A Day in Calistoga, CA

Calistoga is located in California’s wine country, just north of Napa. This small town has a lot to offer: large-scale wineries and tourist attractions, as well smaller family-owned wineries, and businesses that make the town comfortable and welcoming. During a recent trip to Calistoga my partner and I indulged in both.

Major tourist attractions

First on the itinerary was the Castello di Amorosa, or as I prefer to call it, the castle winery. An authentic 13th century Tuscan castle in the middle of California. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a legitimate castle just off the main road to Calistoga.

An authentic European castle with a kick-ass wine cellar? Yes, please.

Now the entrance fee is a little steep, probably because the owner brought back stones from Italy to build the thing, so it will set you back about $50 bucks for two people to have a self-guided tour of the castle and 5 pours in the tasting room. However, we probably should have forked over a little more money and made a reservation ahead of time to learn more about the castle’s history and gain access to additional rooms.

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The subterranean tasting room is a little magical. It welcomes you with its brick archways, low lighting and wine lined walls. Entertaining bartenders pour you wine as you lose track of time. And the wine is pretty good too.

And with the pricey entrance fee don't feel bad leaving without purchasing a bottle.

After the castle tour, we continued our day with a visit to the Calistoga Geyser. The geyser erupts every few minutes, which means you don’t have to wait long to catch it. Now this is not the geyser I remember from my childhood. I must have been a pre-teen the last time I was there and they have definitely tried to make some recent upgrades. Specifically, they have a small geology “museum” and a small farm with goats - baby goats! - and a llama. While it was fun to see the animals, it felt like the place was trying too hard to justify what you get for the pricey general entrance fee.

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It would have been better if we packed a picnic lunch or afternoon snack.

That being said, the geyser was pretty cool. It is one of three “old faithfuls” geysers in the world. One being in Yellowstone and the other in New Zealand. Old faithful meaning the geyser has consistent patterns of eruptions. 30-80 foot eruptions to be exact. (Although that is pretty large range, so exact is a little strong).

The town

Once we left the geyser we headed to town, checked into our hotel and after Yelping nearby restaurants, decided to eat in-house. The dinner was delightful and would have been more expensive than I am comfortable with had we not received a $20 off coupon for staying at the hotel.

Following dinner we walked down the main street and discovered Copperfield’s, which is definitely one of my favorite bookstores ever. I immediately stumbled upon the fun gifts located near the entrance, which was close to the Trump Survival Guide section. Other amazing sections I found: all things Jane Austen and feminist novels.

While I didn’t purchase a book, of fun knee-high socks, I did decide I needed a mug to commemorate my experience and this one in particular spoke to me:

Another fun store we stumbled upon is called Chicken Scratch. The funny named store housed funny second hand things, and some normal second hand things as well. If you want housing decor, patio furniture or a teacup to add to your collection, this is your place.

We finally ended up a local dive bar, Susie’s, where glasses of Bogle wine were $4. The bar was dark, but clean and the perfect unpretentious way to unwind in beautiful wine country.

The hotel

We stayed at the Calistoga Inn, a quaint hotel complete with restaurant, bar and beer garden. The beer garden was situated right off the restaurant, but unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy it because it was a little too cold outside in the February weather.

The room we stayed in was small, but clean, but missing from it was a bathroom. I hadn’t realized this before hand, but there was a shared bathroom in the middle of the hallway for overnight guests. Our key chain included two keys, one for the room and one for the bathroom/front door access to the building after hours. As someone who inevitably needs to use the restroom in the middle of the night, this situation was not ideal, but also wasn’t a deal breaker. The bathrooms were nicely decorated and well-maintained, so walking down the hall for one night was doable.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at Calistoga Roastery. In case you haven't had a chance to read my Kaffeeklatsch blog post about it, the roastery is a great place to catch a good cup coffee in this small town. There was plenty of room and locals galore, making me grateful we chose it as our last stop of our mini-getaway.

So, to recap:

  • Bring a picnic lunch or at least some snack with you to visit the Calistoga Geyser. Take advantage of the comfortable lounge seats and relax for a while to maximize the cost.

  • If possible, upgrade the Castello di Amorosa castle tour so you have a guided (not self-guided) tour. I’m sure you will get a lot more of the experience and probably get to taste more wine as well.

  • Reserve some time to check out the town’s offerings. With wine tasting rooms and eclectic shops, you will want to make sure to block off time to explore the main town of Calistoga.