Solvang is really a bit of a gem. It's one of those places you liked as a kid, and love as an adult. The town - nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, 46 miles northwest of Santa Barbara - has succeeded in staying loyal to its trademark cozy kitsch (old-fashioned smorgasbords, Viking themes, etc.) while embracing the latest trends in wine tasting, charcuterie, and even gluten-free pastries.

Mission Santa Inés is always worth a visit for anyone interested in California history, and the over 200-year-old site is within easy walking distance of the town center. I'm not endorsed by any hotel, restaurant, bar, or bakery in the town, so I can say that the Hamlet Inn (which I through a feature in Sunset Magazine), and Mortensen's Bakery are two favorite Solvang establishments of mine.

I'm hoping to be back in Solvang this August for the summer theater, quite a few almond bear claws, and some local summer wine.