Twenty-Four Hours in Napa’s Coolest Community

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Calistoga has become my family’s go-to place for a Napa getaway, for a variety of reasons, and we returned in early August for a one-night visit that couldn’t have been pleasanter.

The village is just a short drive from the East Bay, where we live, but takes you to a whole different world. It’s relatively affordable compared to other places in Wine Country, and compact enough to explore easily by foot once you arrive. There’s also a nice variety of shops, dining options and lodging.

When it comes to the latter, the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs resort is definitely the best place within miles for a family stay. The rooms are perfectly nice, but the real lure is a sprawling patio area boasting three different pools of different varieties and a large Jacuzzi gazebo that could probably fit about 20 people or so comfortably. Another huge plus is the resort’s location on Washington Street just a block off the heart of downtown. You can walk to a dozen restaurants in 10 minutes or less, or bring back some take-out food from Cal-Mart—a wonderful supermarket loaded with a massive spread of prepared eats ranging from tacos and corn dogs to soups and salads.

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The property no longer offers a ‘day-rate’ as it used to, for those who wanted to just pool-lounge without sleeping over, but it does have a nice policy allowing guests to stay the day by the pool even after they’ve checked out.  As for other lodgings, we’ve also enjoyed the Sunburst, a handsomely spruced-up motor lodge near the end of town—but it seems far-more ideal for couples than families with young children. Dr. Wilkinson’s, famed for their mud baths, is another possibility, though I can’t claim to have stayed there since the late seventies, when my brother and I along with a friend raised the ire of management by placing all the lounge chairs in the pool. File that one under ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’

I should also mention the Washington Street Lodging, a charming little place a short walk from downtown that offers a variety of nice cottages and is pet-friendly. But it’s probably more ideal for a cold-season escape as there are no pools on premises.

As for the dining-out spots, we have come to rely on Checkers as the best family-friendly choice. It’s a perfect blend of classy but casual, and offers a solid menu blending Italian and continental fare; some offbeat options like a delicious Chinese chicken salad add to the choices. I thoroughly enjoyed the butternut squash ravioli on our most recent visit, and everyone else at our small party gave a thumbs-up as well. One nice touch with the deserts is you can order the ice cream by the scoop depending on how hungry you still are, with single scoops arriving in old-timey silver bowls akin to something from a 1950s soda fountain.

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While we spent most of our time lounging poolside on this most recent escape, in the past we’ve enjoyed visiting the town’s serene Orthodox Monastery and the colorful Ca’Toga Art Gallery—loaded with unique art and showcasing a fantastical mural on its high ceiling.

Truthfully, regardless of what you do, in my mind Calistoga is all about relaxing and going with the flow. It really is one of those places where it’s hard not to have a good time.

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