By Robert P. Farmer
The story goes that Calistoga got its name when Sam Brannan, who first ventured to these parts lured by the healing waters that were rumored to rival Saratoga Springs in New York, arrived and dubbed it the “Calistoga of Sarifornia,” obviously intending to say “Saratoga of California.” The name stuck, and so too has Brannan’s imprimatur. The pioneering spirit of the Old West is still evident in the charming small town at the northern end of Napa Valley. But Wine Country has grown up around it, and the “healing waters” still exist and continue to be part of the lure.
Calistoga is part geological wonder, part destination to for the good life, and still one of the most popular regions of California’s Wine Country–just as it was when it first became a destination in the 1880s, when travelers made their way here to soak in the warm, sulfuric waters of the many area hot springs. In its later life, visitors grew fonder of the excellent cabernets and chardonnays being produced in the region. Modern-day Calistoga combines the best of all worlds, and throws in for good measure a great collection of historic attractions, excellent resorts and tempting restaurants.
WINE TASTINGChateau Montelena
The argument can be made that modern-day Wine Country began here. While it otherwise likely would have happened eventually, Chateau Montelena is where the world took notice of California winemaking. This is one of the two Napa Valley wineries that famously took home the grand prize in the historic Tasting at Paris competition in 1976. They unseated the French from the throne and never looked back. The winery is elegant and secluded, and the tasting room is a great place not just to sample the excellent Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Riesling, but also to discover the roots of the industry. (Open daily 9:30a-4pm. Private library wine tastings
available by appointment.)
>>Other Calistoga wineriesDININGCalistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery
The restaurant and brewery is connected to the 18-room Calistoga Inn, a comfortable and affordable lodging option in town. But the restaurant has a life of its own, and is a popular refueling spot for sightseers and wine-tasters ambling along Lincoln Ave., Though it’s also a micro-brewery (the housemade beers sport the Napa Valley Brewing Company label), the restaurant also has a great family-friendly vibe. The patio is a sought-after spot on warm afternoons while the pub-style interior is a cozy option on cooler evening. The fare is reliably comforting and straightforward–venturing well beyond typical “pub grub” thanks to an abundance of readily available fresh ingredients and a kitchen staff who understands there are catering to a Wine Country audience.
>>Other Calistoga restaurantsSTAYINGCalistoga Ranch
Since opening earlier this decade, Calistoga Ranch wasted little time establishing itself among the premiere lodging options in all of Wine Country. Hidden away in a small private canyon just south of the Calistoga town center, the Auberge-run Ranch is a study in tranquility and under-stated luxury. The rooms are more like precious private homes–indeed Calistoga Ranch offers fractional ownership opportunities. And what could be better in a home than sumptuous beds, an outdoor shower, indoor-outdoor living rooms, all surrounded by oak-studded hills, miles of hiking trails and a private lake. Amenities include a top-rated spa, a swimming pool, and an excellent restaurant open only to resort guests. This is Wine Country luxury at its finest and most indulgent. Room/cottages range from $450-$4500.
>>Other Calistoga Resorts, Hotels, Inns, B&Bs