Monday, December 5, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 40

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on November 29th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 39



Although social distancing, masking, and the weird haze of COVID-19 are still around, the holiday season of parades, tree lightings, and Santa pictures is back! Find out what will make the Central Coast holiday season a little brighter in our annual Holiday Guide, which starts with Solvang’s marketing arm talking about how Julefest is celebrating the return of in-person festivities, highlights local businesses and how they are dealing with the supply chain and staffing shortages going into the shopping season, and lays out a calendar of events just in time for the holiday season.


Solvang brings back its month-long holiday celebration, Julefest


Christmas lights adorn Danish-style houses and Christmas trees line storefronts, creating a romantic, holiday atmosphere for one of the biggest celebrations in Solvang. 

The only thing missing is real snow to enhance Julefest, said Solvang Marketing spokesperson Anna Ferguson-Sparks. 

“It’s a nostalgic, traditional holiday celebration—it’s very small-town America. … It’s not something people from LA or Orange County are going to experience, and not every place is going to have something like this,” Ferguson-Sparks said. 

A Vikings float participates in the 2019 Julefest parade, which had the highest number of participants in the Solvang holiday event’s history.

Julefest is Solvang’s month-long holiday festival—a tradition that goes back decades—that features Santa visits, a parade, gnome hunts, candlelight tours, and all the food and shopping that visitors can handle. The beloved celebration returns to “the most Christmas-y town” after COVID-19 put a halt on the 2020 celebration, and the city is excited to welcome guests back, she added. 

“We’re already seeing increased interest with slim pickings [for hotels] throughout the month of December. Flight markets based in Arizona and Texas are asking if it’s happening this year; they are checking before they make plans to physically travel out here,” Ferguson-Sparks said. 

Festivities begin on Nov. 27 and end Jan. 1, and Solvang is following all Santa Barbara County COVID-19 guidelines including outdoor-optional masks and the indoor mask mandate, unless actively eating and drinking. Individual businesses are determining their own regulations and their level of strictness, she continued. 

“Right now—with Julefest in particular—all the activities are outdoors. People who want to escape but feel safe: This is a great opportunity,” Ferguson-Sparks said.

The festivities 

Whether tourists want to walk around to appreciate Solvang’s charm, or find plenty of activities to fill itineraries, Julefest has options, Ferguson-Sparks said. 

“The biggest thing this year is we have some of the things we couldn’t do last year, like the Christmas tree lighting, the parade, and the candlelight tours,” she said. “Of course that could change if something happens and the state or county changes their restrictions. As of now, we should be good.” 

The holiday celebration gets kicked into high gear with its annual tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The event will include ballerinas, live entertainment, caroling, and the arrival of Santa Claus. The next day (Dec. 4), the holiday parade will go through town. 

“The length of the parade will depend on the amount of people signed up for entrance—we are hoping for 50 entries of parade floats,” Ferguson-Sparks said. 

The parade includes everything from equestrian entries, classic cars, and floats using truck beds and more elaborate creations. There will be a grand marshal for the parade, who has yet to be announced, she added. 

Ongoing events include the new Nisse Adventure: a citywide hunt for the “mischievous” Danish Christmas Elves. 

“That is something that is all digital, and done at the guests’ leisure. It was something introduced as a new virtual component to the Julefest festivities,” Ferguson-Sparks noted. 

A group of these elves hid themselves throughout downtown Solvang and it’s up to the visitors to find them. Elf trackers may visit where they will find animated videos containing clues about various spots where the nisse are hiding. Once guests find each nisse, they scan a QR code to continue along the adventure and can earn a prize at the end. 

Santa’s Village is open every Saturday leading up to Christmas Day where children with their Christmas lists in hand can meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus and receive a free picture with them. 

“The only ticketed events at the moment are the candlelight tours every Saturday night starting Nov. 27 and the food tours,” Ferguson-Sparks noted. 

The guided candlelight tours cost $25 per person, and each tour leads visitors up and down the streets of Solvang while they sing carols and learn popular Danish traditions. Every participant will receive an LED candle to hold while learning about Solvang. 

Food tours will be led by the “foodie and photo experts” at Eat This, Shoot That!—where people can try a variety of Solvang grub and find holiday-themed food and drinks. 

“You are free to walk around at your leisure; you don’t always have to be with people, there are quiet corners,” Ferguson-Sparks added. “Under the new normal, we need to be concerned about trying to help everyone feel comfortable.”

Visitors will be able to go Christmas shopping, go wine tasting, and eat Danish pastries and other foods at their own pace.

“To us, this is important because we are able to fulfill those Christmas wishes we couldn’t last year,” she continued. 

The history

Founded by Danish immigrants in 1911, Solvang is known as the Danish capital of the United States, according to Solvang’s website. In 1946, promoters of the Danish-style village were able to mandate that style of architectural details for new construction. 

Now, more than 1 million visitors come each year to experience the Northern European culture, cuisine, and boutique shopping. A major part of Solvang’s tourist attraction includes its celebration of Danish Days, the Fourth of July, and the Julefest holiday festivities, Ferguson-Sparks noted. 

“In general Solvang is always included in all the holiday roundups for best Christmas towns to visit, like Travel and Leisure or Reader’s Digest,” she said. 

This year, the city was recently noted in Oprah Daily as one of the most “magical” Christmas towns in the world, and Travel and Leisure highlighted its Christmas markets.

According to, in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), the Norse celebrated Jul—a midwinter feast recognizing the winter solstice. From Dec. 21 through January, fathers and sons would bring home large logs to set on fire; people would feast until the logs burned out, which could take as long as 12 days. 

Today, the Danish continue to celebrate with feasts as well as Christmas markets, sharing the key themes of light, evergreens, and hope.

“The holiday season is something that brings to mind the European roots that Christmas has, it aligns with our Danish architecture and Danish roots,” Ferguson-Sparks said. “Solvang is an ideal backdrop for ideal holiday celebrations.”

The logistics 

A Julefest visit may take some extra planning as hotels fill up, and Ferguson-Sparks suggests tourists take note of their personal comfort levels with large groups. 

“If anyone is concerned about crowds, I would recommend a mid-week visit for those worried about being around other people,” she said. “If someone still wants to enjoy the town, do holiday shopping, eat, and drink, that is certainly something they can do any day of the week.” 

Mid-week options are also better for those looking to spend the night because more hotels are available at more affordable prices. There are free parking options all over town—while all of Solvang’s street parking is free, tourists should just watch for no-parking zone signs, Ferguson-Sparks added.

“Parking isn’t a giant issue as long as people are willing to walk a little bit. We are heavily visited on weekends, and parking will go toward the river; there is always a place to park, that should not be an issue,” she said. 

Once people find parking, the walkable town is easy to navigate; people usually walk their entire stay and enjoy the free, holiday-themed environment and activities. 

“It’s really just the atmosphere,” Ferguson-Sparks said. “As soon as we see the trees go out in front of the stores and the extra decor, it creates a really festive feeling encapsulated in one town.”

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at

This article has been edited for factual accuracy.

Supply chain issues and staffing struggles are hitting businesses on the Central Coast, but owners are finding creative ways to get ahead of the holidays


It’s almost that time of the year: Post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday is upon us, and the countdown to gift-giving season commences. But as supply chains grow increasingly strained, business owners may find themselves struggling to fill the shelves—and in turn, holiday shoppers may have a harder time filling their stockings.

When we were in the heart of the pandemic, we had a lot of people not going out, not a lot of people in stores,” San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Dantona said. “The speed at which you needed to restock shelves, get new products, was still at a bit of a trickle pace. When the doors kind of reopened in June … [businesses] didn’t have anything ready to meet that huge new demand that came over summer. So what we’re seeing here is a culmination of lots of triggers going off at the same time.

Staffing issues represent a trigger that’s still going off, especially in the restaurant industry. 

Cool Hand Luke’s Santa Maria owner Shawn Van Pelt said finding enough staff is a perpetual challenge.

Cool Hand Luke’s in Santa Maria is expecting a busy holiday season, but the steakhouse can’t find the staff it needs to reach its full potential. 

“I don’t have any people coming in to interview. I’ve done sign-on bonuses, incentives for my current employees to bring people in,” owner Shawn Van Pelt said. “I think there’s a lot of people who left the whole industry in general because they had to find other forms of income to support their families.”

Dantona thinks that the pandemic led a lot of people to reimagine what it means to make a living, and that may be contributing to the staffing struggle restaurants are now facing.

“Some of these folks that were in restaurants, or in employment where it disappeared for a very long time, they remember that, and don’t want to put themselves back in the situation where that might happen again,” Dantona said.

As supply chain issues widened gaps for local businesses, proprietors got inventive. 

“It’s weird stuff that we’re having a hard time getting,” said Matt Pearce, owner of Old San Luis BBQ. “Takeout service products dried up across the country, so we were having to kind of scrounge and get weird paper products to do our disposable takeout containers.”

Pearce likened it to a game of Whac-A-Mole. 

“As soon as you get one thing resolved, something else pops up,” he said.

Pearce, like Van Pelt of Cool Hand Luke’s, said building back his staff is preesenting a significant challenge after the pandemic, something he’s been struggling with since February this year.

“It’s taxing,” he said. “The business has bounced back, but the opportunity to meet our customers’ and our clients’ needs, through supply chain or through labor shortages—it’s been a real big challenge this year.”

As a barbecue restaurant, Pearce said his business hits its peak during the summer months, so the holiday season may provide a bit of breathing room to continue rebuilding staff. For others, the holidays are the peak of the year.

“I’ve got friends that own businesses downtown, and they’ve been busier in the summer months than they typically are during the holidays months,” Pearce said. “Now, they’re just like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do in the holiday months, if already this year is blowing records out of the water.’”

SLO Chamber President Dantona predicts that business will level out for a lot of local stores over the holidays, particularly for the retail industry—not for lack of demand, but lack of supply.

“What we’ll see is more of a flat line from these previous three or four months as opposed to a massive upswing in those numbers,” Dantona said. “The supply chain will limit how much sales will happen during that time.”

Not all retail stores rely on the international supply chain, though. Small businesses that source locally and hand-make their products have more flexibility in what goes on their shelves.

The Junk Girls on Monterey Street in SLO expects a busy holiday season, but owner Jenny Kompolt said her store’s largely handmade selection will help avoid some of the supply chain issues that many other businesses are tackling.

The Junk Girls, a quirky shop located in the historic Muzio’s building on Monterey Street in SLO, is all about using reclaimed materials and found objects to create their distinctive product lineup. This approach was already foundational to the business pre-pandemic. But now, as supply chains stall, co-owner Jenny Kompolt said her store’s scrappy, self-made spirit may just be its saving grace in getting through the holiday season.

“It started out of art therapy for me, and creating things, essentially out of things that people would throw away or see as junk,” Kompolt said of her business, which she co-owns with maker Melissa James. “The store is filled with lots of things that we create and our staff creates, in addition to other makers that we admire and bring in.”

In this way, “we create our own supply and demand,” Kompolt said.

“We’ve been affected by [supply chain issues], but it has not been a huge detriment to us because we make so much of what we have,” she continued. “If we were low on one type of thing, we would hopefully find something that we could create to fill that. … Fortunately, we have that bandwidth.”

Shopping small makes an impact on the local economy every holiday season, but this year, it may also be a matter of necessity as online stocks run low and big-box stores struggle to fill empty shelves.

“If people are producing things locally, and aren’t being constrained by the supply chain, they will have the inventory to meet the demand,” SLO Chamber CEO Dantona said.

He added that if a local store doesn’t have what you’re looking for, a gift card can be the perfect way to support that business while they restock. The chamber is also bringing back its popular Buy Local Bonus in partnership with the city of SLO. Starting Nov. 15, 2021, people who spend $100 or more at any local business in SLO city can receive a $25 gift card.

“Go out and find those special things,” Dantona encouraged, “whether that’s experiential or actual physical things that are being made locally.”

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at

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It's a great way to create a network of collaboration and reach people in need.
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