A Short Trip to Sideways Country

It was in 2004 that the movie Sideways put pinot noir on the wine map as the new cool varietal and temporarily tanked the market for merlot. (I’m sure most people over the age of 35 can recall the exact words that Miles used to express his disdain for merlot, so no need for me to elaborate.)

We made the one-hour drive to the Santa Ynez valley from our Airbnb home-away-from-home in Morro Bay at the invitation of John K, our friend and former next door neighbor who lives there.

Fifteen years after Sideways was released, the film’s legacy is still visible throughout the valley, and we crossed paths with a few movie locations during our visit. But before we go there, let’s do a little sight-seeing in Solvang, which we enjoyed despite the 97 degree heat!

With its windmills and Danish-style architecture, Solvang is a super cute town and tourist destination. Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish-Americans, the town proudly shares its heritage with the world and provides plenty of opportunities to you to part with your cash.

The town looks like a collection of giant gingerbread houses.

Our favorite attraction in Solvang was the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art. According to its website, the museum is “devoted to the history of Solvang, the Danish-American pioneer spirit, the colorful heritage of Denmark, and the arts.”

The impressive collection is housed in the former home of accomplished artists and prominent Solvang citizens, Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife, Martha Mott. Built in the 1950s, the structure itself is a work of art that incorporated important features of Scandinavian design including ornamental wrought ironwork, a hand-carved redwood main entry door, and colorful hand-painted wall panels.

Our next stop was a tiny museum devoted to the life and works of Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen. Located in an upstairs section of The Book Loft bookstore and comprising (I’m guessing) less than 100 square feet, the exhibits only required about 20 minutes for a thorough perusal. From what we could surmise, this novel museum was created by the owners of the bookstore and populated with items from their personal collection of Hans Christian Andersen memorabilia.

We had time for two more stops before wrapping up for the afternoon. The first was the Bethania Lutheran Church, built in the contemporaneous style of a typical rural church in Denmark. It opened in 1928 and is still in use today.

The ship, a miniature of the Marmora from the 1870s, reflects a Danish tradition that reminds the congregation to remember the fishermen at sea and that the church is “a haven of safety across the waters of life.” (quote from the church brochure)

Our final stop was the Old Mission Santa Inés. Founded in 1804 and rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1812 destroyed the former mission, the current facility is both a museum that offers guided tours to visitors and an active parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

We walked around the grounds, which is really a campus consisting of multiple buildings, but didn’t have time for the tour. Restoration efforts of buildings, furnishings, and artwork are ongoing, led by the local parishioners.

Now back to the Sideways connection – photos below. The scarecrows, my favorite, were a temporary fixture celebrating the fall season.

On day 2, we enjoyed a little wine-tasting and a leisurely driving tour of the beautiful countryside. We visited three wineries – Rusack, Carhartt (yes, it’s the same family known for those indestructible work clothes), and Alma Rosa. All offered a comfortable environment for wine-tasting, and not a bad wine in the bunch. No souvenirs, I’m afraid – too hot.

Our visit to Sideways country was short but packed with fun. A special thanks to John K for hosting!

Categories: California


  1. Glad you made i to Los Olivos. The cafe there is good, and it is often more interesting than Solvang! Although with the wine tasting rooms on the main street, it can get very busy. Also, I think it was the book store you visited that used to have Peter Fonda’s bike from Easy Rider upstairs.

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    • We didn’t have enough time in Solvang, but we enjoyed lunch and the Carhartt tasting room. It was bustling but not too bad for a Saturday. The whole area is beautiful!


  2. Carol & Bill – Love following you on your travels. We just visited Copenhagen this September. We’ve not heard of Solvang, but it sounds like a great follow up to our trip! Thanks for inspiring us!

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