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Calistoga - California


Top of the Napa Valley

Blessed with geothermal activity which brings hot springs to the surface, Calistoga was one of California's first resort towns. Native Indians had enjoyed the waters for centuries before thw GoldRush and the arrival of European settlers. As today, they saw the geyser at the north end of what is now the town, and bathed in the hot pools. The geyser, called Old Faithful, is a major attraction for visitors to this historic town at the northmost edge of the Napa Valley.

Spas, Wineries, and More

Before wineries came to dominate the region, Calistoga boasted several spas, which provided hot mineral waters, fed from wells into pools and tubs for people to take their therapies.

The popularity of spas in this area can be traced to Sam Brannan, a Mormon settler and entrepreneur, who in the 1840s and 50s saw the potential for what is now Somona County -- with its natural springs -- to be the western Saratoga Springs. He began buying land and, in an inebriated moment of passion, proclaimed the village to be "the Calistoga of Sarafornia." Today, there's a atmospheric restaurant called "Sarafornia" in downtown Calistoga.

Today, 13 spas in Calistoga offer a range of baths, mud treatments, herbal wraps, massages, and whirlpools. Each spa boasts its own special treatments, including differently-constituted muds.

Wineries -- in Calistoga, along the Silverado Trail, and south of town on and near Highway 128 -- offer great places to taste and purchase the fine wines of the valley, in a more relaxed ambiance than many of the busier mid-valley wineries.

Calistoga is a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, and two hours from Sacramento. The town is quieter and more relaxed than the other Napa Valley towns to the south -- a perfect place to stroll past the old buildings, to have a hot soak or spa treatment, and to enjoy the quiet ambience of the forested north end of the valley

What to See & Do


While each of the 13 spas in Calistoga claims to have a unique treatment for its guests, they generally ofer much the same experience, including mineral baths, steam rooms, mud bath, herbal wrap, and massage therapy. When you enter a spa, you have your choice of taking the full treatment or choosing from the menu. The full treatment usually takes about two hours, and when you come out, you're a different person.

Each spa has a different massage specialty, and some have several, including European, Japanese shihatsu, reflexology, and the rolfing style. The massage is generally the final stage of the full spa treatment, following a short mud bath, a mineral bath (with or without whirlpool jets, a steam bath, and towel wrap. Ten of the spas offer overnight accommodations, while the smaller spas without rooms tend to be specialized (spa treatments for couples -- mud baths for two). These standalone spas are:

Calistoga Oasis Spa - 1300 Washington Street, 707-942-2122 )
Lavender Hill Spa - 1015 Foothill Blvd. 707-528-4772)
Lincoln Avenue Spa - 707-942-5296
Mount View Spa (1457 Lincoln Ave. - 707-942-5789).

Here are the spas that offer accommodations:

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs - 1006 Washington, 707-942-6269
Calistoga Village Inn and Spa - 880 Lincoln, 707-942-0991
Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs 1507 Lincoln, 707-942-4102
Eurospa and Inn - 1202 Pine Street, 707-942-6829
Golden Haven Spa - 1713 Lake Street, 707-942-6793
Indian Springs Spa and Resort - 1712 Lincoln, 707-942-4913
Nance's Hot Springs - 614 Lincoln, 707-942-6211
Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort - 1300 Washington, 707-942-4441
Silver Rose Inn and Spa - 351 Rosedale Rd., 707-942-9581

Exploring Calistoga Wineries

Calistoga is north of the major Napa wine country, but there are several wineries located in town and more on the southern edge. Sterling Vinyards and Clos Pegase are found on Dunaweal Lane, which runs between Highway 128 and Silverado Trail. Both have tasting rooms -- open daily -- and wines may be purchased. Vincent Arroyo Winery is at 2361 Greenwood Avenue, with Chateau Montelena at 1429 Tubbs Lane. You'll find Cuvaison at 4500 Silverado Trail, on the east side of the valley. All are open daily.

Graeser Winery is at 255 Petrified Forest Road. Kornell Cellars, at 1091 Larkmead Lane (farther ssouth toward St. Helena) features tasting from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Traulsen Vineyards, at 2250 Lake County Highway is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Villa Andriana -- 1171 Tubbs Lane -- is open daily from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Vigil Vineyards, 3340 Hwy. 128, is open daily.

Touring the Valley

Hghway 29 is the main north/south road that leads up the Napa Valley. In Calistoga, it becomes Lincoln Avenue. Most of the major wineries, and many smaller ones, are located on or near Highway 29. All of the valley towns are reached by taking this road. From south to north they are: Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga.

There is, however a more scenic and less crowded way to drive up and down the Napa Valley, and this is by taking the Silverado Trail. During the 19th century, this road was used to transport cinnabar (mercury) ore from mines on Mt. St. Helena to the docks at Napa. More than 20 wineries are located along the Silverado Trail, including Silverado Vineyards, Stag's Leap, Mumm, and William Hill (it's just off the road -- east via Hwy 121).

This road provides a quieter alternative to busy Highway 29, although anyone who wants to "do" the valley should travel north by one road and south by the other .

Other Things to Do

Two of the area's top natural attractions can be visited in the same drive. Old Faithful Geyser is found at 1299 Tubbs Lane. Just like its namesake at Yellowstone, this Old Faithful erupts on a regular schedule -- about every 40 minutes. The plume of water varies from 60 to 100 feet in height, and the water comes out of the ground at 350 degrees. For information, call (707) 942-6463.

Driving back toward Calistoga on Highway 128, turn west to visit the Petrified Forest. Volcanic eruptions in the area buried a redwood forest some three million years ago, and over the centuries, the wood has turned to stone. A trail leads to petrified wood specimens. Scientists say that many of the trees were more than 2000 years old at the time they were buried.

Back in town, there are stores and galleries to explore, including the Calistoga Bookstore, which has among its large selection, many books on the Napa Valley. A growing number of craftspeople live in the area, including Jeff Manfredi, owner of Calistoga Pottery, 1001 Foothill Boulevard.

It is rumored that Calistoga got its name thanks to drunken revels in which Sam Brannan, the flamboyant town promoter, bragged that he was going to build a hot springs spa that would out-rival the famed Saratoga Springs, except that he was stupefied from drink and announced that this town would become the "Calistoga of Sarafornia." Even if it's not true, it's a good story, and there's a Sarafornia Café to carry on the legend.  

Where to Eat

Catahoula Restaurant & Saloon
1457 Lincoln Avenue, (707) 942-2275
Catahoula is one of the most renowned restaurants in the Napa Valley, focusing on southern US cuisine and soul food. As its name suggests there's a distinctive Louisiana flavor to the place and its menu. Closed Tuesdays, the restaurant is open Wednesday through Monday -- for lunch from 12 noon to 2 p.m., and for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Bosco's Restaurant
1364 Lincoln Ave. (Hwy 29), (707) 942-9088
Located in a beautiful old building, built in the 1880s, Bosco's is an informal Italian eatery, specializing in wood-fired pizzas, a great selection of pasta dishes, and focaccia sandwiches. Caesar salad tops the appetiser menu, while the pasta menu features such dishes as bay shrimp and tomatoes in dill white wine and lemon cream sauce with spinach fettucini, and Quattro Stagione -- sauteed bell peppers, proscuitto and onion, in an olive oil, butter and garlic sauce on white fusili.

Checker's Restaurant
1414 Lincoln Avenue, (707) 942-9300
Pizza and pasta seem to be big in the Napa Valley, and this place serves the two types of dishes in a bistro setting. There's a second Checker's in Santa Rosa. The pasta menu is especially interesting, with a wide choice including house-made ravioli with garlic, tomatoes and basil, Firecracker Chicken (breast sauteed with spicy asian sauce, garlic, ginger, scallions, broccoli and bok choy, served over linguini), and garlic shrimp with angel hair pasta.

Pacifico Restaurante Mexicano
1237 Lincoln Avenue, (707) 942-4400
This is marvelous Mexican cuisine, constantly being updated by its adventurous owners (Jon and Susan Seeger) and the chef (Salvador Gomez). All of the standard Mexican dishes are here, including soft tacos, quesadillas, tamales and burritos. But there are other specialities which beg to be ordered -- Tampiquena: grilled sirloin marinated with chiles, onions, and tomatoes, served up with grilled corn and flour tortillas, Pollo Ajillo, and Huevos Benito (the restaurant's version of Eggs Benedict, with avocado and tomato instead of ham). This dish is available for Saturday / Sunday brunch. Another (devilish) standout is the Camarones a la Diabla -- sauteed prawns in garlic, butter, lime, arbol chiles, and tomatoes -- discovered by the chef in a Mexican fishing village.

Wappo Bar & Bistro
1226 Washington Street, (707) 942-4712
Praised in the press from the New York Times to Gourmet Magazine and Sunset, Wappo is located on a Calistoga side street, with a wonderful brick courtyard covered by a huge grape vine over a wooden trellis. The menu covers just about the whole world, from Thailand to Mexico, Brazil and Italy. You can order Portugese fritters, chilies rellenos, Brazilian Seafood Chowder (with coconut milk and peanuts, and seared Chilean sea bass.If you like game, try the roast rabbit with gnocchi and mustard cream sauce. Reserve early, and ask for seating in the courtyard.

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