Calistoga Visitors Guide
Bordered by the Mayacamas Range on the west and the rugged Howell Mountain Range on the east, the Napa Valley narrows to just a mile at the quaint Victorian hot springs town of Calistoga. For nearly 4,000 years, the Wappo Indians were the only people who enjoyed the hot waters that steamed and bubbled from a geothermal lake beneath the Calistoga area. They called their homeland Tu-la-halusi––“land of health-giving springs”.
It was not until 1860 that a wealthy San Franciscan, Samuel Brannan, built a lavish spa resort, complete with a racetrack, a dancing pavilion and a winery, to attract health addicts and vacationers. By 1868, the railroad arrived, and Calistoga became the “Saratoga of California.” Now, there are more than a dozen spa resorts, from rustic bathhouses and plain cottages to luxurious Roman-style villas with garden patios, private whirlpools and mud baths, massage salons and romantic accommodations. The steamy, 200-degree, mineral-rich, carbonated waters from below the town continue to fill the soaking tubs and swimming pools, and the town looks much as it did when Brannan’s customers arrived in horse-drawn carriages and stagecoaches to “take the waters.”
The short main street, Lincoln Avenue, is a busy boulevard of restaurants, saloons, an Art Deco-style hotel, and art galleries. You can bike or stroll up and down the tree-shaded streets on the west side to see Victorian mansions and Craftsman-style cottages, and a sweet gazebo on the creekside in Pioneer Park. This is the quiet side of the Napa Valley, where backroads, charming old neighborhoods and the forested trails of a state park make for serene biking and hiking.
The article on this page is adapted from the book, Backroads of the California Wine Country by Karen Misuraca (www.karenmisuraca.com), published by Voyageur Press.