If this is your first planned trip to Calistoga, please know that you are in for a treat. This exceptional spot in Napa Valley is imbued with history dating back to the 1800s.
Calistoga has retained its rural, laid-back feel, yet brims in modern charm. Recent renovations have delivered a lovely dose of chic to many area hotels, restaurants and shops while still retaining the burg’s intimate mood.
Below, a two-day (48 hours) itinerary showcases a variety of things to do in Calistoga, blending old and new, relaxation with recreational, and last, but not least, upscale with cozy casual.
Day One – Fuel up for a big day, beginning with brunch/lunch at the newest restaurant in town, Lovina (formerly Calistoga Kitchen), which serves locavore cuisine. Take a seat inside its charming cottage café or outside in the garden patio. Owner Jennifer Bennett and her team serve the brunch/lunch six days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed on Tuesdays). You can tuck into favorites like avocado on toasted seeded batard with house-made ricotta and poached egg, or the signature Chicken Tiki Yum Yum, a deep red spicy curry draped over jasmine rice worthy of a crispy lentil chip scoop.
Next door to Lovina on Lincoln Avenue are several great antiques stores, so go ahead and browse the bountiful collectibles at Lincoln Street Market and Rags to Riches before a last stop in Roam Antiques & Design, a favored stop of movie star Kurt Russell during a past Napa Valley Film Festival. Roam Antiques’ owners literally roam the world for unique treasures. In keeping with the spirit of wine country, they also collect and sell wine-making artifacts found throughout California.
By now, you may be ready to dive into some wine tasting. A few steps away around the corner is where you’ll find Tank Garage Winery on Foothill Boulevard. Both the exterior and interior are replicas of a 1930s gas station converted into a hip space. It’s decorated with clever signs like “lubrication,” and a 1947 Indian Chief Motorcycle once owned by famous racer Eddie Bratton. Every visit here is a new discovery, especially due to the fact that Tank Garage Winery’s wines are “one-offs,” meaning they’re created in small batches that are never recreated again.
Backtracking to downtown Calistoga is easy since this is an entirely walk-able town. But outside of the main street, the convenience and fun in a bike ride is a fun activity. One option is to rent wheels at Calistoga Bikeshop on the main drag – the store offers route suggestions and maps, and also leads guided tours of the area’s scenery and wineries. Or, if you check into Indian Springs Resort & Spa, your room or bungalow includes complimentary use of bright blue cruiser bikes to pedal all around town.
NOTE: More resorts that offer complimentary cruisers: Solage, an Auberge Resort, Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa, or Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa & Resort. For a fee, you can also rent an on-property bicycle at Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort.
Indian Springs Resort is a destination unto itself and a historic property boasting mud baths, natural mineral pools and hot springs. Its rooms are designed with luxury in mind with views of a Buddha pond, capped geyser and gardens. Retro-cool lawn games include bocce ball, shuffleboard, croquet and giant checkers, or you can just kick back and sway the day away in the hammock garden.
Keeping the same lawn-game theme, dinner might be at Checkers Restaurant, a neighborhood hangout to indulge in various sizes of gooey pizzas, plates of spaghetti and meatballs, cioppino, or a bit fancier fare like butternut squash ravioli with smoked chicken. For something more lavish, Evangeline is a favorite for folks from all over who crave fine French-Creole fare. The best seats are on the garden patio at this fashionable bistro, and regulars know to get the shrimp étouffée with hush puppies, or silky duck confit gussied with red-wine-spiced prunes.
Day Two – Rise and shine before breakfast at Sam’s Social Club, the restaurant at Indian Springs Resort. Order the “Egg in a Hole” – a pure bliss item on the menu. This thick slab of house-made brioche is coated in Parmesan cheese and soaked in butter. The chef cuts a hole in the center, drops in an egg, and then pan-fries the bread to a golden crunch outside, while the egg cooks to a runny, pepper-sprinkled perfection with yolk oozing into the sides of roasted potatoes, mushroom fondue and arugula.
A Calistoga visit isn’t complete without a mud bath, and the treatment at Spa Solage is void of the usual mess of the “authentic” mud bath and replaces it with a controlled, luxurious “mud slide” experience. The “mud bar” is set in a sleek white bathhouse with a fire pit lounge, geothermal pools, eucalyptus steam rooms, a cool plunge and options like exotic massages and facials.
You’re on Silverado Trail now, so head southeast half a mile and stop in Brian Arden Winery. You don’t need an appointment to sample a flight of five to seven hand-crafted, small lot wines. Take a look around to imbibe the contemporary design of the tasting room’s 30-foot windows overlooking vineyards and the Palisade Mountains. Or, sprawl on the 10-foot wraparound patio before you take a moment to admire the winery’s culinary garden.
If you’re feeling energetic post-pampering, head west, just past Lincoln Avenue to Oat Hill Mine Trail for a brisk hike or short stroll. The scenery is stunning, following 8.3 miles of an old stage coach route. The sometimes rough and rocky path gets challenging as it leads up to a 1,500 foot elevation amid oak, Douglas fir, gray pine and cypress forests. Even if you don’t venture much past the grasslands and interesting rock formations along the foothills entry, you can imagine miners long-ago navigating the course with their mules and packs.
A light, late lunch will sound good right about now, and back on Lincoln Avenue you can indulge in Mexican food, healthy-style. The brightly colored, fiesta décor Pacifico Restaurante Mexicano tempts with signatures like enchiladas Mazatlan of sautéed shrimp rolled in a whole wheat tortilla drizzled in creamy tomatillo sauce alongside rice and sautéed corn.
Head back to your room at Indian Springs Resort and change into your swimsuit. The two swimming pools are famous for their naturally heated thermal waters with temperatures ranging from 82 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, heated by the hot springs below.
After lounging and perhaps a few laps in the main pool – it’s an Olympic-sized mineral pool built in 1913 and one of the largest pools in California – you might move over to the newer adult pool. Here, you can enjoy cocktails, wine, or Sam’s Social Club’s own house-brewed draft beer.
As dinnertime nears, take a stroll (or ride your cruiser bicycle) to window shop on Lincoln Avenue. Many stores stay open until 6 p.m., including the marvelous Blackbird of Calistoga, an emporium of coveted home accessories focusing on gardening and outdoor recreation.
You’re probably already planning your next trip to Calistoga, so check out the digs at The Calistoga Inn on Lincoln Avenue. You might want to stay here during your next visit to enjoy its intimate mood of a Craftsman home with just 17 rooms that have been modernized in bright white and cream colors. The on-site restaurant and its trellised patio in particular are popular with visitors and locals alike. The patio overlooks the Napa River, with a historic water tower that is now home to Napa Valley Brewing Company. Just two of the standout dishes include salad of prosciutto di Parma, asparagus, arugula, shaved Granny Smith apples, Midnight Moon cheese and banyuls vinaigrette; or ricotta-potato gnocchi tumbled with English peas, onions, mushrooms, wilted spinach, parmesan and truffle’d turnip coulis.