Travel north 140 miles out of Los Angeles, head northeast past the Santa Barbara Beach cities, then at just about the center of wine country and snuggled in the Santa Ynez Mountains you'll find the quaint little Danish town of Solvang, California. Solvang is known for its traditional Danish-style windmills, mom-and-pop boutique shops, wine tasting galleries, and fruit-stuffed pastries.
I packed up the cargo area of a 2010 GMC Terrain SLE with luggage for two-and-a-half people. There was more than enough room for two overnight bags, two backpacks, and a medium-size cooler for my friend, my two-year-old nephew, and me. Our Terrain was equipped with a dual rear-seat DVD entertainment system to keep the little one entertained while in his child safety seat for the three hours of road travel we had ahead of us. For the adults in front, our Terrain featured AM/FM/XM stereo, CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 7-inch touch-screen Color Interface Display, navigation, 40 GB hard drive, USB port, and 8-speaker Pioneer sound system to rock out to. And even though we never got to use them in the 90-plus-degree weather in August, the cloth front seats came with seat heaters, a feature only available with the Convenience Package.
We took the 101 Freeway north out of L.A. late in the morning and hit very little traffic along the coastal route. The 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and soft suspension allowed us to sail on the highway with comfort and ease. Fallowing the directions given by the navigation, we cut across the Santa Ynez Mountains on San Marcos Pass Road (Highway 154). The mighty four-cylinder engine did a nice job hauling the hefty front-drive 'ute around the twisty two-lane road. The six-speed automatic transmission shifted and held gears on the inclines, causing little to no lag, and I never needed to shift the Hydra-Matic manually.
We made our first scenic stop off San Marcos Pass Road (for those who are interested, it's located at 34.530664, -119.842051). This spot is a breathtaking overlook of the Santa Ynez River Basin, San Rafael Mountains, and Lake Cachuma reservoir. The reservoir is the primary source of water for the Santa Barbara-Goleta area and the pasture fields have been used for cattle ranching since the early 1800s. Further down San Marcos Pass Road, we stopped at the Bradbury Dam Observation Point (at 34.5805446, -119.978753), to get a look back at where we had just driven. The dam was built in the 1950s and hosts the water that comes from the Santa Ynez River. This spot was a little bit off the beaten path, but I am always up for a drive in the dirt. The GMC's nav system was not as happy about it, though, quickly prompting us to get back on the road. The soft rocking of the GMC's suspension on the mountain road lulled my nephew into a quick nap. We continued northwest for 14 miles and then turned left at Armour Ranch Road/CA-246, which led us to the center of Solvang.
There are several Danish-style cottages, historic bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels throughout the tiny town of Solvang. For our time there, we chose to stay at the Hadsten House Inn on the eastern edge of Mission Drive (aka Highway 246). The exterior of the Inn featured modest hints of Danish architecture that paid homage to the local flair and wineries, and happened to be within walking distance from Copenhagen Drive, the town's central hub for tourism. The room's interior featured a rich sense of French modern design, dark hardwood floors, and a cozy fireplace that made the room nice and toasty for the night.