Roman Spa and Other Charms of Calistoga, California

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov.

A town of Calistoga, at the northernmost tip of Napa Valley, has a distinct and inimitable character. Despite being a part of the ultimate tourist destination – California Wine Country – Calistoga remains a charming h

ideaway, less crowded, less commercialized, and more open to leisurely pursuits of honeymooners, romantic couples of all ages, and other deserving vacationers.

A historical anecdote relays how the geyser town in the foothills of Mount St. Helena got its name. An early settler and founder of Calistoga, one Samuel Brannan, wanted to make it a “Saratoga of California” in honor of the namesake hot springs resort in New York, but for some reason mispronounced his words, and instead, announced “Calistoga of Sarafornia” to the world.

Sure enough, a century and a half later, the founding eccentric’s presence is widely felt in the town, where hot springs remain as healing and revered as they were, let’s say, in ancient Rome!

Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort takes pride in reviving a 2,000 year-old ritual of communal bathing in hot natural springs. Ancient Romans were known for inventing all kinds of indulgencies, including thermal bath resorts, and this neat and cozy family-owned and operated hotel provides the same kind of restorative and nourishing indulgence for its patrons today.

Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort offers authentic Calistoga wellbeing procedures–massage, mud baths, and mineral pools, and this regimen is a local tradition that exists here for over a century. Roman Spa is one of the only two Calistoga spas offering a private mud bath experience that can be taken by a couple in side-by-side bathtubs.

The thick black mud, silky to the touch, consists of the volcanic ash, natural peat, and geothermal mineral water. I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t up to that “muddy business” everyone was raving about. When it comes to any kind of dirt touching me or anything I’m wearing, usually I draw the line right there. (Yes, I’m exceedingly squeamish). It took me a lot of nerve and curiosity to finally try the world-famous mud bath at the Roman Spa, but after sliding into the bathtub filled with what looked like pure muck from a dirt road, I surprisingly enjoyed it. After lounging under the thick blanket of healing mud I was feeling warm, weightless, fully relaxed, and happy!

There are also three warm-to-hot geothermal mineral pools, fed directly by a natural mineral aquifer. They are open from early morning to late evening, one pool indoors, and two outdoors, where hotel guests like to soak, enjoy the invigorating jets, or do laps in the largest of the three.  

Among the old trees and well-kept flower beds of the resort, in-between blossoming bushes and decorative fountains, there are private nooks and garden lounges, picnic tables and chairs, and even barbecue grills for guests’ use.

The hotel is located in the historic downtown, so it’s just a short walk to the many unique wine tasting rooms, boutique shops, farm-to-table restaurants, and walking trails in the area parks.

Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort: 1300 Washington Street, Calistoga, California 94515; 707-942-4441;

Here are some of the finest not-to-miss establishments in Calistoga:

Sam’s General Store. Named after—you guessed it—the notorious Samuel Brannan, the founder of Calistoga, and nestled in one of the only three original cottages that remain in the town since Mr. Brannan’s time.

Now beautifully restored, cozy and festive, this place has a wonderful heated patio separated from the street by a leafy hedge. Try to get here for breakfast. Excellent coffee and freshly baked pastries will make your day from the get-go. (109 Wappo Ave. Calistoga).

Picayne Cellars. An outstandingly charming wine tasting room where you can taste diverse and interesting wines from Champagne to Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño, to Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is also a boutique shop of French accessories, like Hermès scarves and bijouterie; light fixtures made from semi-precious stones, and a large collection of Native American arts and crafts.

Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, originally from France, is the owner of this oasis of good taste and friendly ambiance. (1329 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga).

Calistoga Depot Beer Garden. A railroad depot back in 1868, today it’s a chic contemporary market that sells delicatessen, rare wines, high-quality cheeses and charcuterie, and plenty of libations, including artisanal beer.

An ideal place for a quick on-the-go lunch or takeout. Order an elaborate custom-made sandwich at the counter, and take a seat in their spacious beer garden to enjoy some peace and quiet in the fresh air. (1458 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga).

Field Trip. A recent addition to Calistoga downtown, Field Trip is a flower shop that carries rare house plants found in the tropics and high desert, and offers classes on dry-stem bouquet and wreath making. Dyana Lovold, the proprietor, also displays antique collections of exotic bugs, butterflies, and small wild animals’ sculls in full accordance with the store’s name.

cabinet of curiosities, and there’s even a royally-comfy armchair for some idling husband whose wife gets carried away and forgets about time among the dried flowers and peacock feathers. (1348 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga).

Fleetwood at Calistoga Motor Lodge. For dinner, choose this outstanding restaurant with recently renovated gorgeous interior, outdoor seating with a fire pit, live music, and creative food and beverage program.

Executive Chef Edgar Zecua will make you happy with his masterful preparations of Beet Salad, decorated with edible flowers, Frito Misto Calamari, Wood Oven Roasted Meatballs, Nardello Peppers (seasonal, so please hurry up!), and Hen of the Woods Pizza. Don’t forget to order Fleetwood bar’s wonderful cocktails, like a traditional Manhattan, or Prickly Pear Margarita. (1880 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga).

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