Old West meets Old Faithful in the land of luxurious mud baths, splurge-worthy resorts, and eclectic restaurants.
At the top of the Valley, the spa town of Calistoga is part Old West, part Old Faithful, with wooden storefronts and hitching posts once used for horses flanking cottage bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, and saloons. The main attraction, of course: some 13 spas that harness the area’s geothermal hot springs and volcanic ash to create the town’s famous mud baths. (707) 942-6333, calistogavisitors.com . Area code is 707 except as noted.
Sam Brannan was California’s first millionaire, and his 1860s resort cottage is part of the fascinating ephemera at the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History, built by Disney animator Ben Sharpsteen, who retired here. Other highlights include a 30-foot-long diorama of Brannan’s original 1868 Hot Springs (which he famously mispronounced as the “Calistoga of Sarafornia”) and a display of Wappo Indian artifacts. 131 Washington St., 942-5911, sharpsteen-museum.org . With Calistoga finally claiming its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 2009, there’s no better time to visit Chateau Montelena Winery, whose master winemaker, Bo Barrett, was one of the forces behind the new designation, and whose storied winery put California on the map at the notorious Judgment of Paris in 1976. Barrett still holds court at the 1886 stone castle, where you can taste the famed chardonnay and wander through a Chinese garden. 1429 Tubbs Ln., 942-5105, montelena.com . Every 30 minutes, superheated steam and scalding water shoots 60 feet into the air from the Old Faithful Geyser of California, one of only three geysers in the world that lays claim to an “old faithful” title. Between eruptions, visit the resident fainting goats, four-horn sheep, and guard llamas. 1299 Tubbs Ln., 942-6463, oldfaithfulgeyser.com .
Stop in at Yo el Rey Roasting microroastery for impeccably brewed Ethiopian Yrgacheffe fair-trade organic coffee, along with morning pastries, underground art, and free Wi-Fi. 1217 Washington St., 942-1180, yoelrey.com . JoLe’s creative farm-to-table cuisine runs from lamb poutine with chickpea fries to duck confit cassoulet with huckleberry coulis. For a treat to die for, buy the (whole) farm with well-priced four-, five-, and six-course tasting menus. 1457 Lincoln Ave., 942-5938, jolerestaurant.com . A chummy daytime family atmosphere gives way to live music and late-night cocktails at the boisterous, brick-walled Hydro Grill, voted Calistoga’s best burger in a recent blind tasting. 1403 Lincoln Ave., 942-9777.
It’s a big splurge in one of the splurgiest regions in California, but the 48 woody-chic two-room lodges at Calistoga Ranch are worth considering, especially in the off-season when creek-side lodging with private deck, hot tub, fireplace, and outdoor rainfall shower cost only an arm and a foot. Must-dos include breakfast at the canyon-top Lakehouse restaurant, margaritas poolside, and a hike on the Valley View Trail for a spectacular scenic overlook. 580 Lommel Rd., 254-2800, calistogaranch.com . Spread across 16 acres of Sam Brannan’s original resort, Indian Springs Resort and Spa is a true Calistoga experience, featuring tidy 1940s duplex cottages with front porches, and wicker chairs. Guests spend most days luxuriating in the mud baths or the geothermal mineral pool (open until midnight), fueled by the resort’s four steaming 230-degree geysers. 1712 Lincoln Ave., 942-4913, indianspringscalistoga.com . Cozy and affordable, EuroSpa & Inn features cute cottage-style rooms with front porches, gas fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs, just off Lincoln Ave. 1202 Pine St., 942-6829, eurospa.com .
Photography courtesy Calistoga Ranch
This article was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Napa Valley  package:
Napa : budget restaurants and a bustling new riverside
Oakville : take a deep dive into wine culture
Rutherford : acclaimed wineries and exceptional natural attractions
St. Helena : upscale yet folksy Main Street
Yountville : the Valley's fine-dining capital