Calistoga In the Spotlight

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Home / Calistoga In the Spotlight


Calistoga retains the charm of yesteryear with its raised wooden sidewalks that let you stroll the shops and galleries, stop for a wine tasting, sample handmade chocolates or dine in one of the many popular restaurants. Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands offer ripe and delicious seasonal fruits and organic vegetables; put some in a lunch and bike the tree-lined side streets, then stop at Pioneer Park and enjoy live music on the wooden gazebo and a picnic on its green lawns, just a block off of the main street and a century back in time.

Napa Valley is famous for what comes out of the bottle, but Calistoga is most famous for what comes out of the ground. Old Faithful, the geyser that has been providing spectacular shows from Mother Nature is a wonder not to be missed. The healthful properties of the underground springs created the Calistoga brand of bottled water and gave rise to a wealth of world-class spas that will revitalize you, and treatments that cleanse and purify with rich, warm mud.

The town retains the charm of yesteryear with its raised wooden sidewalks that let you stroll the shops and galleries, stop for a wine tasting, sample handmade chocolates or dine in one of the many popular restaurants. Pop into the vintage train cars that comprise part of the Shops at Calistoga or take a leisurely bike ride around town on the quiet, tree-lined side streets and discover quaint Victorian and Queen Anne homes with their elaborate gingerbread trim. Stop at Pioneer Park and enjoy live music on the wooden gazebo and a picnic on its green lawns, just a block off of the main street and a century back in time.

Calistoga’s historic Chateau Montelena Winery, along with Napa’s Stag’s Leap Vineyards, took California wines to overnight prominence in 1976 when their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were judged tops against the finest French wines in the famous “Paris Tasting.” Both wines are now in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. Surrounding wineries range from distinguished producers such as Schramsberg or Clos Pegase, designed by Michael Graves, where you can dine among contemporary fine art or in the vast, 20,000 square feet of caves, and the stunning Sterling Vineyards, where you are whisked up to the winery in an aerial tram. New and exciting wineries have sprung up like Twomey, owned by the founders of esteemed Silver Oak, to Zahtila, a woman-owned vineyard producing award-winning Cabernet and Zinfandel and the simply incredible Castello di Amorosa, a $35 million medieval castle. The month of August brings Music in the Vineyards with nationally recognized musicians performing twilight concerts in unique winery settings.

Saturday Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands let you pick your choice of the ripe and delicious seasonal fruits and organic vegetables. Pack a lunch and enter the Petrified Forest where you step back in time 3 million years as you and quietly contemplate the majestic grove of petrified redwood trees. Hardy hikers can scale Mt. St. Helena, the San Francisco Bay Area’s tallest mountain at 4,343 feet and the place where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in 1880. The currents are perfect for drifting over the valley in a hot air balloon and a one-of-a-kind viewing experience.

A little less strenuous is a round of golf at The Mt. St. Helena Golf Course, a 9-hole layout located on the 67-acre Napa County Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds play host to a myriad of year-round events including the lively Cinco de Mayo festival, the rousing 4th of July celebration, horse shows, auto racing on the Speedway and family friendly activities. You just might spot NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, the family lives in Calistoga and raises horses. Montana and his wife Jennifer produce “Montagia,” a Cabernet made in conjunction with Beringer Vineyards, rated 92 by Robert Parker.

Calistoga is an ideal setting from which to tour the Napa Valley or take a lovely drive to the scenic Russian River and the coast; it’s equally close to the town of Healdsburg with its bustling European-style town center, or the water sports of Lake Hennessey and Lake Berryessa. You’ll feel as though you’re living the wine country life the way it was when the iconic brands of today were pioneering the California wine industry.

Things To Do

Wine country is not all tasting and swirling, it’s also finding unique ways to experience the many facets of one of the most beautiful regions in the country. The Napa Valley’s climate has made it the premier producer of fine wines and wonderful fruits and vegetables, as well as the perfect place to indulge in outdoor activities.

We’d like to suggest some fun ideas that will introduce you to the Calistoga that we’ve discovered and let you choose the ones that appeal to you.

Stroll the Wooden Sidewalks and Explore the Town
One of best aspects of Calistoga is the ease with which you can get around town. Calistoga was selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of 12 Distinctive Destinations. The “Old West” style, raised wooden sidewalks allow you to stroll to shops and restaurants, and the adjoining neighborhoods with their charming Victorians and picturesque tree-lined streets are lovely to explore.

Soak in a Mud Bath
Calistoga is almost synonymous with “mud baths,” a must-try soak in warm, mineral-rich mud. It sounds weird, and feels a little strange, but when you emerge, you’ll be surprised at how nice your skin feels. Today the town has over a dozen spas of varying types, accenting fun and revitalization as well as the traditional curative mineral springs.

Bike the Backroads to Calistoga’s Wineries
One of the hidden treasures is the mountain bike trail that begins at the Silverado Trail in Calistoga. Rental and tour companies can outfit you if you need a bike – they have “wine tour” bikes that come with insulated wine carriers, and mountain bikes. The routes go down quiet trails bordered by vineyards. You can stop at various wineries and do tastings, and if you purchase wine, the tour company will pick it up for you. There are plenty of places to picnic or rest under the trees and just savor the day and the beauty that surrounds you.

Don’t Miss the Petrified Forest, the Palisades and Old Faithful Geyser
The Petrified Forest sounds like a fairy tale, and when you see it, you’ll feel like you are in a fantasy world. Discovered in 1857, the park was created by a volcanic eruption 3.4 million years ago that literally blew down the forest and turned the redwood trees into rock. Here you’ll find the largest petrified trees in the world, including the Monarch – at 105 feet long and 8 feet in diameter, the largest tree in the park.

The Palisades, a stunning mile-long volcanic wall set along a ridge that overlooks Calistoga and the Napa Valley, is reached by an 8-mile drive, then a demanding hike, meant only for the serious outdoorsperson. This trail is one of the best to see raptors in flight and their cliff-side nests, and wildflowers in profusion.

The flat terrain makes it a breeze to ride to some of the natural wonders, like Old Faithful, one of the vestiges of the long-ago volcanic activity that gave rise to the hot springs in the area. Old Faithful geysers 3 to 4 times an hour and it’s always an amazing sight to see nature’s power in action.

Canter Through a Redwood Forest, then go for a Cool Swim
A more leisurely foray can be experienced at Bothe-Napa State Park, where you can wander under stands of redwoods, through open, sunny meadows and hop over burbling creeks. Or ride astride a gentle horse from Triple Creek Horse Outfit along the year-round Ritchey Creek that flows through the park. Afterwards, the park’s swimming pool may look like a great idea, there’s a picnic area and a Native American Garden. You can get a sense of history by reading the inscriptions at the Pioneer Cemetery, resting-place of some of the original settlers of the Napa Valley.

The fresh, green shoots of spring, the abundant flowering of summer and riotous colors of autumn are all awaiting you as you discover the delights of the season in Calistoga.

"Blend Your Own Merlot" at Rutherford Hill Winery
"Blending in the Caves” is a one-of-a-kind experience where you and your friends or colleagues become winemakers for a day. After your tour, your wine instructor will assist you with important considerations in preparing to create your wine. Then, blend your own Merlot – even bottle it and take it home. By appointment only, reservations required.

Cost: Varies. Info: 707.963.1871 ext. 218
Rutherford Hill Winery
200 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford

The Sharpsteen Museum
The museum is a story in itself. Founded by Ben Sharpsteen, an original Disney animator and Oscar-winning producer, whose grandmother was a local business pioneer, the museum also contains family memorabilia (including Ben Sharpsteen’s Oscar). The Sharpsteen Museum is a storehouse of the unique history of the upper Napa Valley. The museum’s unique style of displaying dynamic exhibits and its many dioramas give insight into life in the Valley before the last century. Exhibits include information on the indigenous peoples, the Wappo, early emigrants, Robert Louis Stevenson, (his Silverado Squatters, made famous the local characters during his stay here), and early train and stage travel to the “Hot Springs.”

Cost: A donation of $3 for adults is suggested. Children under 12 and members free. Info: 707.942.5911

The Sharpsteen Museum
1311 Washington St., Calistoga


Calistoga with its wide main street, historic buildings and charming, turn-of-the-century raised wooden sidewalks, creates an irresistible impulse to stroll the town. Stop for a sample of chocolate, marvel at an artist’s work, have a glass of wine or find a unique gift or memento to take home.

Main Element
You’ll find it hard to see the rest of the town once you step into this truly beautiful store. It’s fascinating meld of museum quality art, fine furnishings and exquisite jewelry provides dazzling distraction.

There is an ever-changing array of uncommon objects in glass, ceramic, wood and precious metals and some exceptional pieces of handmade jewelry. The home décor ranges from the whimsical to highly sophisticated with one-of-a-kind accessories, hand-forged furniture and original art pieces. A great place to pick up that special gift.

1333A Lincoln Avenue

This shop is just plain fun. Clothes and jewelry with a younger vibe share the space with some wild “objet d’art” created from unexpected materials. Think Summer of Love meets Wine Country artisan and add a certain urban undercurrent.

1410 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga, 707.942.1050

Ca'Toga Galleria D'Arte
Carlo Marchiori is an artistic juggernaut. His gallery gives merely a small inkling of what he has painted, crafted and sculpted since he came to the U.S. in 1978. His creations are fantastical scenes and figures inspired by his obvious obsession with the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Marchiori lives up the road, in an incredible Palladian villa where his murals and drawings cover virtually every surface of his mansion (which can be toured by arrangement at the gallery). The trompe l'oeil figures fool the eye, provoking an “Alice in Wonderland” sensation. Faux Greco-Roman ruins and whimsical commedia dell'arte sculptures appear amid ruins and relics and the corner of a Doric Temple is silhouetted against the Napa hills behind the villa. In a wild nod to recycling, Marchiori used rubble from the old sidewalks of Calistoga. The city provides the material, and the more they bring, the more ruins materialize on the property.

1206 Cedar Street

Mudd Hens
Every small town has its version of a shop like this: products that are locally manufactured—too industrial a word for the low-tech processes used—and other stuff that is an expression of the owner’s personality.

You have to laugh at the sign announcing, “We have mud.” This is, after all, Calistoga, home of the best-known mud in the west. And, yes they do have mud: dried mud in a jar that you can take home and pour into your bath to recreate your visit to this area.

The shop also carries an amusing line of bath products called Tired Old Ass, touted as “hilariously effective.” There’s even a sensuality section where you and your partner can find ways to make your stay unforgettable. Mudd Hens is all about ways to make you feel better naturally.

Mudd Hens
1348C Lincoln Ave

Local Wineries


Long one of California’s most prestigious wineries, Chateau Montelena was vaulted to international fame with the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, which Time Magazine dubbed “The Judgement of Paris,” when the wine scales tipped from France to California.

In a blind tasting in Paris, Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay won out against a slate of legendary white French Burgundies and other California Chardonnays. The event was brought back into the spotlight again this year as the subject of the recently released movie “Bottle Shock” starring Alan Rickman, the sinister Severus Snape in “Harry Potter” and noted actor Bill Pullman.

The accolades for Chateau Montelena continue to this day with Robert Parker Jr. calling the 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay “Outstanding. The wine is incredibly consistent from year to year.” and giving it 91 Points. Parker goes on to say, “The 2004 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is another beauty from what is probably the most consistent winery for Cabernet Sauvignon over the last three decades.” and gave it 94+ Points.

Chateau Montelena’s history of winemaking dates back to 1881. In 1886 a French winemaker was hired and within a decade, Chateau Montelena had become the seventh-largest winery in Napa Valley. Wine production was halted with the advent of Prohibition and did not begin again in earnest until 1969, when attorney Jim Barrett put together a group of investors to purchase the property. He restored the chateau, replanted the vineyards and produced his first wines in 1972. Barrett’s goal was “…to start a world-class winery.” He said, “I wanted to do something to make people happy.” If Robert Parker is any judge, that’s exactly what he’s been doing for wine drinkers for nearly 40 years.

Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, lauded Napa Valley wineries like Chateau Montelena in his August, 2008 column for adhering to the time-honored methods that have produced great Cabernet Savignon wines, saying “The prevailing style of Napa cabernet today emphasizes power, weight and extravagance, but [there are] a small but significant number of cabernet producers that form a kind of alternate Napa universe. They are making wines of balance and restraint that are a direct link to Napa’s past, when wines like Inglenook forged the region’s reputation as a source of great Cabernet Sauvignon wines.”

Since 1972, Bo Barrett (Jim Barrett’s son) has been involved in every vintage at Chateau Montelena. Echoing Asimov’s observations, Barrett says, “You learn to ‘read’ the land, learn to understand the climate, the soils and the vines. Living in tune with the vineyard allows us, year after year, to bring the vintage and the vineyard into a bottle of wine that is elegant, balanced and enjoyable."

Barrett and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella utilize dry farming techniques, only irrigating new vines to get them established, or replenishing water to vines that show signs of undue stress during times of high heat. "Feed the soil, feed the plant," says Vella. “We use a mixture of chicken manure and compost made with the previous season's pomace–seeds, stems, and grape skins left after crushing and pressing.”

Vella and Barrett have always believed in working with the assets that “Mother Nature” provides. “Rather than pesticides, we use ladybugs and other natural tactics to combat unwanted pests. Instead of herbicides,” says Barrett, “we use a French plow to keep the vineyard clean and free of weeds. In 2007 we converted to 100 percent solar power in order to be self-sustaining.”

We recommend a visit to judge for yourself the wines that played a pivotal role in creating the premium wine market in America.

Dining Out


While the wooden sidewalks of Calistoga might give the impression of an unsophisticated downtown scene, the restaurants and shops quickly belie that notion. barVino, one of the newer spots, has been embraced by locals and visitors, making it a lively place with a welcoming atmosphere.

Located in the historic Mount View Hotel, barVino has indoor and sidewalk seating. The outdoor tables give you a front row seat to while away the sunny afternoons with a glass of wine, tuning into the slower pace of the town. After a couple of flights of their well-selected wines, perhaps accompanied by a bowl of perfect mussels in a saffron and fennel broth with–surprise–bits of chorizo, you’ll start to feel like a native.

The menu was created by Chef Dominic Orsini, formerly of Meritage Resort in Napa and The Waldorf Astoria in New York. He also holds the Executive Chef position at Brannan's Grill just down the street, a sister property. The dishes are not pretentious, but each one is treated just a little differently than you would expect, with unexpected details and ingredients.

Their fries are a must, accompanied with smoky sea salt, brava sauce and aioli, they are worth the guilt. For casual dining, which is what’s fun about barVino, you can graze on tapas-style appetizers and try out the wines by the glass. The wine list is one you will not find anywhere else, as barVino carries local, small production wines from wineries that don’t have tasting rooms. You can order a taste or a glass and each comes with tasting notes from the winery. They are also available for retail sale by the bottle.

The inviting interior has a “New York bistro meets laid-back wine country” feel with cork walls, rough-edged oak tables and a cozy bar with leather stools. It’s a place where conversations with other patrons start naturally and the staff is friendly and efficient. There’s a well-priced menu of dining choices for a satisfying meal. The menu changes, but if they have the Wild Boar Gnocchi or the Pumpkin Risotto, be adventurous and give them a try, but leave room for the Warm Tiramisu, it’s made with hot espresso and cold mascarpone cheese and worth every sinfully delicious bite.
1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga