A Few Favorites in Solvang, California

With Solvang as our home base for three days, Ryan and I spent plenty of time wandering around the cute European-like city.  If you plan on spending time in Solvang, there are a few places you should consider visiting.  No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find something in Solvang!

Picnic foods.  Take a visit to Vinhus.  It’s located at the intersection of Alisal and Copenhagen in downtown Solvang.  Vinhus has a variety of items to offer – cheeses, meats, crackers, chocolates, wines, jams, and souvenirs.  Ryan and I love stopping here to pick up food for picnicking while wine tasting (there are so many wineries in the area that have beautiful areas for picnicking.  The two we stopped at this trip were Rideau [on our second day] and Bridlewood [on our way home], but the options are endless).  Aside from having a huge selection, Vinhus always has cheese out to taste!  This has often led to us buying a cheese we normally wouldn’t have tried.  It’s definitely worth a stop, even if you don’t plan on purchasing anything. 

Vinhus, Solvang, California, cheese shop

Here’s a look at the cheese selection offered at Vinhus.  We always try to stop here at least once a day while we’re in Solvang!

Oil and vinegar. We were so excited to stumble upon Santa Ynez Olive Oil before heading home on Saturday.  We first tried this olive oil and balsamic vinegar on our first trip to Solvang in October 2010.  The owner of the company had set up a free tasting at Firestone Vineyards and we fell in love!  We ended up purchasing a 6-pack of sample-sized olive oils (garlic, rosemary, and basil) and balsamic vinegars (traditional, blackberry, and raspberry).  We went back to Firestone this trip specifically for the olive oil tasting and left upon realizing that it was no longer there (it was on our way back to Solvang from a long day of wine tasting, so we decided not to stay for more wine).  Anyway, if you are in Solvang, definitely stop by the Santa Ynez Olive Oil shop! It’s just a few stores down from Vinhus, on Alisal.  All of the olive oils and balsamic vinegars were open for FREE tasting, and everything we tried was delicious.  We purchased large bottles of rosemary olive oil, basil olive oil, and white peach balsamic vinegar (for $15 each [250 ml bottles].  I believe the sample bottles were $4.50 each [60 ml]).  Enjoy!

Wine and beer.  Ryan and I visited the Wandering Dog Wine Bar for the first time on this trip.  Before leaving for Solvang, I found out that Wandering Dog has blind wine tastings every Thursday night and I was intrigued to see how it worked.  We stopped in around 6:15pm on Thursday and took a seat at the bar.  For $15 I was provided four different red wines (at least half a glass each) and a cheat sheet that had the four varietals, regions, vintages, and bottle prices.  I ended up only scoring a 7 out of 16, but I had a great time!  It made me feel a little better that the guy next to me only scored a 3, and he really seemed to know his wine.  The blind tasting is tough!  Ryan decided to go with a beer tasting – four beers for $10 (you could taste 4-10 beers [4 oz. each], costing from $10-$22 depending on how many you wanted to try).  The Wandering Dog also offers several wine tasting flights, starting at $10 depending on the flight.  This is also a great place to come, relax, and just enjoy wine by the glass.  It is a cozy place with a nice bar area and additional comfortable seating available.  It’s located on Mission Drive in downtown Solvang, so the location is great! It was also open late on Thursday and Friday while we were in town. 

Sweet treats.  There are so many bakeries and other shops offering sweet treats in Solvang.  This trip we only stopped at two, the Danish Fudge Kitchen and the Danish Mill Bakery, but we were tempted by many.  If you’ve never tried them, the famous  Danish Aebleskivers are worth a taste.  On our first trip to Solvang, we tried these sweet balls of dough covered in powdered sugar and raspberry jam at the Solvang Restaurant (they even have a to-go window in front where you can order your Aebleskivers without sitting down at the restaurant).  Whether you’re craving Danish pastries, fudge, ice cream, Danish cookies, Aebleskivers, or something else, there are shops all over Solvang that are worth a stop!

Aebleskivers, Solvang, California, Solvang Restaurant

Aebleskivers from Solvang Restaurant.  They were delicious!

Souvenirs and knick knacks.  As with sweets, souvenirs and knick knacks can be found all over Solvang.  There are so many different shops selling hats, socks, t-shirts, candles, jewelry, books, wine accessories, home decor, ornaments, magnets, kitchen items, antiques, art, clothing, and more!  We don’t usually do too much shopping in Solvang, but we do love to stop in a few favorite stores while we’re there.  I love Jule Hus (located on Mission Drive) for the year-round Christmas spirit and Pearls of Provence (located on Alisal) for browsing through Provincial fabrics, serve ware, and other home accessories.  

Jule Hus, Solvang, California, Christmas store

A quick look inside Jule Hus

There is so much to do in Solvang and this post only covers the surface.  I found this site to be a great resource in learning about what to do, where to stay, activities in the area, etc.  One thing to note is that Solvang generally shuts down fairly early in the evening.  If you like to be out late, check out which places stay open into the night (Solvang Brewing Company and Sort This Out Cellars are two that come to mind).  If you’re looking for an enjoyable California getaway, Solvang might be the perfect place to visit!

Le Cantine – Taste and Learn!

Le Cantine, located in Greve in Chianti, boasts that it is the largest enoteca in Tuscany.  It’s very easy to believe this claim – you walk down a set of stairs into the tasting area and find yourself surrounded by what seems like an unlimited amount of wine tasting machines.

This was a perfect way for Ryan and I to spend our morning in Greve in Chianti (we took a half day trip from Florence – more on this later).  It’s not the personal experience you’d receive at some places, but it worked for us!  You purchase a card with a certain amount of money on it (we paid for 25 euros on our card) and decide which wines to taste.  The underground enoteca has mechanical wine dispensers.  You simply find a wine you wish to taste, stick your card in the slot, place your glass under the appropriate spout, and press the button for the corresponding wine.  Each taste has a price clearly marked above the bottle.  The prices started at 0.60 euros and go up from there.  Ryan and I generally tasted wines between 0.60 and 1.20 euros, which allowed us to sample plenty of different wines.

A close-up view of the wine dispenser machines.

We love tasting wines and learning about what we’re drinking.  Le Cantine has a supply of wine guides available in several languages which provide an explanation of the different wines available to taste.  Since we were heading to Montepulciano right after Florence, we were interested in the famous wine of that region – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is always made up of at least 70% of a Sangiovese grape clone, called Prugnolo Gentile, which is used exclusively for this wine.  The remaining 30% is generally made up of Canaiolo, Merlot, and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.  In general, I preferred the mix of Sangiovese and Canaiolo.  We also tasted several Chianti Classico wines, which are also made up of mostly the Sangiovese grape (at least 80%).  Both the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico are D.O.C.G. wines, which certifies that the wines are made within a certain region using specific methods and are tasted for quality by the government (bottles are marked with a pink label across the top). 

The majority of the wines offered at Le Cantine are red, but there are also some white wines and sparkling wines to choose from, as well as Vin Santo (dessert wine) and grappa.  In addition to wine, olive oil tastings are offered through the same style of dispensing machines.  And best of all – they are free to taste!  There is also free salami provided at the front counter (shown in the first picture), along with other foods available for purchase.

If you have a limited amount of time in Greve in Chianti and wish to taste several wines of the region, Le Cantine is a must!  It won’t be the same experience as touring a winery of the area, but it will provide a lot of wine and information.  It’s open from 10am-7pm, daily (check the website for any holdiay closures) and is located between the Piazza Trento bus stop and the main piazza in Greve in Chianti.