Despite many trips to nearby Napa and Sonoma, we only recently ventured farther north into the St. Helena & Calistoga are of Napa Valley. We spent the weekend in Calistoga, a small and quaint town packed with a lot of history and no shortage of things to do, eat and of course, drink.
Where to Stay
Brannan Cottage Inn – $$$
Very cute 6-room inn at a historic property built in 1862. The main cottage is one of the few remaining structures from the original hot springs resort built by Sam Brannan, the founder of Calistoga. We stayed in Room 5, which was in a separate mini cottage with a cute mini deck and a nice view of one of two courtyards. Highly recommend staying here if you can get a reservation – the manager Nicole was so nice and thoughtful. Sam’s General is a small cafe right on property with great coffee and small bites for breakfast and lunch.
Calistoga Motor Lodge – $$$
Renovated a few years back, Calistoga has a much more mid-century modern desert feel in its 72 guest rooms. A great option if you’re looking for a property with a pool and spa on-site while still walking distance to local eats and hikes.
Solage Resort – $$$$
If you’re looking to splurge, Solage will be your spot. Rooms generally start at $1,000/nt, but it certainly has the most luxurious rooms and spa facilities of the hotels in the region. Located off of the scenic Silverado Trail, it’s a little farther from downtown Calistoga but only a few minutes drive away.
Where to Relax
The northern part of Napa is known for its abundance of mineral hot springs, mud baths and spas. Most spas will allow you to book services regardless of whether you are staying at the associated property.
Spa at Solage – $$$
We opted for the Spa at Solage, as the pricing was very similar amongst the options and the facilities looked very nice. Though we were tempted to try the mud baths, we went with a classic one hour couples massage that was wonderful. Make sure to leave enough time after your treatment to enjoy the different mineral pools, steam room and sauna.
Dr. Wilkinson’s – $$$
The motel and spa at Dr. Wilkinsons also recently underwent renovations, giving it a quirky mid-century vibe. If you are looking for something more low-key, this could be a good option for massages or mud baths. Note that the pricing is quite similar to the Spa at Solage.
Indian Springs Calistoga – $$$
One of the larger properties in Calistoga, Indian Springs is located on the original site of Sam Brannan’s resort across a sprawling 17 acres of land. Rooms range from standard sizes to larger cottages and homes for families. The outdoor space is also lovely, with no shortage of games (ping pong, shuffleboard) and seating. We were only just across the street, so we spent a bit of time strolling through the grounds.
Where to Explore
A few options to work off the wine calories outdoors, though in the summertime it’s advised to finish these early in the morning (before 11am) as it can get quite hot!
The Oat Hill Mine trailhead was a short 15min walk from our lodging, which made it an obvious choice for us this trip. It’s an in-and-out trail, which means you can make it as long (or short) as you’d like. We decided to aim for Bald Hill with its great views, which was 7 miles round-trip or about a 3.5 hour hike. It was a little sad to see all the burnt trees from recent fires, but we felt hopeful seeing some bright green new growth surrounding them.
The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main highway in Napa, and is one of my favorite drives. It’s a slightly curved road that threads between hills on one side and expansive vineyards on the other from Napa town to Calistoga. There are minimal elevation gains, making this a great bike ride for casual and expert cyclists alike. You can rent a bike from the local Calistoga Bike Shop.
Calistoga is a very walkable town, with a great amount to explore between local shops and eats. Additionally, many properties are quite open allowing visitors to stroll through the grounds. Take a walk through Indian Springs Resorts and check out the geysers (fenced, of course)!
Where to Eat
Located inside the Brannan Cottage Inn, Sam’s General has great espresso drinks (think: lavender lattes) and small bites for breakfast and lunch. You can also order a picnic lunch to take along whatever adventures you have for the day.
If you’re looking for a more local vibe, this coffee spot downtown is very casual and great for a classic cup of coffee.
With a few locations throughout Napa, this bakery known for their English muffin breakfast sandwiches has outposts in St. Helena and Yountville.
A very low-key grocery and taqueria in one, with excellent (and hefty) breakfast burritos.
A classic roadside diner, the burgers are excellent at Gott’s. The original location is in St. Helena, just down and across the street from several great wineries and tasting rooms.
Located on the perimeter of the Indian Springs Resort, Sam’s Social Club serves elevated casual fare and great cocktails. We went here twice, as it was right across the street from Brannan Cottage Inn. Once for a nightcap (check out the beautiful mural from Lauren McIntosh) and once for a post-hike late lunch. Reservations recommended, though we were able to squeeze in without.
Located at Solage, Solbar has great California style cuisine for both lunch and dinner. Reservations required.
These two are located in Yountville, about a 20min drive south from Calistoga. Ad Hoc serves a more structured 4-course meal at a set price of $56. The menu changes daily and is somewhat of a surprise – it’s not posted until the day before, though you can always expect something excellent. Reservations required.
Addendum is exactly as the name implies – a backyard extension to Ad Hoc focused on serving our absolute favorite fried chicken. There is an outdoor area with picnic tables, making it a very family-friendly establishment.
Unpopular Opinion: (Sorry Thomas Keller!) I think Bouchon Bakery is overrated. Worth a visit for the giant macarons and variety of pastries, but the line is often long (30min+ wait). If you don’t have the time to wait and have to skip, you aren’t missing too terribly much.
Very cool spot with a bakery, bar, restaurant and a few tasting rooms all in one area. While I haven’t had a chance to drink or eat at the namesake spots here, I’ve heard good things from friends. We only walked through as our Moone-Tsai tasting was here.
There are a ton of great dining options on the road to/from wine country. We love stopping by Boon Fly Cafe at Carneros Inn or Lou’s Luncheonette (formerly known as The Fremont Diner). Oxbow Market Hall in Napa town is a great place to sample multiple local eats along with one of my favorite SF roasters Ritual Coffee.
Where to Wine
There is an endless number of great wineries and tasting rooms in the area. So I’ll keep this short and sweet by including those I am most familiar with. Note that most of these require reservations, and popular ones can book up weeks in advance.
- Mumm Napa: Great french-style sparkling wine with beautiful views from the tasting terrace. Reservations required.
- Merryvale: Love their 2017 Chardonnay, and their Cabernet Sauvignon is great as well and not too dry. Casual tasting room located across the street from Gott’s Roadside.
- Chateau Montelena: Historic, known for their Chardonnay winning in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, which put Napa on the map as a global wine producing region. Sidenote: I recommend giving the 2008 movie Bottle Shock a watch, which is about that exact event. Randomly, there is also a lovely Japanese garden and lake on property. Reservations required.
- Grgich Hills Estate: Winery of the Chateau Montelena’s award winning Chardonnay, specializing in… you guessed it, Chardonnay.
- Stag’s Leap: Another historic winery, known for their Judgment of Paris winning cabernet sauvignon. Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap, an unrelated winery. Reservations required, especially if you want to do their wine cave tour.
- Moone-Tsai: Smaller production winery with excellent cabernet sauvignon and interesting pinot-cab red blends. Located in the Brasswood village area, great if you are eating at Brasswood before/after. Reservations required.
- Silver Oak: Another excellent cabernet sauvignon producer. Reservations required.