Calistoga was incorporated on Jan. 6, 1886, and founded by Sam Brannan, California’s first millionaire. The current population is about 5,200. Calistoga is best known for its geothermal waters, mud baths, and wine, but there’s so much more. Getting to know Calistoga is as easy as A-B-C.
ABCs of Calistoga: A is for art
Art galleries in town exhibit fine art and photography and local coffee joints, retail shops and wine tasting rooms are decorated with great art to view and buy. The Calistoga Camera Club meets regularly and hosts slide shows a couple times a year to showcase members’ photography. Calistoga Art Center was formed in 2002 by community members and art enthusiast, and holds a variety of regular and special one-time classes as well as special events. All kinds of art is taught and shown at the Art Center including ceramics, painting, drawing, photography, graphic, and textile arts. It is located at the Napa County Fairgrounds, 1435 N. Oak St.
ABCs of Calistoga: B is for Brannan
Sam Brannan is Calistoga’s founder and his legacy is revered in town with nods to his name and memory found in nuance and outright namesake. For instance a restaurant in the middle of town is called Brannan’s, while nearby a café is called Café Sarafornia, a tease about how Brannan purportedly named the city by attempting to call it the Saratoga of California, but it came out the Calistoga of Sarafornia.
And Brannan Cottage Inn, built in 1860 by Brannan, is the only Brannan resort cottage still on its original site. It was renovated in 2014 and is doing Brannan proud. Among its recognitions, the inn won an Award of Merit for Historic Preservation from Napa County Landmarks, Best Hotel Renovation of the West from Sunset Magazine’s 2015 Travel Awards and Certificate of Excellence in 2015 from TripAdvisor.
Plus there is Sam’s Social Club, a restaurant named for Brannan located at the Indian Springs Resort, and one of Calistoga’s favorite historians, Dean Enderlin, who portrays Brannan at events such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
ABCs of Calistoga: C is for Cal Mart
Cal Mart is Calistoga’s largest grocery store that is stocked with gourmet and everyday items. There is a full-service deli, hot and cold food bar, gourmet cheeses, premium wines, beer, and spirits. Owner Bill Shaw is known as one of the most generous, beneficent business owners in town. The store opened in 1968 at 1491 Lincoln Ave. and has added specialty items and services along the way to cater to trends such as a full-service Peet’s coffee bar that also serves fresh organic smoothies.
Shaw was born and raised in Calistoga and started working at the store in April 1968 sorting bottles for then-owners Allen Young and Wally Kettlewell. After a while he became a bagger and continued to move up the chain until he purchased the store in 1978. He’s had business partners in the past, but is currently sole owner.
ABCs of Calistoga: D is for Depot
The Calistoga Depot now holds retail shops such as the Sugar Train in an antique rail car, and wine tasting rooms such as Heibel Vineyards and Picayune, but it once really was a train depot.
Now under new ownership by the Merchant family, who also own neighboring Indian Springs Resort, the place is getting a facelift. Layers of old paint are being sanded off the old rail cars ready for a fresh coat of paint. The roofs of the rail cars were power washed and are now painted bright white.
An empty rail car’s exterior was used as a canvas of sorts, to audition potential new paint colors that would coordinate with the Depot itself, painted in a golden hue, it is a California Historic Landmark and paint color choice for that building are limited in order to maintain its landmark status. A variety of deep rich reds and dusty dark blues were considered, with a nod to a particular burgundy shade from tenants.
Two of the newest tenants to the Depot include Earth and Sky Chocolates and Calistoga Wine Tours and Gift Shop.
The Depot was built by town founder Sam Brannan for the Napa Valley Railroad in 1868, which is the year before the transcontinental railroad opened. In a dedication plaque from 1979 it was known then to be the second oldest remaining railroad station in California.
The offices of The Weekly Calistogan are located in the same railcar at the Depot as Calistoga Wine Tours and Gift Shop.
ABCs of Calistoga: E is for electric rail line
In the early part of the 19th century an electric rail line ran from the ferries in Vallejo to its terminus in Calistoga. The only remaining remnant of this now-defunct rail line sat on Washington Street outside of the city’s fire station and visitor center until it was recently removed to make much-needed repairs to the bumpy road.
Segments of the fragile rail that were encrusted in concrete and asphalt were saved and are being stored by the city until someone, or an organization, comes together with a plan and funding to pay for displaying the rail line in an historical manner.
The rails were derailed, so to speak, by the arrival of affordable automobiles that were making their way across the then-new Bay Bridge, Carquinez Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s, creating an alternative transportation route to the healing waters and mud of Calistoga.
Beginning in 1938 about 22 miles of track and overhead lines were removed between Napa and Calistoga, and the rails were removed in Napa in 1940. By 1942 most of the system was gone, sold as scrap metal to support the war effort.
When the city first started talking about fixing Washington Street and the segment that encompassed the old rail line, one or two community members spoke out hoping that others would join them in raising money to re-install the rail lines in their original positions, but nobody came forward. A last-minute pitch by the Native Sons of the Golden West was too late in the process that had been ongoing for at least 20 months.
ABCs of Calistoga: F is for Funke's
Funke’s, a retail clothing store that carries men’s and women’s clothing and accessories has been around since 1927.
Owned by Lil Ticen since 2003, the store carries popular brands such as Tommy Bahama, Nat Nast and Tori Richard for men, and Habitat and Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for women. Jewelry created by local artists such as Anne Koplik, Designs by Colleen Toland, handbags by Brighton and Mary Frances, plus other accessories such as hats and scarves. A large selection of bathing suits is available year-round.
Funke’s is located at 1417 Lincoln Ave.
ABCs of Calistoga: G is for geysers
Calistoga has a lot of geysers, including one called Old Faithful. The Old Faithful Geysers is an attraction and a landmark, and it really does erupt faithfully. The attraction was updated a couple of years ago and now offers more educational and entertaining activities than ever before.
Locals used to say there wasn’t much reason to go to Old Faithful because you could sit in the parking lot and see the geyser erupt from there and not have to pay the entrance fee. Not so, now. Not only is there a high fence blocking the view, there are reasons to go inside.
There are areas for picnicking or sitting with a glass of wine and watch the geyser erupt with the mountains and vineyards as a backdrop. Bocce ball courts invite a little friendly competition, and to keep you entertained is a goat farm with Tennessee fainting goats – but please don’t try to scare the little cuties — Jacob’s four-horn sheep, and guard llamas.
A garden with a fountain in the center is surrounded by native plants and benches on which to sit and contemplate life or soak up the sun.
A geyser at Indian Springs Resort spews water up high in the air, too, and can be seen from the resort’s grounds as well as from behind the Calistoga Depot.
ABCs of Calistoga: H is for hot springs
Like the geysers, the hot springs are one of the things that first drew people to the area. Resorts in town use the hot springs on their properties to heat pools. The water can get so hot that they add cool water to some pools to make them more refreshing.
ABCs of Calistoga: I is for Indian Springs Resort and Spa
Indian Springs Resort and Spa is the longest continuously operated pool and spa facility in California situated on 17 acres with four thermal geysers and volcanic ash throughout the property, which is used for healing mud baths.
The property received a $20 million renovation and expansion that was completed in 2016 that included a Sam’s Social Club, a new restaurant that has quickly become a town favorite. The resort is owned by the Merchant family that also owns the neighboring Glider Port and Calistoga Depot, that is undergoing its own make-over.
The family has plans to open a new complex on the property it owns between Indian Springs and the Depot to build a 170-room hotel, restaurant, spa, and employee apartments.
ABCs of Calistoga: J is for Judgment of Paris
California wines rocked the world during the 1976 Judgment of Paris, of which one winning wine was made at a Calistoga winery — Chateau Montelena — by a now-Calistoga resident, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay bested all other entries, including the French wines, shocking the wine world at the time.
Grgich now has his own winery, Grgich Hills Estate, and both he and Chateau Montelena celebrated the achievement with their own festivities last year on the event’s 40th anniversary.
— Anne Ward Ernst
ABCs of Calistoga: K is for Konocti
Mount Konocti, a volcano about 20 miles from the area, erupted millions of years ago, depositing ash, creating fissures in the earth’s crust, and shaping the geological landscape that makes up Calistoga.
ABCs of Calistoga: L is for Lincoln Avenue
Lincoln Avenue is the main street of downtown Calistoga where there are shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms mixed in with art galleries, spas and hotels. Lincoln Avenue is shut down between Cedar and Fair Way for Harvest Table when 1,000 feet of tables are set up down the middle of the road. The road is also shut down for short time periods for the Lighted Tractor Parade, which is on Dec. 2 this year, and for the Fourth of July parade. Lincoln also doubles as Highway 29, which serves as an emergency route when needed such as in 2015 when the Valley Fire broke out in Lake County. A new Lincoln Avenue Bridge is currently under construction.
ABCs of Calistoga: M is for mud bath.
Mud baths are one of the reasons people flock to Calistoga. The unique mixture of volcanic ashes various spas in Calistoga blend are said to be healing and therapeutic.
Some 8,000 years ago the Wappo indigenous people discovered and enjoyed the hot springs and muds of the area, and when the city’s founder Sam Brannan built a resort people would “take to the waters” for healing and relaxation.
Mud baths now range from deep soaking tubs that those found at Dr. Wilkinson’s to mud bars where guests can develop their own recipe of ashes and apply the mixture to their skin at resorts such as Solage and the newly renovated Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa.
ABCs of Calistoga: N is for Napa County Fairgrounds
The Napa County Fairgrounds is the site of the county’s annual fair, the terminus of the famous Fourth of July Parade, and the site of a speedway, events center, golf course and an RV park. It is also used as an evacuation center and was the shelter for the Valley fire in 2015.
ABCs of Calistoga: O is for outdoor concerts in the park.
Calistoga’s Concerts in the Park is a wildly popular summertime event that is free and held in Pioneer Park every Thursday during the warmer months. Great bands play in the newly upgraded gazebo surrounded by new sod along the banks of the Napa River. Local wineries sell wine by the glass or bottle to guests who bring a lawn chair or blanket and sit back and enjoy. Local restaurants sell box dinners for attendees to purchase on their way to the concerts where they can dine al fresco to lively music.
ABCs of Calistoga: P is for parades
Calistoga is known for two famous parades. The Fourth of July parade has been held for decades and brings out locals and faithful visitors every year. The Lighted Tractor Parade turned 22 this year and has grown from a small, locals-only entertainment highlight to give bored kids something to do, to a nationally recognized event that draws more than 10,000 people (and reports go even higher now).
This year’s Lighted Tractor Parade took a different route due to construction on the Berry Street Bridge. Instead of viewers lining all of Lincoln Avenue, chairs were set up early on Friday – the parade took place on Saturday, Dec. 2 – along Washington Street. The altered route took the parade past the large lit tree at the Calistoga Police Department. The tree was lit during the Holiday Village, a new event for Calistoga, that included face painting, a bouncy house, a dance performance, and Calistoga wine and food (of course).
ABCs of Calistoga: Q is for quirky and quaint
Visitors are drawn to the quirky and quaint nature of Calistoga – its parades, shops, geothermal waters, spas, and history. And locals fiercely protect that nature. The shops and businesses are owned by locals and national chain and big-box stores are not allowed, helping to maintain the unique flavor that is Calistoga. Even Calistoga's founder, Sam Brannan, has a colorful past -- head to Sharpsteen Museum to learn more about California's first millionaire.
ABCs of Calistoga: R is for Rotary
The Calistoga Rotary Club is an active group of involved and caring members who can be found working in the background to help out whether by raising money for a scholarship or nonprofit organization, or by volunteering to do clean up at an emergency shelter.
The Rotary District 5130 announced recently that its Fire Relief Fund, with the support of the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund, Inc. and its partnership with the Press Democrat and the Office of California Senator Mike McGuire, has made available a grant program to small businesses located in the areas of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties affected by the recent wildfires.
The Rotary Business Grant Recovery Program began in 2015 in Lake County.
The goal of the grant program is to assist in fire recovery with an emphasis on getting storefront, agriculture and home businesses back into operation to prevent potential closure due to losses suffered as a result of the fires. Losses can be economic or physical, and grants of up to $5,000 will be made based upon need to businesses with 25 or fewer employees.
In addition to the Business Recovery Grants, the Rotary District 5130 Fire Relief Fund is also taking General Assistance grant requests to assist the recovery in the areas of Youth Services, Tree Reforestation and Grief Counseling.
ABCs of Calistoga: S is for Sharpsteen Museum
Sharpsteen Museum is open daily and fully run by volunteers. It holds a plethora of Calistoga and California history as well as rotating, curated exhibits.
ABCs of Calistoga: T is for tasting rooms
There are dozens of wineries offering tastings in Calistoga including 10 tasting rooms within walking distance of one another downtown, plus several within a short bicycle ride.
On Saturday, Jan. 13 six Calistoga wineries are participating in Napa Neighbor Day by offering special discounts, tours and tastings. Those wineries include Dutch Henry, Clos Pegase, Joseph Cellars, Laura Michael Wines, Sterling Vineyards, and Tamber Bey. See page B3 for more details or visit NapaNeighbor.com.
ABCs of Calistoga: U is for UpValley
Calistoga is UpValley, and “down to earth,” according to the Calistoga Winegrowers Association, which uses the tagline “Top of the valley, down to earth” in its marketing of the Calistoga AVA (American Viticulture Area)
As the northernmost city in Napa Valley, Calistoga has about 5,000 residents. Calistoga is at least 300 feet above sea level, with vineyards up to 1,200 feet above sea level, according to the trade association.
ABCs of Calistoga: V is for viticulture.
Calistoga has plenty of acres of vineyards planted to Napa Valley’s famous cabernet sauvignon, plus some of the oldest zinfandel vines around in the Grgich Hills Estate Old Vine Zinfandel, and it has the distinction of home to the largest acreage known to charbono, a grape that produces a distinct-looking inky, deep-purple wine.
ABCs of Calistoga: W is for Wildcats
Calistoga School District’s schools sports teams are known as the Wildcats, or ‘Cats for short. One of the most famous Wildcats is Dick Vermeil, a Calistoga native who went on to NFL fame and now has a wine label bearing his name and a tasting room in downtown.
ABCs of Calistoga: X is for relaX
Calistoga is known as a place to eXperience endless hours of relaXation, making it part of the Chamber of Commerce’s branding, “Relax…you’re in Calistoga.”
ABCs of Calistoga: Y is for Yukian
The now-extinct Yukian language group was what the indigenous people, the Wapoo, were part of. The name “Napa” means plenty in Yukian.
ABCs of Calistoga: Z is for Zenobia
Zenobia is a Lincoln Avenue shop with charming and unique gift items, jewelry, paper products, wall decorations, women’s clothing and whatnots. Owner Lisa Johnston also owns a nearby shoe store called Azusa. Zenobia is going out of business due to loss of lease, and everything in the store is now on sale.