Calistoga, a Charming Napa Destination
Each morning from the patio outside our room, Dan and I could see the Pacific fog rolling in across the rugged peaks of the Palisades. This is one of my most vivid memories of Calistoga during our visit to California’s wine country.
The first thing we learned about Calistoga is that it’s a hot springs destination. Most visitors come for the rejuvenating mud baths, mineral springs and relaxing spa treatments. But we were drawn by the recommendation of a friend who said the old mining town, nestled at the foothills of Mt. St. Helena, is an ideal location for a wine country getaway. By the way, it’s also a great place for history buffs, hikers, bikers and foodies.
When searching for a B&B, we found the Wine Way Inn on Bed and Breakfast.com, our top source when traveling. The inn is within a few blocks of the historic downtown which offers numerous dining options, art galleries, boutique shops and a few coffee houses that open for early risers. After reading reviews about the hospitality and great breakfasts at the Wine Way Inn, we booked a four-day stay.
The turn-of-the-century Craftsman-style inn, owned by innkeepers Nick and Gillian Kite, has six comfortable guest rooms, including the original tack room which is separated from the main house. Guests can relax with a glass of complementary wine in the parlor or on a three-tiered redwood deck with distant views of the Palisades.
Dan and I chose the “Calistoga Room,” the estates refurbished tack room because it opens to a private patio where we could celebrate each day’s wine finds with cheese and fresh crusty bread. We arrived in town mid afternoon to a warm welcome from Nick and Gillian.
After settling into our room, our noses followed a scrumptious hickory aroma to Buster’s Barbeque & Bakery, just a stone’s throw away. Buster was smoking tri-tips, a regional specialty, over a huge open fire. We couldn’t resist. The little diner is like an old Tasty Freeze where folks line up at the window to place their orders -- mostly barbequed tri-tip sandwiches that come with two luscious sides and a hunk of fresh bread smothered in garlic butter. No wonder both locals and tourists are lured to the diner’s al fresco seating where “paper towels are the linen of choice,” according to Buster.
Each morning we awoke shortly after dawn to explore the beautiful downtown area which is rich in history and charm and graced by the breathtaking backdrop of Mount St. Helena. We tucked ourselves in to a cup of coffee at Yo el Rey, a destination in itself. Wine may be nectar of the Gods, but it’s the coffee that wipes the sleep from our eyes so we can enjoy the days’ imbibing. Knowing this, prior to our visit I’d researched coffee shops in Calistoga and was pleased to find one that served Fair Trade coffee. However, this little coffee nook offers more than a poverty-breaking cycle, hope, and sweet justice for coffee-growers in third world countries. Its walls come to life as spontaneous prose and confessional narratives dance with background jazz, serving up a huge slice of the “Beat Generation” – something that I’d only heard about while growing up in the 60s. What a way to perk up the day!
We returned to the B&B in time for Nick’s buffet-style breakfasts which included a hot dish, muffins or scones, seaqsonal fruit and homemade yogurt and granola. One evening while chatting with Nick and Gillian over a glass of their signature wine, they talked about growing up in Bristol, England and becoming childhood sweethearts. Nick’s management consulting position brought the couple and their three children to the states. Gillian has worked as a professional cook and has also given cooking lessons in Britain, France and the U.S. After tiring of the corporate life, and with a shared passion for the culinary arts, they decided to purchase a bed and breakfast in Napa Valley.
In 2002, they bought Wine Way Inn, Calistoga’s first B&B which opened in 1978. The cozy Craftsman-style home was built at the turn of the century and features Arts and Crafts architectural elements, such as built-in cabinets and exposed beams. Since then, they’ve purchased another Craftsman home, less than a block away, and spent two years refurbishing it into the Craftsman Inn, their dream B&B which Gillian manages. It’s Calistoga’s newest inn and offers guests the option for larger rooms, more luxurious amenities, and a gourmet champagne breakfast.
During our visit, Nick recommended a trip to the Sharpsteen Museum. So we gave our wine-tasting buds a break one morning and spent time learning about Calistoga’s early history which is depicted through fascinating, 30-foot dioramas. The town, which still maintains its old-time charm, was founded by Samuel Brannon during the gold-rush era. His idea was to provide a grand spa for California’s wealthiest residents, similar to the famed European-style spas in Saratoga Springs, New York. According to locals, the town’s name comes from Brannan’s tipsy word slur when he said he wanted to create a “Calistoga of Sarafornia.” The museum was founded by Ben and Bernice Sharpsteen who spent their retirement years at a ranch near Calistoga. Ben worked for Walt Disney Studios and was an Academy Award-winning animator. An impressive array of his Disney memorabilia is featured at the museum along with one of his Oscars.
Most of our Calistoga evenings were spent noshing on wine and cheese. However we did venture out to Brannan’s Grill one night and enjoyed an extraordinary meal with a nice Cabernet we brought in from Goosercross Cellars, a small family winery. Surprisingly, there was no corkage fee.
Although other visitors we met gave glowing accounts of the relaxation they found in coffin-shaped tubs of mud, we chose to immerse ourselves in the lush landscape of Napa Valley, unwinding with a glass of cabernet, zinfandel or pinot noir while feasting our eyes on the Mayacamas Mountains. Read about our wine country visit in more detail in Dan's "Kindred Spirits" and "Wineries" features on this site.
For more information on the Wine Way Inn, visit www.winewayinn.com
For more information on Calistoga: www.calistoga.com; www.calistogavisitors.com. Busters: www.busterssouthernbbq.com. Brannan's: www.brannansgrill.com. Sharpsteen Museum: www.sharpsteen-museum.org. Yo el Rey Roasting: www.yoelrey.com.
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