The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Buellton and Solvang
The town of Buellton, a block west of US-101 at the Solvang exit, holds one of California’s classic roadside landmarks, Pea Soup Andersen’s (376 Ave. of the Flags, 805/688-5581), advertised up and down the coast. Another Buellton landmark, The Hitching Post II (406 E. Mission Dr., 805/688-0676), a little ways east of US-101, starred in the wine-loving road-trip movie Sideways.
Four miles east of Buellton and US-101, America’s most famous mock-European tourist trap, the Danish-style town of Solvang (pop. 5,245), was founded in 1911. Set up by a group of Danish immigrants as a cooperative agricultural community, Solvang found its calling catering to passing travelers. The compact blocks of cobblestone streets and Old World architecture, highlighted by a few windmills and signs advertising the Hamlet Inn among many more suspicious claims to Danishness, now attract tourists by the busload. Many other U.S. towns (Leavenworth, Washington, and Helen, Georgia, to name two) have been inspired by Solvang’s success, but to be honest there’s nothing much to do here apart from walking, gawking, and shopping for pastries.
Just east of Solvang’s windmills and gables, the brooding hulk of Old Mission Santa Inés (1760 Mission Dr.) stands as a sober reminder of the region’s Spanish colonial past. Built in 1804, it was once among the more prosperous of the California missions but now is worth a visit mainly for the gift shop selling all manner of devotional ornaments.