by Michael J. Shapiro and Kaylee Hultgren | April 01, 2008

Solvang, Calif.

From Denmark with love:
Traditional folk dancing
is one way the Danish
of Solvang, Calif., keep
their native culture alive.

In an old Steve Martin routine, the comedian talked about the importance of having reasonable goals. His own goal: “to be the all-being master of time, space and dimension. Then,” he’d add, “I want to go to Europe.”

That second goal has become somewhat more difficult to accomplish of late, for private citizens (however witty) and the meetings industry alike. While many planners doubtless would like to organize events in faraway locales, the reality of tightening budgets and the falling dollar likely is keeping them closer to home.

But that needn’t interfere with attendees’ taste for the exotic -- we’ve got plenty of that in our own backyard. Consider these cultural enclaves for a taste of foreign culture on domestic soil.

California Danish

In 1910, Danish pioneers seeking to escape the harsh winters of their earlier settlements in the Midwest purchased nearly 10,000 acres of fertile land in the rolling hills of California’s Santa Ynez Valley and began the village of Solvang (Danish for “sunny fields”). Today, the community, in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country, succeeds in preserving the cherished traditions of the original settlers.

Danish bakeries, restaurants, specialty boutiques and hotels, all housed in distinctly Scandinavian architecture, comprise the four square blocks of Solvang’s center. Windmills, horse-drawn carriages and statues of storks nesting on the rooftops of buildings (meant to ward off bad luck) populate the landscape.

Charming accommodations within walking distance of the heart of town include the 39-room Petersen Village Inn (800-321-8985;, which offers five meetings rooms seating up to 100, and the stately, 133-room Royal Scandinavian Inn (800-624-5572;, featuring approximately 4,000 square feet of meeting space. A five-minute walk from the Inn will land you at the Elverhoj Museum (805-686-1211;, where exhibitions celebrate Danish-American history and culture. The museum offers its gardens and galleries to groups of 15 to 150 people.

The 24-room Solvang Gardens Lodge (805-688-4404; caters to smaller groups. Several of its rooms, all bearing the style of a classic Danish farmhouse, open onto a private garden area that can seat about 40 or accommodate up to 100 for a reception. Alternatively, the wide-open spaces of the 73-unit Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort (805-688-6411; lie just two miles down the road. This working cattle ranch, on a 10,000-acre spread of trails, golf courses and private lakes, is an option for team-building activities and corporate retreats.