Where can you bunk in style with the family, spend the day soaking and swimming in steamy mineral waters and top it all off with a gourmet dinner out by the fire pit? Weary Californians in need of a recharge have been flocking to the site of Indian Springs in Calistoga for more than 150 years, and thanks to a recent renovation, families are more welcome here than ever.
A Spectacular History
It all started with a volcano. Mt. Konocti erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago—it split the earth and covered the grounds in volcanic ash. The upside was stores of groundwater now mingled with molten lava, which heated the waters to a toasty 230 degrees Fahrenheit. These thermal geysers attracted Native Americans who called this area “Oven Place,” then later the Spanish who dubbed it Agua Caliente. In 1860, Sam Brannan purchased the whole of what is now considered upper Napa Valley, with a vision of creating a sprawling resort. The volcanic ash filled his therapeutic mud baths, and the piping hot waters fed a steamy pool. With only a handful of owners over the centuries, the site has served an unchanging purpose for nearly 200 years—a place for Californians and their families to escape, relax and soak in the steamy, sulfuric waters.
The Best Pool in the West
The centerpiece of the resort is the main pool, which is more than 100 years old. It’s un-chlorinated and fed with mineral water from the still bubbling geysers, cooled to a stress-melting 82-102 degrees, depending on the season. The main pool is family friendly, and even the tiniest toddlers feel comfortable waddling around in the 2-ft deep shallow end. Floaty noodles and foam rafts are abundant and there for everyone to use. There are even a few pairs of child-sized goggles.
Lounge chairs ring the pool, and simple snacks are sold at the window (chips, Pirate’s Booty, juices and sodas). But with the recent addition of Sam’s Social Club, the resort’s new on-property restaurant, you can now order sandwiches and other bites to be served poolside. A newer, smaller and chlorinated adult pool is tucked behind one of the seating areas if you are taking the waters sans kids.
Kids who need a break from the water can snooze on sofas, chill out in front of the fire, or even do some coloring at the mini tables covered in craft paper and stocked with crayons and colored pencils. With bathrooms and showers also accessible from the deck, there is really no need to leave your poolside perch all day—or night. The pool is open to hotel guests starting at 7 am all the way up to midnight.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Beginning May 31 through June 24th, 2016, the main pool will be getting a refresh and will be closed.
The New Family Cottages and Guest Rooms
While families have been flocking here for centuries, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that more than a handful of guests could actually spend the night on the property. Pat and John Merchant bought the resort in 1988, renamed it Indian Springs and incorporated a neighboring 24-room hotel. The small offering of petite rooms were popular, if not ideal for families. But this all changed with the recent property renovation that began in 2014.
During this time more than 75 new rooms were added, including sprawling bungalows that can sleep up to ten. Of the 14 historic Palm Cottages on the property, four were redone with families in mind and now feature fun bunk rooms for the kids (above). These 2 bedroom cottages have everything a family could need: 2-bedrooms, bathroom, and a spacious living room with an oversized sofa, flat-screen TV and Euro-sized refrigerator. Rooms in the lodge start at $279, and cottages start at $379.
Eat Your Hearts Out
On-property dining seems like a no brainer, but this low-key resort never offered it until the recent addition of Sam’s Social Club. Open less than a year, it’s already gained a reputation for offering some of the very best food in town. Inventive ingredients, healthy options and pleasing portion sizes, not to mention a killer cocktail list and local wine offerings, make it a crowd pleaser. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a limited menu is even offered at the pool.
And like everything at Indian Springs, kids are always part of the equation. A kids menu is presented along with Wikki Sticks (colored wax sticks that provide endless entertainment), crayons and worksheets to color on. Even the popular (but HUGE) ice cream sundae for dessert was offered half size for our half pint.
Gorgeous Grounds to Explore
The cottages and bungalows are all situated around winding pedestrian paths lined with plenty to explore. A charming kids play area features a seesaw, yard games, outdoor beanbag seating and a sandbox. A treehouse is in the works. Right next to it is the chicken coop, where littles can visit with some feathered friends. An edible garden was just planted, and will soon spout with beans, corn, and plenty of spicy peppers, a regional specialty.
Another brand new area awaits on the far side of the pool, behind the steaming geysers. 75 new Mission Revival bungalows and lodge rooms offer either views of a verdant hillside or gurgling pond. Trek through the Agave Garden, a popular site for the intimate weddings the resort can now host, or visit the buzzing bee hives tended by the staff.
Comfortable Luxury Ideal for Families
While the idea of a spa vacation may not be seem perfectly suited to families, that’s what remains so appealing about Indian Springs. Despite a multimillion-dollar renovation that has upped the standards of your stay, the vibe stays true to the resort’s roots as a no frills experience where the natural wonders are the main draw. The retro simplicity is an enduring aesthetic, and the hand-off approach is what most guest appreciate most. Almost anything you need is right at your fingertips, but their is no ever-present staff stopping by to refold your towel or make you feel like you should be doing anything but relaxing.
Have you experienced Indian Springs? Tell us about some of your favorite families memories in the comments below!
All images by the author unless otherwise noted.