Up County – Down to Earth…Calistoga, California 11 min read

Some statistics suggest that more people visit Napa Valley every year than Disneyland. That’s great news, though most wind up in the Napa area, perhaps venturing out to Yountville, Rutherford or St. Helena. Unfortunately, far too many miss out on Calistoga, a charming resort community that will steal your heart and fill your senses. When visiting Napa Valley, consider originating your trip in Calistoga and working your way down to Napa!


Home to famed hot springs, mud baths, fabulous food and over fifty wineries, Calistoga is a wonderful place to start your wine country journey. Bonus—should you want to venture into wine tasting beyond Napa Valley and hop over to Sonoma side, you are halfway there! Calistoga lets you experience wine country in a picturesque, laid back setting flush with resorts, spas, natural hot springs, local dining, and wineries from Napa Valley’s newest AVA. Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Calistoga as one of the top ten wine destinations in the world for a very good reason.


Established in the 1800’s, Calistoga still embraces the original community-oriented spirit that makes visitors feel welcome as they explore this Northern Californian gem. A walk down main thoroughfare, Lincoln Avenue, offers some stylish shopping options such as Azusa (shoes), Rove Boutique (clothing), and for the oenophile in you, Enoteca Wine Shop. Guests and locals alike relish local dining at Brannan’s Grill, Sam’s Social Club and Veraison, amongst others. There are copious wine tasting rooms, bakeries, artisanal ice cream and coffee shops, art galleries, and more.


In 2010, the Calistoga AVA (American Viticultural Area) was formed, officially acknowledging its uniqueness. Visitors will find dozens of wineries producing a wide variety of wines, from sparkling to the coveted Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the most sought-after wines in the state come from this area. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit historic wineries, such as stately Chateau Montelena (see Judgment of Paris) or the spectacular Schramsberg. Or catch a fun gondola ride at Sterling Vineyards, culminating in a varietal wine tour; be sure to take in the magnificent sights of stunning Castello di Amorosa. Wine lovers will quickly discover how unique, fantastic and fun some of the newest producers’ offerings are by stepping into Picayune or Tank Winery tasting rooms.


Where should you stay when visiting Calistoga? There are countless options for your consideration. For those keen on enjoying an exclusive, chic resort atmosphere, there is the Calistoga Ranch. This 157-acre property features private lodge housing that includes bath gardens, outdoor showers and alfresco fireplaces. Or, perhaps, you prefer to stay at the lux Napa Valley resort that has earned a Forbes five-star rating? This fabulous property boasts a renown spa, oversize pool, Michelin-starred restaurant, Solbar, and offers all the wine country fun you can handle.


Other properties, such as Aurora Park Cottages, offer private freestanding accommodations. Even the typical hotel options are not so standard. The Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa reflects unexpected playfulness in its design. Whimsy in the rooms’ decor reflect the local artistry. There are fabulous, upscale bed and breakfast options such as Chateau De Vie that is a must for those who wish to be lost in the magic of the vineyards, while being pampered by unparalleled service.


Here are some lodging highlights.


Aurora Park Cottages




If you’re looking for a comfy, laid-back, quiet place to stay, Aurora Park Cottages should be at the top of your list. Located at the north-end of Calistoga, guests can choose among several cottages of varying sizes. After a day of wine and entertainment, you can relax on your private deck with a glass of wine. As an additional touch for that extra special occasion, you can request a bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, or rose petals waiting in your room for a mere $40. If that doesn’t spell “romance,” what will?! To top off a blissful night’s rest, you will awake to freshly-squeezed orange juice and a basket of fresh pastries, delivered each morning.






Right off the Calistoga main street (Lincoln Ave), the Bergson offers elegantly designed rooms for the ultimate comfort. Twenty one different lodgings supply a variety of arrangements and amenities, such as balconies, feather beds, fireplaces, and jet tubs. In the morning, guests gather in the lobby and garden for breakfast before enjoying the options available in and around Calistoga. Additionally, you can choose specialty packages that include amenities such as sparkling wine, dinner, spa treatments, picnics and more!


Calistoga Best Western




Another surprisingly cool option available to those visiting Calistoga is…the local Best Western, Stevenson Manor. This hotel offers the same amenities expected of a swanky hotel or bed and breakfast…Wi-Fi, heated swimming pool, breakfast and suites featuring wet bars, fireplaces, and jetted bathtubs.  Guests can also book packages that include local wine tours, hot-air balloon rides, and spa treatments.


Cottage Grove Inn




Imagine renting a cabin in the woods…miles from civilization and the idyllic sense of tranquility that it comes with. Well, the same experience can occur right in the heart of wine country – at the enchanted Cottage Grove Inn of Calistoga. This collection of freestanding cottages allows guests to feel like they’re away from everything, while all the local attractions are minutes away. The bungalows feature fireplaces, Jacuzzi-style tubs, and quaint porches for relaxation. The rooms are nicely appointed and even include picnic baskets for your outdoor pleasure. You get to start the day with a beautiful breakfast of freshly prepared eggs and pastries. In the evening, there is a happy hour, featuring local wineries, where you can relax and recount their adventures.


Mount View Hotel




If you are seeking a property with historical connections, dating back over 100 years, Mount View Hotel is your best bet. Located on the same site as the historic European Hotel, the Mount View Hotel boasts a history going back to the founding of Calistoga. With rooms named after its prominent guests, art deco styling, and mineral whirlpool baths, guests will immediately intuit that they are a part of something special. Additionally, guests may choose to stay in one of the winery suites with all the amenities including a hand-picked bottle of wine.


Worked up an appetite?


Fret not, tasty options abound.


Brannan’s Grill




This locally owned and operated restaurant is in the heart of downtown Calistoga, in a historic building that started off as a garage. Beautifully restored, the restaurant features an exciting menu that focuses on small bites such as heirloom tomato salads, Hamachi tacos, Moroccan lamb chops all designed to be shared with a table of friends.  Brannan’s new head chef has helped energize the long-established eatery with a new dynamic, tapas-style menu. Deliciousness abounds atthis large, comfortable space with a friendly, non-pretensions vibe, complete with a smart beer and wine list, that features many local producers.






Locals in-the-know are aware that some of the best food in Napa County comes from Evangelineself-described as a “casual French bistro with a Creole soul.”  Guests can choose from dishes such a seafood tower, asparagus and burrata, duck confit, or lobster risotto. Locals rave about Evangeline’s summer treatfried chicken in the park every Thursday June through August that sells out in instantly.


Sam’s Social Club




Named after one of Calistoga’s famous founding fathers, Samuel Brannan, this local restaurant reflects the mission-style design of Indian Springs. Attractive indoor and outdoor dining options supply the right ambiance to enjoy the eclectic menu that features oysters, grilled octopus, bacon-wrapped dates, hamburgers, rib eye steaks, and duck or lamb. The Club also serves breakfast and lunch.  The beautiful architecture, outdoor fire pit, and tantalizing menu make this a must-visit.






Looking for an upscale dining experience, perhaps an establishment with a Michelin rating?  Look no further than the Solbar at Solage Calistoga. Head chef, Massimo Falsini, creates astonishing seasonal dishes that reflect the Napa Valley, utilizing local, farm-fresh ingredients. The dining menu is wide-ranging, combined with an extensive wine and cocktail list, that includes wines from around the world, as well as some of the best offerings from Napa Valley. Options include the famed fried chicken, steak tartare, halibut, and roasted duck. Visitors will also want to look into the exclusive events such as pool parties, and wine specials for Solage club members,






Throughout wine country, the term verasion indicates life and the upcoming harvest. In Calistoga, it’s the name of a restaurant that brings its owner, Dain Kaiser, full-circle. Midway through his career, Dan worked at the Calistoga restaurant, JoLe. Years later, the space became available and Dan came back to Calistoga and opened Verasion. Kaiser offers outstanding food in a lovely environment. His menu is bursting with scrumptious selections such as steak tartare, wild frog leg lollipops, soft-shell crab, kurobuta pork chops, filet mignon, and rabbit loin.


Of special note is the Spa at EuroSpa & Inn. It is one of the few Calistoga facilities that offers an extensive menu of well-priced options in one location. Some of their services include nine different massage selections, facials, mud wraps, and hair & scalp treatments. The quality of the treatment and customer service are outstanding and merit many return visits.


No visit to the area would be complete without stopping at some local wineries: There are a variety of wine styles and diverse locations that will appeal to all manner of wine lovers.


Castello di Amorosa




Visiting Castello, a brainchild of legendary Dario Sattui, is like stepping back in time as you walk into this Tuscan style, 13th century castle. Guests can tour the grounds and admire the extraordinary design, that took decades to complete, and authentic ambiance. There are several custom tour and tasting options available.






Centrally located, just off Lincoln Ave, across from a charming local grocery called Calmart, Picayune offers a beautiful experience in its quaint tasting room and boutique. Founders Jennifer Roberts and Claire Weinkauf offer several outstanding varietal wines to their visitors including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and several blends sourced from some of the best vineyards in Napa and Sonoma.


Sterling Vineyards




Visiting Sterling is hardly just about tasting wine…it’s about the whole sensory experience. It starts with an amazing aerial tram ride from the parking lot to the winery. Upon entering the property, you are immediately offered a glass of wine to begin your exploration. The tour is a combination of production facilities, art exhibits, and digital displays, all accompanied by a stop at a wine station, featuring a varietal selection.


Tank Garage




Tasting rooms come in all shapes and sizes. Tank Garage Winery occupies a 1930’s era service station, complete with classic gas pumps, roll-up garage door, and a classic Indian motorcycle inside. Tank is also unique in their Americana styled wine names and blends that are new every year.






Less than a mile from Calistoga’s Lincoln Avenue is T-Vine Winery. Their wines have been produced since 1992. The grapes fare sourced from some of the best and most storied vineyards in the both valleys, such as Bacigalupi and Nichelini.


W.H. Smith Wines




Calistoga’s main street is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. While meandering there, don’t miss W.H. Smith Wines tasting room. Bill Smith produces several great Cabernet blends from his vineyards on Howell Mountain and Pinot Noir from Sonoma.


A true grassroots community, Calistoga features year-around events that attract visitors and locals alike. Springtime brings the annual Calistoga Food and Wine Festival that features a winemaker’s dinner and the Grand Tasting at Solage Solstice Event Lawn and Barn. Summer offers a variety of fun outdoor activities, including the widely popular weekly concerts in the Pioneer Park.


Two major highlights for Calistoga, and Napa county, is the Calistoga Wine Experience and the Calistoga Harvest Table. These two happenings make for one amazing September weekend. The wine experience takes place in Pioneer park and features more than forty wineries, pouring their top offerings. For a modest entry fee guests can experience wines from historical wineries like Chateau Montelena, coveted Heidi Barrett’s wines from La Sirena or hip new blends from Tank Garage. Attendees will also enjoy gourmet foods and refreshing summertime treats, such as watermelon with Tajin spice.


The culmination is nothing short of spectacular—on Sunday, Lincoln Avenue becomes a large community dining room featuring 1,000 feet of tables serving food and drinks from thirteen restaurants and more than forty wineries. Guests get to experience signature and seasonal dishes from their favorite restaurants while sharing their favorite wines with guests around the table. Wine was available for sale by the glass or the bottle, and encouraged to be shared with your tablemates.


Word to the wise—mark your calendar for September 9, 2018 for the next year’s event. You will be glad that you did.


Beautiful scenery combined with world-class lodging and a plethora of dining options make Calistoga the top destination during your Napa Valley visit. You will find plenty of down home, generous spirit, world-class wine and food, heaps of wellness options, and leave relaxed and rejuvenated, mind, body and soul.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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