate, closer to a more reliable water supply, and access to the El Camino Real, the major trade route of the day. Construction of the mission complex was also altered. Whereas many of the other missions are built in a rectangle shape, with a center courtyard area, La Purisima’s structures are in one long, connected row. The reason for this change was because of the earthquake they had experienced. When it struck, the buildings collapsed inward toward the courtyard, killing and trapping many people. By building in one long row and doing away with the courtyard, many lives could possibly be saved when the next earthquake hit.
During its peak, La Purisima was a thriving community with over 300,000 acres supporting 20,000 head of cattle and sheep, as well as other livestock. One thousand Chumash Indian populated the mission attending school and working the fields, preparing food, training and working as artisans, and serving in the church. By the close of the 19th century, the mission closed its doors and soon fell into neglect and disrepair. In 1934, restoration work began and thanks to the efforts of the County of Santa Barbara, the state of California, the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park is now open, providing a fascinating glimpse into the life of 18th and 19th century California mission work.
The Mission is open everyday, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, from 9 am to 5 pm. The entrance fee is $6 per vehicle. La Purisima offers $1 maps for self-guided tours or you can sign up for a guided tour with one of the very knowledgeable and friendly docents. The visitor center has informative and beautifully arranged exhibits tracing the history and progress of the mission. What impressed me the most was learning about the padres who founded and worked at California’s many missions. Being Protestant, the extent of my Catholic mission knowledge is what I’ve read in history books or watched on western movies—yep, pretty limited. These Franciscan priests were an impressive lot! They not only had the responsibilities of church leadership, leading and overseeing Mass, but they were doctors, livestock breeders, school teachers, engineers, farmers, bricklayers, tradesmen, and politicians. It was not an easy life, but they persevered and created stability, prosperity, and spiritual new life to the different people groups in their locale.
La Purisima hosts several “living history” events throughout the year where costumed docents bring the mission to life providing hands-on activities for the entire family. The mission grounds also has over 25 miles of hiking trails, shaded picnic areas, a gift shop, and nice restroom facilities.
Race Day at Point Mugu
“So, do you and Dad want to take me down to a race next weekend?”
Next time, before saying, “Yes,” I’m going to ask where and what time. The race was held at Point Mugu State Park, 115 miles south of Vandenberg AFB where we were camped. And race time was 9 am. So,….that means we had to leave our nice warm bed at, like 5:30 AM???!!! UGH! The things we do for our kids!
Having spent nearly 20 years cheering on our kids at cross country meets, we knew what to expect. Register, warm up, line up, listen for the starting gun, lots of cheering and picture taking as the runners take off then disappear into the course, find something to do for 90 minutes until the runners come back over the mountain, then more cheering and picture-taking as everyone crosses the finish line. It was convenient having the ocean right across Highway 1 from the race. We spent a delightful hour relaxing by the shore listening to the crashing waves and watching the sea otters frolic in the surf.
Stephen did well and was happy with his time. We ate a bite before we headed north, stopping in Ventura for more eats and beach time.
Hiking Bishop Peak
In San Luis Obispo and near the campus of Cal Poly is Bishop Peak, the tallest of the Nine Sisters, the volcanic Morros that stretch across SLO. It’s a moderately challenging climb to the 1,559-foot summit. The trail is 3.5-miles round trip with an elevation gain of 950 feet. The trailhead is located on the left side of the cul-de-sac at the end of Highland Drive. The trail is well-marked and on a weekend you will have plenty of Cal Poly students for company.
It was a good, tiring hike and when we finished we were famished! Though we prefer privately-owned cafes and restaurants, nothing beats El Pollo Loco. Everytime we’ve eaten there, we have been pleased with the food–quality and quantity and the service. We ate our fill and still took home some leftovers—all for under $20!