In Solvang, it's velkommen on one side of town and bien venidas on the other.
Either way, you're welcome to a picturesque city that began Indian, turned Spanish and evolved Danish - and retains much of what's good from each of the cultures.The Spanish established Mission Santa Ines in 1804 during a period of missionary zeal along the California coast. It was a latecomer among the string of 21 missions that sprang up over several decades, being 19th in order and the first founded in the 19th Century.
Located in the rich Santa Ynez Valley in California's central coastal region, the mission was named for a Fourth Century Roman Christian martyr. Today, fertile fields, orchards and vineyards still stretch away from the mission on gently rolling hills.
Though the historic mission remains a tourist attraction, it is the Danish influence that steals the thunder.
In 1910, the Danish Lutheran Church Convention was held in Michigan, but church fathers looked westward for a home. They chose a bean field immediately behind the Santa Ines mission, along with 900 additional acres, to create a little Denmark.
It was a good choice. Solvang - Sunny Field in Danish - began to attract settlers who brought their Scandinavian customs, built their Scandinavian-style homes and worshipped in their typically Lutheran church.
Windmills in Solvang, some claim, outnumber those in Denmark itself. The familiar timber-framed cross beam design of the old country is topped with roofs of shingles, copper, tile or thatch that are a welcome contrast to neo-California stucco-and-tile.
Solvangers came to California to enjoy its congenial climate and rear children in their old way, but they have learned to capitalize on the quaintness of their town.
A good variety of motels and restaurants are available and shops, restaurants and bakeries lure visitors inside with a wide variety of imported goods and age-old recipes that speak of Scandinavia.
The odors that emanate from bakeries, in fact, literally waft through the town, grabbing tourists right by the nose and tempting them into buying quality breads, pastries and cookies to be remembered.
You can watch a candymaker cook and work a huge batch of fudge, skillfully using a spatula to flip the edges of the redolent, nut-freckled mass on a marble slab. Gradually, it cools, loses its gloss and is ready for slicing into manageable chunks - guaranteed not to melt.
A Christmas store is open all year, featuring hundreds of European and American Yule items calculated to create a holiday yen anytime. When the season actually arrives, the village becomes an Old World fantasy. A Christmas parade - on Dec. 3 this year - opens the traditional celebration.
Handwork and crafts, many of them in the European style, beckon from latticed windows.
Hans Christian Andersen, the Dane whose fairy tales have entertained generations of children, is a local hero. His statue smiles at visitors in a city park, and many of the shops take their names from fairy story characters, such as the Ugly Duckling.
The Little Mermaid, whose statue is a well-recognized Copenhagen landmark, also shows up here and there in Solvang. The Danish city's famed Tivoli Park gives its name and flavor to a section of its American counterpart.
Solvang boasts a number of art galleries and in Los Olivos, a short drive north, 11 art centers are located in one small community. National, regional and local artists show works ranging from Western to contemporary. During the summer, a Saturday Evening Night Art Stroll is conducted, with refreshments at each of the galleries.
Each May, the annual Santa Ynez Valley Trek takes horse riders from one ranch to another in a classic reconstruction of the old hacienda days, when ranchers pooled their efforts for roundups and brandings. The trek's sponsor, Los Rancheros Visitadores, claims to be the largest riding group in the world. About 900 guests and wranglers begin their trek at the Santa Ines Mission, then head for the east end of Lake Cachuma to establish headquarters.
Aside from the trek, horseback tours on a number of trails are available through local stables. Tours of the Flying Horse Farm and Thoroughbred Race Horses can also be arranged.
Oak-covered hills and pleasant valleys entice bicyclists and hikers when the shops and sightseeing begin to pall. There are cruises on Lake Cachuma, which still bears the name given it by the Chumash Indian tribe that inhabited the valley when Spaniards arrived.
Both fresh and salt water fishing are available within short distances of the town, and beach areas provide particularly good conditions for surfing, the locals claim.
International folk dancing holds forth every Saturday in the gym of the Santa Ynez Valley High School, with spectators welcome to tap and clap along with the native music.
The mission is open to visitors, who can take a self-guided tour aided by recorded messages that outline the colorful history of the church and its ancillary buildings.
Santa Ines is called the Mission of the Passes or the Hidden Gem of the missions. Its classical Spanish architecture features arched arcades and attractive bell towers.
The small cemetery in the churchyard is a reminder of the trials the Catholic missionaries underwent as they gradually changed the nature of Santa Ynez Valley. The mission was plagued by troubles and secularization, but still became noted for its cattle and produce and for the quality of its crafts.
In the past few decades, extensive reconstruction and repair has been undertaken. Significantly reduced from its original 350-foot square dimensions, the complex nevertheless retains the aura of long history and colorful past.
The Solvang Visitors Bureau gladly welcomes inquiries and provides information on the many attractions in the city and within a compact radius. The address is P.O. Box 70, Solvang, CA 93463, telephone (805) 688-6144.
* Twila Van Leer recently vacationed in California.