I am always on the lookout for cool things to do, see, and write about. It is probably the best side effect to my life change in becoming a travel writer, the ability – the need – to notice such things to have enough content to keep The Royal Tour going between trips. So when, on a drive up California Highway 99 from Los Angeles to Yosemite, I saw a sign for the Kingsburg Swedish Village, I was intrigued. I made a note (I keep a file on my phone of “stuff to maybe do”) and looked it up later.
Fast forward more than a year, and I again had reason to drive up the 99, this time on my way to a hosted trip in Calaveras County. I resolved to stop in Kingsburg, even though I’d only have a brief moment, to see what it actually looked like. Well, it was pretty neat.
Kingsburg, California is a bit south of Fresno in the Central Valley, the huge swath of agricultural land that runs the majority of the central north-south spine of the state, between the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The town has a population of about 12,000 as of 2020. But in the early part of the 20th century, this town was a bit unique.
In 1908, a group of Swedish immigrants came to the area known as Kings River Switch. Swedish immigration – mainly of farmers’ third and fourth children who would not be inheriting property back home – had been happening since the 1870s and 1880s, chiefly to the northern Midwest (think Minnesota). Groups gradually moved west, to find more open farmland. And where one group settled, others joined. By 1921, the new town of Kingsburg was 94% Swedish!
The population demographics have shifted with time, but the Swedish character of the town still exists, even if only as a tourist attraction. But as it is rooted in historical fact, that doesn’t offend me.
I exit Highway 99 and make my way to the small downtown area of Kingsburg, drawn by the most visible Swedish feature of the town: the Swedish Coffee Pot water tower. It is exactly what it sounds like, a water tower that was designed to look like a Swedish coffee pot. It is kitschy, cute, and totally unique.
Driving up Marion Street from there, I pass signs welcoming me – in Swedish – as well as Swedish flags, statues of dala horses, and some buildings designed with Swedish flare. If you’ve ever been to the Danish town of Solvang just outside Santa Barbara, it gives a similar feel, but smaller, and much less overrun with tourists. (Click here to read about Solvang.)
As it is a Friday morning, and I only have time for a short stop, I don’t spend much time walking downtown. I instead make my way directly to Kady’s Kitchen, the only restaurant I could find in Kingsburg to serve one of my favorite breakfast foods, Swedish pancakes. (Note, the restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, and is closed on Sundays and Mondays.)
Swedish pancakes are kind of like thick crepes, more than what we associate as pancakes in the US. They are served folded, with butter, powdered sugar, and lingonberry jam. Lingonberry is tart, almost reminiscent of cranberry, but meshes well with the butter and powdered sugar, and the pop of the berries themselves (almost the size of a currant) adds a wonderful textural note. Here at Kady’s, they are exquisite. They are also cheap, with two of them running under $8. (The rest of the breakfast menu also looks awesome, but I’m here for pancakes – and so is a sizable percentage of the packed restaurant.)
About an hour later, I’m back on the 99. It was a short stop, but a lovely one. I’ll be back, to further explore the town and most definitely for more pancakes.
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2 thoughts on “Kingsburg: A Swedish Village in California’s Central Valley”
I get my authentic clogs & other Swedish items there. The local Swedes have been diligent in keeping the city a little slice of Sverige! Hej Hej!
I wish I’d had time to do some shopping. Next visit. Thank you for reading!