Calistoga Discovered by Slip of the Tongue

Calistoga discovered by the slip of the tongueThe Napa Valley, from Carneros in the south to Calistoga in the north, is 35 miles of vineyards, old-growth orchards, and award-winning wineries.

But, the history of Napa as a destination gem is written in her hot springs and spas.

San Francisco’s Sam Brannan, railroad millionaire, took a leisurely trip from the city to explore northern Napa County in 1862.  He was blown away by the hot mineral baths and his eyes shone with hungry ambition.

Sam took his enthusiasm into a bar and slurred, “I’m going to make Calistoga the Sarafornia of the west!”  (He slipped and mixed the name of New York’s high-end Saratoga spa with the California’s town…which had no name until that night!)

His first venture, Hot Springs Resort, was quickly built.  By the late 1860s Calistoga was jumping.  The moneyed and fashionably rich of San Francisco rode the new railroad (now the Napa Valley Wine Train) to partake of the waters and find bliss.  And they returned again and again.

Calistoga, farthest town north in the Napa Valley, still has a mixture of pioneer and Victorian ease and charm.  There’s an old boardwalk lined with eclectic shopping and cozy cafes.  It’s also a good departure point for cycling through the vineyards or zipping over the hill into northern Sonoma County.

This is a walking town, and we would bet that if you took away the cars and added horses, it would look a lot like the Napa Valley town that drew tourists in the late 1800s.  Sam Brannan would be a happy ghost if he decided to reappear and look at the slumbering area that is commercial but laid back.

Calistoga has a number of spas, and you no longer need to be a millionaire to enjoy them.  From volcanic mud, to simply immersing yourself in the hot mineral waters, to exotic wraps, this area is the real deal.

For the most part, these spas are not the glamor-girl upscale types found in nearby resorts.  They are pure, warm, and welcoming.  They are the earth’s rare gift of wellness and complete relaxation.

Imagine a town, blessed with beauty and rugged grace.  Imagine a place with no name.  Think about a millionaire whose slip of the tongue named this benign spot on the planet.  Steeped in California history with all the pleasures of today, Calistoga may be your dream Napa destination.

Writer: Meredith Blevins, featured travel writer for the Authentic Wine Country.  Join her at for wine-country mysteries, classes, and the untamed west.

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