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Little Sweden, Big Coffeepot: The Scandinavian Side of Kingsburg

While Danish-founded Solvang may be the first place many SoCal travelers visit to satisfy Scandinavian cravings, just a few hours east in Fresno County lies Kingsburg, a small town with a big Swedish background. Less than a century ago, almost one hundred percent of the town's population was Swedish-American, a result of a nineteenth-century migration of Swedish immigrants from Michigan, and their descendents keep that legacy alive today by designing buildings in Swedish-style architecture, painting them bright colors (also a Swedish convention), and taking pride in serving some of the best (and probably some of the only) Swedish pancakes in Southern or Central California.

Although Kingsburg's Swedish village isn't as large in scope or scale as Solvang's Danish downtown, the hamlet celebrates its heritage in a big way annually with the Kingsburg Swedish Festival. Held over a long weekend at the end of May, the festival reportedly draws people from all over the country to partake in Swedish smorgasbord -- a buffet of hot and cold dishes -- the Dance of the Maypole, and browsing and buying in the shops of local vendors on Draper Street, the village's main drag. The festival also features Swedish folk music and live performances by dancers. Swedish garb is encouraged.

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While locally owned businesses are still part of Kingsburg's norm and charm, the city has seen much development in the last several years -- in fact, in just over a decade, the population has increased twenty percent. But one thing that hasn't changed is the beacon that calls all Highway 99 drivers to this hub of Dala horses and lingonberry jam: the 60,000-gallon Swedish folk art-painted coffeepot that rises 122 feet into the sky. The roadside attraction is actually the city's water tower, and thirty years ago was remade into its current aesthetic. While it's impossible to miss on the trek from Bakersfield to Fresno during the day, even p.m. travelers can catch a glimpse, as the pot is lit at night.

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