When you’re feeling ambitious and ready to tackle Napa’s famous wineries, you should treat yourself and spend a night or two in Calistoga. Though it can easily be a day trip (it’s located only 75 miles from SF), planning for a night in Calistoga allows for a relaxed venture into wine country without the pressure of having to drive back to the city. Even though it’s nestled at the end of the monstrously popular Napa winery corridor, it’s a charming small town that offers a surprisingly quiet escape.
If you’re planning to have lunch along the way before delving into your first tasting (a wise idea), Yountville is a great stop. You’ll also find the nicest gas station ever (Kelly’s Provisions), so if you need fuel or a charming gift, you’re covered.
French Laundry is just down the street, but let’s not kid ourselves. Great contenders include R+D Kitchen and Redd Wood, both of which offer outdoor seating. Enjoy one last glass and walk over to nearby Ma(i)sonry, a historic home (built in 1904!) which now houses an art gallery and the perfect little outdoor garden for wine drinking. I recommend a glass of Blackbird’s Arise as you gaze at the sculpture of dancing sheep. For burger lovers, another option is the original Gott’s Roadside (like the one in the Ferry Building), just up the road in St. Helena.
If you already grabbed brunch in the city and are ready to dive into that sweet berry wine, head north on 29 toward St. Helena and try not to be overwhelmed by the ridiculous number of wineries you pass.
Be prepared to recognize big names (Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Mumm Napa, Inglenook), and a lot of unfamiliar ones. When you find a winery that looks intriguing, stop by—but don’t forget that if you’re not loving it, there are hundreds of other options. Not an exaggeration.
For a historical experience, Beringer is one of the oldest operating Napa wineries (founded in 1875). Then there’s Castillo di Amorosa, which is owned by a much older winery down the road (V. Sattui, perfect for a picnic), and is itself an unexpected replica of a 13th-century medieval castle. Sterling Vineyards is the one with the tram (a gondola that takes you up the hill to the winery), and Opus One is the grass roof winery that seems to blend into the hills. Since you’re spending the night, take the opportunity to visit a winery further north, too. Vincent Arroyo offers a smaller-scale, less touristy experience.
Small Town, Underground Charm
Calistoga is known for its underground gem: natural hot springs.
The hot springs make for lovely spas, which, to name a few, include: Indian Springs, Solage, and Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. Some of them also offer mud baths, like the throwback Dr. Wilkinson’s Resort.
I also recommend staying at the Cottage Grove Inn, which offers individual cottages with their own two-person tubs and fireplaces. And they’re surprisingly spacious; during a recent stay, friends joined us after dinner for a late-night, wine-fueled game of Taboo around the fire. If you’re worried about missing out on the hot springs action, don’t be—some of the spas offer day passes so you can still enjoy the thermal goodness regardless of where you’re shacking up. Many of these resorts are just down the street from Calistoga’s main drag (Lincoln Ave), making it convenient to walk to dinner and back without the need for Uber.
Try dining at All Seasons, D’Amici, or Sushi Mambo, which are all great options right on Lincoln Ave. I’m also a big fan of the burrata at Barolo. On the walk home, take a peek at the retired Calistoga train depot (built in 1868!) before wandering over to Indian Springs Art Gallery for a nightcap.
When it’s finally time to head back to the city, grab brunch at Fremont Diner or Boon Fly Café, both of which are amazing and easily accessible on Hwy 12. And, if the sun’s still up on your return drive, it’s never disappointing to stop off at Battery Spencer (last exit before the Golden Gate Bridge) for an incredible view of the city.