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Posted by on May 17, 2014 | 13 comments

Postcard from Mud City: Visiting Calistoga, California

My first day in Calistoga, I thought, what in the world am I going to do here for five days. With a population of approximately 5,000 residents, Calistoga is one of the smallest places I’ve been to in the U.S. Agriculture (vineyards), mining, mud baths, and thermal waters, brought the first settlers to the area, and people continue to come for those same reasons. Amongst the locals, Calistoga is known as Mud City.

After five days in Calistoga, I began to rethink my current lifestyle, which involves a lot of driving and frantically going from one activity to the next. I admit I did have some spa dates, which I don’t normally do at home, but even going to the spa and soaking in the mineral waters and the mud (which Calistoga is known for) is part of the lifestyle there. Yes, Calistoga got under my skin…but in a good way. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it go into my skin as I soaked in the hot thermal waters and drank the fruit of the vineyards.

It’s not the easiest place to get to, as it’s on the far north end of Napa Valley, and there’s only a two lane road leading there. But that’s exactly why you want to go there, it has maintained the looks and feel of a small western town. It doesn’t have that dressed up for the tourist trade look, that other towns in Napa Valley have.

Lincoln Ave, the main drag, hasn’t had a big makeover, yet…though I overheard some locals talking about a new resort development. Big changes are always controversial. Some folks were for it. Others worried that it would destroy the authentic western ambiance. Whatever happens, I hope they maintain the eccentric personality that is Calistoga, because that’s exactly what I liked about it.

Postcard Mud City visiting Calistoga, California @PennySadler 2014

Mural by Carlo Marchiori

You can walk or bike anywhere you need to go. There are enough places to get a good cup of coffee, a good meal (there’s a Michelin Star restaurant if that’s what you seek), unique shops, and more artists than I’ve ever seen in one single town. (The photo of the mural is by world renowned artist, Carlo Marchiori. I’ll tell you more about Carlo in another article as he’s a piece of work himself). And of course, you can indulge in a wide variety of spa experiences, from fairly basic to very high end. Check back for more of my spa stories: I will tell where to go for a mud fight, where to find one of the nicest outdoor mineral pools, and what happens to the seeds of the grapes after they are harvested and pressed to make wine.

The day I left, I had coffee with with one of the locals. He asked me if I’d had a good trip. I said, “It was a great trip,” and I meant it. I felt at peace with myself and I could even imagine living there. He said he could see it, too, and thought in no time at all I’d be a known writer and photographer in the area. Maybe I should start packing?

13 Comments
  1. Love the likeness of Tony in Calle De Carlo. Carlo is a world renowned artist

  2. Oh dear, I hope that big resort development doesn’t come in and invade sleepy little Calistoga. It’s fine just the way it is — and California has plenty of big resort developments.

    • To late Terry. One of the developments is breaking ground this year.

  3. Calistoga is one of my favorite places in Napa Valley specifically because it is less touristy and has a small town feel. Riding your bike around town is a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories.

    • they are getting a couple of big new resort hotels. It will be interesting to see how that blends in.

  4. We’re actually big fans of smaller towns. I find that in smaller places like Calistoga, we really get a chance to get to know the area in depth.

  5. Sounds great! I’ve been to Napa before, but I didn’t even know about Calistoga! Will definitely remember it next time I’m in Cali. I could definitely use some spa time ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Too bad you missed Calistoga. Spa time is better than I imagined!

  6. Calistoga has always had that nice small town flair and spa focus, along with great restaurants, shops and wineries…there’s always talk of new resorts coming in Napa Valley so that’s not a surprise.

    • It was news to me Noel. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad to hear it’s not likely to change too much though.

  7. Penny, I love the photo you used in this post – so many stories within the single frame. Calistoga isn’t one of the places I’ve visited in California, hadn’t even considered it… till now. Thanks

    • Thank you! Yes there are many more photographs of the mural to come. Working on it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you liked it. I really enjoyed my time in Calistoga.

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