Travel – Solvang, CA

Solvang sign

Solvang is located about 50 miles from Santa Barbara, which is about a one hour drive through the beautiful scenery of the golden rolling hills of Central California.   Our family has been visiting this delightful Danish town since the 1960s.  It is a great day trip and the town is known for their shops, bakeries and restaurants.  The architecture of the buildings are a traditional Danish style, be sure to look for stork figurines on the rooftops, and there are several windmills scattered throughout the town.  There is even a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue of Copenhagen and the bust of the famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.

A Brief History of Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley

The Chumash Indians were the earliest inhabitants of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They were excellent fishermen and hunters that lived in harmony with nature in the beautiful surroundings of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Chumash Indians

Then in the early 19th century the Spanish missionaries were establishing missions along the coast of California.  In 1804 the Mission San Ines was created to serve as a midway point from the Santa Barbara Mission and La Purisima Concepcion in Lompoc.  The land where they built the mission was originally a 9,000 acre Mexican land grant known as Rancho San Carlos de Jonata.  The missionaries converted the Chumash Indians to Christianity and life in the valley centered on the Mission San Ines.  Today, the mission still stands near the town of Solvang.  (Travel Note:  Take the time during a visit to the area for a quick trip to the Mission San Ines to learn about the interesting history of the California Missions)

During a period of time between 1850 and 1930 a large number of Danes left Denmark due to the country’s poor economic conditions.  The destination of a majority of the Danes was the United States, they settled mainly in the Midwest in the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.

By 1906, the Danes that had immigrated to the Midwest were looking to escape the cold winters and the church leaders were exploring the possibility of moving west to create a new Danish colony in California.  In 1910, several Lutheran pastors along with other Danish immigrants formed the Danish-American Colony Company and started looking for land along the coast of California.  In 1911, they had found and purchased 9,000 acres of the former Rancho San Carlos de Jonata Mexician land grant in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The pastor’s returned to the Midwest to encourage the other Danish immigrants to buy land in the new colony, this proved very successful.  One of the first building to be constructed in the new town was a hotel where new arrivals could be housed and it was located not far from the old mission.  Later a school was built at the end of 1911 and opened with 21 students.  Soon, Solvang had a post office, a bank, several stores and a lumberyard.

Initially, for a number of years church services of the Bethania Evangelical Lutheran Church were held at the school.  In 1928, a new church was built based on the rural Danish Gothic-styled churches found in Denmark.  The exterior of the building is made of concrete with walls that are a foot thick and the interior features beautiful hand-carved woodwork on the altar, pulpit and altar rails.  Originally services were held mainly in Danish, but currently they are held in English with the exception of the Lillejuleaften celebrated on December 23 every Christmas season.

After the church was built, the architecture of the buildings in Solvang began to slowly change to a more traditional Danish style.  In the mid 1940s, the first of the town’s four windmills was built and the new buildings were built by a local architect in a new style called Danish Provincial and older buildings were redone to fit the half-timbered and artificial thatched roofs designs.

Solvang 2 Solvang 1

Visitation to the area increased steadily over the next decades.  In 1939, Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik and his wife Princess Ingrid visited Solvang because there were about 400 Danish people living in the area at the time and this created publicity for the town.  Then in 1947, the Saturday Evening Post published a featured article on Solvang and even more tourists came.  In 1960, Denmark’s Princess Margrethe visited and then again in 1976 with her husband Prince Henrik after she became Queen of Denmark. Solvang was now becoming a California tourist attraction with over one million visitors per year.

Things to do and places to visit in Solvang

Today, visitors to Solvang love the little “Danish Capital of America”.  They enjoy the more than 150 specialty shops, restaurants and bakeries.  The weather has mild temperatures year-round and the charming village is located in just a few short blocks so walking around is very easy.  There is also a replica of a 19th century Danish horse-drawn streetcar known as the Honen (“the hen”) that take guests on sightseeing tours around downtown Solvang. Bicycling or a motorcycle ride through the beautiful rolling hills of Central California is also a favorite activity for visitors.

  • Elverhoj Museum of History and Art – This building was once the home of Viggo Brandt-Eichsen and his wife Martha Mott.  He was a painter & sculptor and she was also a painter and art teacher.  They built the home in 1950 and the style was inspired by Scandinavian architecture with a carved redwood front door, wrought ironwork and hand painted panel.  Today the building has become the Elverhoj Museum which opened in 1988 as a museum dedicated to the Danish culture.  For more information about the museum, please see their website

 Elverhoj Museum

  • Hans Christian Andersen Museum – This very small museum is located in a store called The Book Loft. This independent bookstore opened in 1970 and there is a small display dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen on of Denmark’s most famous writers.  For more information about The Book Loft, please see their website 

The Book Loft

  • Mission Santa Ines – Mission was founded on September 17, 1804 and is the nineteenth of the twenty-one Missions of California.  The mission was once the center of life in the San Ynez Valley and it is a very interesting part of history in California.  For more information, please see their website

Mission San Ines

  • Danish Days – The Danish Days annual event started in 1936 and it is usually held during the third weekend of September.  At the event there is Danish music with singers and folk dancers, a Sunday morning breakfast features medisterpolser, a spiced pork sausage.  It can be a little crowded during the festivities but it is a great way to experience Solvang!  For more information about the event, please see their website

For more information about the town of Solvang, please see their website

Interesting facts about Solvang

The Little Mermaid statue – Located near the center of Solvang, at the northwest corner of Mission Drive (Highway 246) and Alisal Road, is a bronze replica of the famous statue that sits in the Copenhagen, Denmark harbor.  The two foot tall statue has stood surrounded by a fountain in Solvang since in 1976 and commemorates one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories about a mermaid who gave up everything for the love of a prince.  The original 50 inch tall bronze statue in Copenhagen was created by Edvard Eriksen in 1913 and was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen whose family founded Carlsberg Brewery.

Solvang - Little Mermaid statue

The Rooftop Storks – When you visit Solvang, look up at the rooftops of the buildings that line the main streets and you will see life-size wooden replicas of the European White Stork.  In Denmark it is said that if one of these birds land on your house it is believed to bring good luck and they would protect any home that they nest upon.

Solvang - rooftop storks

The European White Stork is a migratory bird that signals the arrival of summer in Denmark.  Sadly, the stork has dwindled in population from 4,000 pairs in 1890 to only 5 pairs of storks in 1995 according to the Danish Ornithologist Society.   The decrease in numbers has been linked to the drainage of their native wetlands, the use of pesticides, deaths due to collisions with overhead power lines and illegal hunting.  In 2008, the European White Stork was declared extinct in the wild of Denmark.

Travel – Manzanar, CA


We have driven California Highway 395 for years heading to and from Mammoth Lakes, CA.  Every time we pass the Manzanar National Historic Site we always want to stop but we never have the time.  Finally in 2005, we made special plans to finally stop there.

Manzanar is a difficult part of the history of the United States and California.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered into World War II.  Citizens became concerned over the threat of another direct attack on the West Coast and California.  The United States Government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation took swift action and arrested 2,192 people of Japanese descent.  This action was meant to monitor and control the activities of these potential hostile “enemy aliens.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order authorizing the construction of “relocation centers”. This resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds were actually native-born American, into ten “relocation centers” located in several states, one of those was Manzanar.

NOTE:  Since the end of World War II, there has been debate over the terminology used to refer to Manzanar, and the other camps in which Americans of Japanese ancestry, were incarcerated by the United States Government during the war. Several different terms have been used to describe these camps; “War Relocation Center,” “relocation camp,” “relocation center,” “internment camp”, and even “concentration camp”.  The controversy over which term is the most appropriate is still being currently debated.


Manzanar was the first of the relocation centers to be established in March 1942.  Originally it was supposed to be a temporary “reception center”, known as the Owens Valley Reception Center, run by the US Army’s Wartime Civilian Control Administration.  In June 1942 it became a permanent facility and was renamed the Manzanar War Relocation Center. The first Japanese Americans, “incarcerees”, to arrive at Manzanar helped to build the administration offices, barracks, recreational hall and the additional buildings needed.  The number of incarcerees increased steadily until July 1942 when there were 10,000.

Manzanar vintage photo 1    Manzanar sign 2

Manzanar is located in California’s Owens Valley between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, about 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, this area had long been the home of the Paiute Native Americans, who had several villages throughout the valley.  Ranchers and miners established the town of Manzanar, a Spanish word that means apple orchard, in 1910 but the town was abandoned when the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights of the Owens Valley in 1929.

The Manzanar Relocation Center leased 6,200 acres from the City of Los Angeles.  The residential area where the incarcerees lived covered about one square mile and had 36 blocks of 20 ft. by 100 ft. barracks.  Each barrack was divided into 20 ft. by 20 ft. separate living areas for each incarceree family, the partitions did not reach the ceilings and offered very little privacy.  In addition, each residential block had a communal mess hall, laundry room, recreation hall and a communal latrine used by both the women and the men.

Manzanar also had 34 additional blocks that provided staff housing, administration office, two warehouses and a garage.  The facility also had a school and auditorium, a post office and store, and even a newspaper office.  Each relocation center was intended to be self-sufficient and Manzanar provided various services, such as: beauty and barber shops, shoe repairs.  In addition, the incarcerees raised chicken and hogs, and they also grew vegetable gardens and cultivated the existing apple orchards.  The incarcerees even made their own soy sauce and tofu.  The facility offered almost every convenience found in most American cities.  The visual exception was the sentry posts at the main entrance, eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police located around the perimeter and the entire facility was enclosed by barbed wire.

For the Japanese American incarcerees, life in Manzanar became their new normal.  Meals were based on the military daily requirements.  Since wartime rationing made meat scare, the chicken and hog farms helped to supplement their meals of rice and vegetables.  The incarcerees did earn some money and were employed in various jobs at Manzanar, with workers earning $8 to $19 per month depending on their skill level and in addition each incarceree received $3.60 per month as a clothing allowance.  Even given the Owens Valley extreme weather conditions, summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and winter temperatures of 40 degrees with occasional snowfalls, the incacerees became accustomed to the conditions.  Some were able to build elaborate gardens with bridges over water with waterfalls and rock ornaments found in a typical Japanese garden, some of these garden ruins can still be found at Manzanar.  Incacerees were also able to participate in a variety of sports including baseball, football, martial arts and even golf on a nine-hole golf course.

Manzanar gardens 1    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although the majority of the incarcerees accepted their fate during World War II, there was some resistance with problems concerning unfair wages, black marketing of sugar, shortage of meat and rumors of camp informers that reported any suspicious behavior to the camp administrations and even the FBI.  One serious incident occurred in December 1942 and became known as the Manzanar Riot.  When the Japanese American Citizens League leader, Fred Tayama, was beaten by six masked men after months of tension in the camp, a man named Harry Ueno was suspected of involvement in the planned attack and was arrested.  A few days later a crowd of several hundred incarcerees gathered in protest and the military police threw tear gas to disperse them.  Suddenly, the military police fired into the crowd, one man died and nine others were wounded before the situation ended.

Manzanar was closed permanently in November 1945.  The incarcerees were officially released and each person was given $25 and a one-way train or bus fare.  Many left the camp voluntarily but some refused to leave because they had no place to go after losing everything at the time of their forced incarceration.  During the time Manzanar was open, 146 people died.  The cemetery site at Manzanar is marked by a monument built by an incarceree stonemason in 1943, the inscription written in Japanese 慰靈塔 reads, “Soul Consoling Tower”.  When we visited, there were strings of origami and often Manzanar survivors or visitors leave other items or offerings.



After the camp closed, the barracks and other structures were removed with the exception of the two sentry posts.  Over the years since closing, former incarcerees formed the Manzanar Committee which worked to establish Manzanar as a National Historic Site to provide historical and cultural interpretation of the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Finally in 1992, Manzanar was designated a National Historical Site  and five years later the National Park Service acquired 814 acres of land from the City of Los Angeles.


In 2004, an Interpretative Center was created inside the restored Manzanar High School which has exhibits that tell the story of the Manzanar Relocation Center.  At the site, all that remained where several building foundations, the cemetery monument and the garden ruins.  The National Park Service has restored the sentry posts at the camp entrance and built a replica of a guard tower and provided a self-guided road tour and informational markers.  At the time that we visited in 2005, there were plans to reconstruct on of the residential blocks.

TRAVEL NOTE: Since the subject of Manzanar and the War Relocation Center for Japanese Americans during World War II is such a serious one, we would advise visiting with older children.

RECOMMENDED READING:  “Farewell to Manzanar”, is a book first published in 1973 and written by Jeanne Watatsuki Houston, who was incarcerated there as a child.  The book tells the story of the Watatsuki family and their experiences at Manzanar.

Travel – Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan CapistranoMarch 19, St. Joseph’s Day, traditionally is the day the swallows return to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California.  Legend has it that when an angry innkeeper had destroyed their nests and the swallows took refuge in the old mission and then returned every spring.

San Juan Capistrano swallowsThe American Cliff Swallow is a migratory bird, which for several centuries, has traveled a distance of over 6,000 miles from their winter home in Argentina to this area of Southern California in the spring and summer.  “Scout” swallows usually precede and the main flock slowly follows, usually arriving on March 19, and the old Mission bells would be rung in celebration.  The San Juan Capistrano Mission area is perfectly located near two rivers where a constant supply of insects is available as a food source and the swallows built their mud nests under the eaves and archways of the Mission, where they are protected within the walls of the old stone church.  Then, just as the swallows suddenly arrived, they will leave the area on St. John’s Day, October 23, to travel south and back to Argentina.

After the 1912 Earthquake, in which the Mission Chapel was severely damaged, an article appeared in a 1915 magazine that reported on the unique phenomenon of the swallows’ annual habit.  In hopes of turning the public interest into revenue for the Mission’s restoration project, festivities were planned to draw the tourists to visit the area.  As the years passed, this annual event received world notice with radio programs, then television stations reporting on the news of the swallows’ arrival.

In recent years, the swallows have decreased their population from previous seasons.  This could be connected to a major increase in the housing development in the area which limited their choices of nesting places and has also affected the decrease in insects for the swallows to eat.

The City of San Juan Capistrano holds a week-long celebration known as the Fiesta de las Golondrinas.  Visitors come from around the world to gather and witness the famous return of the swallows to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.  For more information regarding the festival, please see the website

Mission San juan Capistrano 1    Mission San Juan Capistrano mission bells from interior

A brief history of the Mission San Juan Capistrano

Seventh in the chain of the 21 California mission settlements of the Catholic Franciscan padres, the Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded by Junipero Serra, on November 1, 1776.  The mission was named for the Italian Crusader, Saint John of Capistrano.  Built first as a small adobe church 1778, it was later replaced by a much large church to accommodate the growing population in 1782 and has the distinction of being one of the oldest buildings still in use in California.

Hoping to build a truly magnificent church, the padres hired a master stonemason who designed a doomed roof structure made of stone as opposed to the flat wood roofs of the other California Missions.  The building was built with stones quarried from the local creek beds and carried to the site by oxen.  Limestone was crushed into a powder to create a mortar for the stones when the walls of the mission were built.  Constructed in the style of the European churches, the floors were paved with diamond shaped tiles and brick-lined niches displayed statues of the saints. The mission chapel, known as “The Great Stone Church”, was a large 115 foot building constructed in the shape of a cross with a 120 foot tall bell lower (campanile) near the main entrance.  At the time, the bell tower could be seen for over 10 miles and the bells could be heard from even farther away.

When construction was completed, it included not only the chapel but also living quarters for the padres and their staff, kitchens and storerooms, workshops and barracks for the soldiers.   These buildings formed a quadrangle that was efficient for the daily life at the mission but more importantly for defense against the sometimes hostile natives.  Overall, the Mission proved to be a very successful settlement and the padres converted a large number of natives to Christianity.  In 1796, over a thousand people lived in or around the Mission compound.

In 1812, a devastating earthquake occurred during Sunday mass and over 40 people lost their lives when they were trapped inside, unable to open the doors, as the walls and the ceiling of the church collapsed.  Two boys, who were ringing the bells for the service, and were also killed when the bell tower collapsed.  Sadly from this tragic event, a festival celebrating the annual return of the swallows to the Mission San Juan Capistrano was used to raise funds to repair and rebuild the church and surrounding buildings.

Over the years, the mission proved to be a very successful settlement but there were still occasional setbacks in the daily life of the Mission, such as severe storms, followed by flooding which damaged more buildings, disease to the cattle herd and crops ruined by drought.  There was even a pirate raid in 1818, when the French pirate Bouchard and his men attacked and engaged in a battle with the Mission soldiers, they looted the Mission warehouses and destroyed several buildings.  Finally, even before Mexico gained their independence from Spain in 1821, the population of the Mission had started a slow decline.  The mission system was abandoned in 1833 with the Secularization Act, which lead to the further settlement of California, and the missions’ property and land were sold to private interests.

Interesting information and facts about the Mission San Juan Capistrano

  1. The Mission San Juan Capistrano chapel is sometimes referred to as the Serra Chapel because it is the only known existing structure with documented proof and distinct honor of having Junipero Serra officiating mass at this  specific location.
  2. The bells were an important part of the daily life at the California Missions.  They were rung at mealtimes and to signal the people to work and to religious services such as mass, baptisms or funerals.  The four Mission San Juan Capistrano bells were all given names.  The names from largest to smallest are: San Vicente, San Juan, San Antonio and San Rafael with each bell displaying a Latin inscription.  The two largest bells cracked and split open during the 1812 earthquake and were never rung again due to the damage.  Within a year a brick bell wall (campanario) had been erected between the ruins of the stone church and the Mission’s first chapel and all four Mission bells were re-hung there.
  3. Mission San Juan Capistrano was the location of California’s first vineyard.  In 1779, the Criollo grape plantings from Spain/Mexico were cultivated and became the only grape used throughout the Mission system.  The first winery was also built in San Juan Capistrano in 1783 and the “Mission” grapes produced both red and white wines.
  4. Father John O’Sullivan is the person credited for recognizing the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s historical value to California.  He led efforts to bring national, then world attention to the swallows’ annual return to Capistrano.  He used the event as an opportunity to raise funds to rebuild the Mission after the 1912 earthquake.  He is buried at the entrance to the cemetery and there is a statue at the front of his crypt.
  5. There is a song inspired by the swallows which was written by Leon Rene, “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”.  It has been recorded over the years by musicians such as Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller and Pat Boone.  There is a room at the Mission San Juan Capistrano to honor the composter, which displays the piano he used to compose the song, copies of the sheet music and other memorabilia donated by the Rene family.

Travel – Monterey Bay Aquarium, California


If you and your family are interested in ocean life and sea creatures, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wonderful place to visit.  My son and I went shortly after it opened and we’ve been going with our family every couple of years and we enjoy it very much!  My daughter loves anything that has to do with the sea, maybe that’s because her favorite Disney movie and character have been “The Little Mermaid” and Ariel!!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in Monterey, California and was built on the site of the old Hoyden Cannery at the end of Cannery Row.  Sardine canneries have been a part of Monterey’s history from 1916 until the day when the last cannery closed in 1973.  This area of the Pacific Coast was made famous in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel; “Cannery Row”. The book was inspired by the work of a real life marine biologist named Edward Ricketts and his old laboratory and home is located near the current site of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  This area on the Pacific Coast has become very popular with tourists and has several shops, restaurants and hotels.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in 1984 and over 1.8 million visitors come annually. It can get very crowded on weekends and I would recommend a mid-week visit if possible, especially if you have small children that are not in school.  Summer is also a busy time of year and if you go in the winter months the crowds will be less.  Plan to spend a couple of hours there because there is a lot see and do.


The Aquarium is home to thousands of sea animals with over 623 different species on display.  What makes it different from any other aquarium in the world is that fresh ocean water is circulated through pumps continuously from Monterey Bay.  The Kelp Forest exhibit is a 33,000 gallon tank with 33 foot high windows that are over 7 inches thick.  This is one of the only aquariums in the world that has successfully grown Giant Kelp because the top of the tank is open to the sunlight during the day and equipped with a surge machine to simulate the tides.  This is what the kelp needs to grow at about 4 inches per day.  Another tank in the aquarium is the Open Sea gallery which is 1,200,000 gallons and some of the sea life in this tank includes stingrays, jellyfish, blue fin and yellow fin tuna, and sharks.  In another exhibit are penguins and check for their feeding time because it is a great activity to watch with the children.  The only mammals found in the aquarium are the California sea otters and the highlight of an aquarium visit is watching these cute little creatures!

Check for current hours and prices as well as news and information about the aquarium at

Kelp Forest

Monterey Bay Aquarium Travel Tips

  1. During the summer months the aquarium can be rather crowded.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days to visit and the hours between 2-6 p.m. have fewer visitors.  A good time to visit is during the fall and winter months except during the holidays.
  2. Plan to spend a minimum of 2 to 3 hours at the aquarium but it is very easy to spend the entire day there.  The café and restaurant at the aquarium have good food at a reasonable price if you are planning on eating there.  NOTE:  The café and restaurant will be closed for major renovations through mid-March 2013.
  3. Dress in layers because the temperature and wind conditions can vary throughout the day.  The average temperatures on the coast averages 57 degrees year-round during the day but the morning and nights can be a little cooler.
  4. Take time to go out on the rear deck of the aquarium and you might get lucky to  see some sea otters on the open bay.  This is also a great place to take some photos of the family with Monterey Bay as the background.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Trivia

  1. The Aquarium appeared in the 1986 Star Trek film, “The Voyage Home” as the Cetacean Institute but in the movie is suppose to be in located in Sausalito.  With some Hollywood special effects the rear deck of the aquarium appears to have a tank for the two humpback whales.
  2. 2,000 gallons of ocean water from Monterey Bay are pumped every minute throughout the 100 exhibit tanks.  During the day the water is filtered so it is easier to view the tanks and at night unfiltered ocean water is used because it is rich in plankton and other nutrients that the ocean animals feed on.