Calistoga, California

Calistoga is a Wine Country Favorite

Calistoga Lincoln Avenue
••• Calistoga Lincoln Avenue. © 2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Calistoga, California, sits at the end of the Napa Valley like a cork in a wine bottle. Few Napa visitors drive far enough past the northernmost "Welcome to Napa" sign to find this small place, its early 1900s main street is only a few blocks long.

One of California history's greatest characters gave Calistoga its name, or so the story goes. Sam Brannan, who once owned most of the town, was asked what he planned to do with his northern Napa property.

He intended to make it the Saratoga Springs of California, but with his diction slurred by alcohol Brannan replied, "I'm going to make it the Calistoga of Sarafornia!"

Calistoga's small town ambiance, coupled with sophisticated dining and shopping, make it a favorite of many wine country visitors. Underground thermal features give rise to natural hot spring spas here. Grapevines and vineyards sprout in the surrounding countryside, and it's all so compact that you can get around easily.

Why Should You Go? Will You Like Calistoga?

Calistoga is  Northern California's cute little spa town, with natural hot springs and mud bath spas to relax the tensest of visitors. It's a relaxed place compared to the rest of the Napa Valley, and with lodging and a bicycle rental shop right in town, it's an easy place to have an automobile-free weekend or to take the family.

I rate Calistoga 4 stars out of 5 for its hot springs-fed spas, small-town charm and relaxing atmosphere.

We polled almost 4,000 of our readers to find out what they think about Calistoga, and they disagree. 27% rated it awesome while about 70% say is OK or worse. I can only guess why, but they may have been expecting a town more upscale than Calistoga is.

Best Time to Go to Calistoga

Weather is best in spring and fall, and surprisingly Calistoga can be the hottest spot in the entire Napa Valley on a warm summer day (because it's furthest away from the San Francisco Bay).

Don't Miss

If you've only got a day, the best thing to do is take a leisurely stroll down Lincoln Avenue, where you'll find some lovely art galleries, bookstores, and other fun shops.

4 More Great Things to Do in Calistoga

  • Spa-a-a-h!: Calistoga calls itself the "Spa Capital of Northern California," and the title is well-deserved. With more than two dozen spas and massage therapy salons in town, the only stress you'll have to deal with is picking which one to visit.
  • Wine Tasting, Winery Tours: Top wineries near Calistoga include Schramsberg (sparkling wine) and Castello di Amorosa, a fascinating recreation of an Italian castle.
  • Ca'Toga: Italian artist Carlo Marchiori's whimsically-decorated, Palladian house Villa Ca'Toga is open for tours on Saturdays from May through October, and his works are on sale at his Ca'Toga Gallery in downtown Calistoga.
  • Safari West: Take a mini-safari through this 400-acre wildlife preserve, (which is also a safari-style bed and breakfast). It's just one of the best places to take the kids in Napa Valley, most of which are near Calistoga.

Annual Events You Should Know About

Best Bites

While Calistoga isn't quite so thick with well-known restaurants as other Napa Valley towns, you'll find a selection of places to eat along the main street, at a broad range of prices. All Seasons Bistro (1400 Lincoln Avenue) is a perennial favorite, with an excellent wine list.

Where to Stay

Where Is Calistoga Located?

Calistoga is located about 75 miles north of San Francisco and 27 miles north of the town of Napa, in the north end of Napa Valley. Take U. S. Highway 101 north across the Golden Gate Bridge and exit at CA 37 East (exit 460A).

Go north on CA 29.