A hop, skip and a jump away from the Bay Area lies a fab little spot for a family getaway: Calistoga. The Napa Valley town, famed for its natural hot springs, is lesser known for its chill, down-home atmosphere that’s rife with eateries, attractions and accommodations that appeal to parents and half-pints alike. Situated only 70 miles north of San Francisco, Calistoga shines as a destination for both day trips and overnight stays—with tons of fun along the way. Here are our recommends for the perfect Calistoga getaway the whole family will love.
photo: C.C. Chapman via Flickr
V. Sattui Winery
An excellent place to stop for a picnic on the way to Calistoga is the V. Sattui Winery, conveniently located right off Highway 29 in St. Helena. Although V. Sattui is first and foremost a winery, it also features an excellent artisan deli stocked with more than 200 cheeses, sandwiches, charcuterie, salads, fresh fruits, house-made desserts, drinks (wine!), disposable tableware and more—essentially all the fixings for a gourmet picnic. Weather permitting, the winery also serves visitors BBQ fare outdoors on the weekends. Kids will especially love the thin crust pizzas; also on the menu are BBQ Ribs, Tri-tip Steak and Bruschetta with fresh mozzarella made onsite—to name a few selections. Once your family gathers its fixings, you can head over to one of the many picnic tables around V. Sattui’s beautiful grounds, with plenty of room for the tots to stretch their legs afterwards.
1111 White Ln. (@ Highway 29)
St. Helena, CA
photo: Mike D. via Flickr
The Old Faithful Geyser of CA and Tennessee Fainting Goats
Earthquake predictor. Rainbow maker. On-time awe-inspirer…Call it what you will, but the Old Faithful Geyser of CA lives up to the hype. Just a short drive from downtown Calistoga, the geyser dependably erupts multiple times a day—forcing plumes of water and steam up to 80 feet high for up to 10 minutes long, depending on the season. As if that’s not impressive enough, the geyser’s sun + water conditions make it the perfect rainbow generator and it’s also a reliable predictor of earthquakes when its eruption patterns become irregular. Onsite picnic nooks, serene gardens and the Old Faithful Goat Farm—including Jacob’s Four-Horn Sheep, Guard Llamas and the famed Tennessee Fainting Goats with myotonia congenita, which makes them topple over when excited or surprised—combine to create the recipe for a truly delightful day excursion.
1299 Tubbs Lane
It’s hard to believe that a short drive from Calistoga, there’s an African-style “Sonoma Serengeti” teeming with exotic wildlife. Safari West will transport your littles to another continent, courtesy of its 400 acres of exquisite land that play home to more than 900 unusual mammals and their feathered friends. As you enter the wildlife preserve, your family will be greeted by a gaggle of giraffes, as well as a cheetah, who will zip by you from behind a safe enclosure. Later, you can take a jeep tour to observe animals like antelope, addax and cape buffalo in their natural habitat, while pink flamingoes and ostriches—who often take a curious peek into the jeeps—flutter nearby. Walking tours and overnight “glamping” in luxury tents are also available options.
3115 Porter Creek Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
Families that like to do their exploring in nature will enjoy the one hour, easy-to-moderate, 1.2 mile History Trail hike stretching from Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park to the eastern edge of Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Along the way, you’ll encounter the namesake grist mill, which was built in 1846 and which is still used to grind grain into wheat flour, climb a beautiful hill dotted with Oak and Madrone trees and take in a historic pioneer cemetery with gravestones from the 1800s. Consider packing a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables at the trail’s end at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
3369 St. Helena Highway North
St. Helena, CA
Honorable Mention: The Petrified Forest, 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga, CA. At this writing the fascinating forest, which features petrified wood created by a nearby extinct volcano, is temporarily closed due to the region’s recent forest fires. Check its website or call 707-942-6667 re: its reopening.
photo: Angry Julie Monday via Flickr
Conveniently located right in downtown Calistoga, Checkers is a local family fave due to its crowd-pleasing menu served up in a casual and friendly setting that makes everyone feel right at home. The restaurant offers a kids menu and specializes in authentic regional Italian cuisine, including fresh pastas, salads, pizzas and calzones. Your sweet peas can get their creative juices flowing by drawing with crayons on the restaurant’s paper tablecloths, while parents will love menu selections like the ever-popular Chicken Marsala and Checkers’ excellent wine list.
414 Lincoln Ave.
Buster’s Southern BBQ
Charles “Buster” Davis has been cooking up Southern-style BBQ since his youth, stemming from his family’s ancestral roots in Shreveport, Louisiana. Today, you can sample his award-winning, tried-and-true family recipes—including St. Louis-style Rack of Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, BBQ Chicken, Baked Beans, fresh lemonade and such—at his casual BBQ joint not far from the heart of Calistoga. The eatery’s outdoor gazebo and picnic tables are particularly half-pint and pet friendly, or you can head indoors for the air conditioning. Your littles can get their groove on Sundays between 3-6 p.m., when Buster’s features live jazz and blues music.
207 Foothill Blvd
Calistoga’s downtown drag’s local market—Cal Mart—is a hidden gem we think families need to know about. The gourmet grocery market is ideally situated close to many of the town’s overnight accommodations—making it the go-to spot for quick breakfast options (read: breakfast burritos), drinks, snacks, last-minute necessities (read: bottle of vino), etc. As an added bonus, the market offers a robust fresh salad bar, hot buffet, bakery and a deli to supply your fam with all the fixings for an outdoor picnic or take-out meal if you want to return to your local hotel/hot springs.
491 Lincoln Ave
A short drive from Calistoga is a must-visit place for a family meal during your getaway: Gott’s Roadside. Bay Area peeps may be familiar with the eatery’s sister location in San Francisco’s Ferry Building—and like that spot—Gott’s in St. Helena does not disappoint. Gott’s uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients to make its gourmet roadside fare, including a delish selection of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, seafood, salads, fries, shakes and more—with your choice of beer, wine, fresh lemonade or various other enticing beverages. Your little chickadees will love the selections on the kid’s menu—like the mini corndog combo—and the grassy space where they can stretch their legs nearby numerous picnic tables.
933 Main St.
St. Helena, CA
photo: Kathy Chouteau
Calistoga Spa Hot Springs
When it comes to Calistoga accommodations, the Calistoga Spa Hot Spring is kiddie central. What makes it so beloved by little side-kicks is its multiple geothermal mineral pools: a soaking pool that never exceeds 100°F; a slightly “chillier” large 80°F lap pool, that’s perfect for splashing around; and a shallow wading pool with a trickle-down waterfall—ideal for babies and toddlers. Nearby is a large whirlpool that guests age 12 and up can enjoy. Surrounding the pool are ample chaise lounges, tables and chairs in both shady and sunny areas. Families can fire up some meals on one of the many BBQ grills directly outside of the pool area, equipped with adjacent seating spaces as well. Guestrooms—which have kitchenettes—also surround the pool, so are convenient for quick changes for the littles. Spa services are on hand for parents to sneak away for some relaxation—and the hotel’s location is convenient to downtown Calistoga for easy off-property exploration.
1006 Washington St.
Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa
Formerly known as the Sunburst Calistoga, the newly launched Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa has been revamped in a style that its owners say celebrates the “great American road trip.” In this spirit, the property’s new design includes rooms inspired by vintage camper vans, including a “Camper King Suite” that features a table banquette that reconfigures into a camper-style bed for the littles. The property also has wonderful geothermal mineral water-fed pools onsite, with a main pool with that’s usually around 82-88° F and a wading pool—perfect for your guppies—that’s shallower and about 90-96° F. A whimsical whirlpool and poolside analog games add to the family appeal, plus spa services are offered onsite. Overall it’s an ideal spot for a family getaway that’s located right on Calistoga’s main thoroughfare.
1880 Lincoln Ave.
For families seeking a “relaxcation,” Solage has something for everyone. For your sweet peas, there’s a family pool stocked with toys and a neighboring hot tub, plus other activities they’ll love like onsite foosball, two bocce ball courts and complimentary cruiser bikes (to use on nearby biking trails and beyond). The property also features a 130-foot adult pool, spa services and onsite dining service in-room or at the Michelin-rated Solbar restaurant—which makes tiny-taste-bud-pleasing dishes upon request. And if parents want their own offsite excursion to nearby downtown, Solage can help arrange babysitting services.
755 Silverado Trail
Got some Calistoga-area spots you’d like to recommend? Share with us in the comments!