It typically takes people a few trips to Napa to find Calistoga, and yet we often suggest it as the first place to stay. Located at the top of the Napa Valley and nested at the foot of the hills, this area has a long tradition of serving visitors because of its hot springs. Rising above the town is St. Helena, which was a live volcano millions of years ago, and the memory of that bubbles to the surface as mineral baths, healing mud, and an old faithful geyser.
The town itself looks like a scene from a cowboy movie, with its straight up store fronts and shaded sidewalks. There is an abundance of shopping and places to eat that exude a huge amount of casual charm. Right downtown are numerous small hotels and Bed and Bed Breakfasts, which means that their guest can walk to dinner after a day of wine tasting.
Located a small distance outside of town are some of the valley’s most expensive resorts. But that’s the nature of Calistoga, a mix of both modest and elegant, in both the lodgings and the wineries. For the first time visitor to Napa it offers a wide variety of modestly priced, yet charming accommodations, including numerous Bed and Breakfasts. The whole Napa Valley is only thirty miles long, so it is easy to visit whatever winery you’d like to see from Calistoga.
The only other spot in Napa where you would find lodgings in the same price range is in the city of Napa, but Calistoga has the distinction of being ‘country’. The city of Napa deals with the difficulty of being in the shadow of the Valley, America’s most famous wine region. Napa county has a dual personality, from Yountville north it is rural and wealthy, south of Yountville through the city of Napa and on into American Canyon it is a mix of suburban, commerce, and farming (grapes of course) and middle and working class.
Calistoga, at the northern end of the valley is a bit removed from Napa’s most famous regions, Oakville and Rutherford. Locals relish their reputation as the country cousins, and appreciate the insulation that their location provides. Truthfully they are only about 10 miles north of the town of St. Helena, and it’s a pretty ride, but it’s just enough to prevent the traffic jams that build up further south.
Now into this rural mix we have to add the idea of the destination winery, and one of the first, and still most popular has a Calistoga address, the Sterling Winery, perched on a hill in the middle of the valley and accessible by its signature tramway. Right across the street the impressive architecture and art collection of Clos Pegase is worth the ride by itself. Then around the corner of those two is the Castello di Amorosa, a massive and very authentic representation of a Tuscan castle, with their winery and tours. Thankfully all three of these are to the south of the main town, so some of that traffic heads south after their tastings and doesn’t clog the roads of Calistoga.
Despite the presence of these huge tourist destinations, there are a wide variety of small wineries in the area for visitors to enjoy, August Briggs, Cuvaison, Vincent Arroyo, Summers, Envy, Reverie, Benessere, Bennett Lane, just to name a few.
If you are going to stay in Calistoga there are two routes coming up from San Francisco over the Golden Gate, one is up through the Napa Valley on Highway 29. The other route is to stay on Highway 101 until Santa Rosa and take the route over the mountains, including Petrified Forest Road. This is the route that the locals often suggest and it is indeed a pretty ride.
What were the WOW moments you experienced?
In March Calistoga celebrates with a festival called Mud, Wine and Food to celebrate their hot springs, wineries and restaurants. People wander the street all day long with wine glasses in their hands from tasting to tasting room while live music plays. It is a huge amount of fun!