Posted on July 31, 2017 by Janet Steinberg
Calistoga, California: Hot Springs, Cool Wines and Mud Baths

In California’s Napa Valley, Calistoga was the vision of Sam Brannan who purchased property, including the "Spring Grounds", in the early 1860s. Impressed by the New York resort of Saratoga, he decided to make his development the "Saratoga of California."  After too much champagne, Brannan slurred "we'll make this the Calistoga of Sarifornia".  Realizing his mistake, he then proclaimed, "So be it!  We'll just name it Calistoga".         

Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort is synonymous with the word Calistoga.  One of Calistoga's oldest spas, Dr. Wilkinson’s has been serving guests for approximately 65 years.  When I first visited this iconic wine country resort around the turn of the century, the late Doc Wilkinson was in his eighties and still greeting his guests. The then-octogenarian “King of Mud”, told me that “the mud baths will always be the main attraction here .”   Since Dr. Wilkinson’s death, his children Carolynne and Mark have carried on their father’s tradition and history. The original 1952 neon sign still glows and legacy abounds.  They have kept a certain formula while keeping up with the times...constantly upgrading the lodging and amenities. There is even a TESLA charging station on property.



The phrase “The Works" was originally coined by Dr. Wilkinson.  In the beginning, a guest was treated to “The Works”, everything the spa could offer, (mud bath, mineral bath, steam room, blanket wrap and massage) for $3.50. Today, only the price has changed.




Today, guests are greeted at the front desk and an attendant guides them through the treatments. First is the mud bath, a soothing "float" in volcanic ash and peat moss. A shower is offered after getting out of the mud bath.   “Somewhere along the line’, Carolynne told me,  ‘someone has confused our property with another local property and has claimed that we hose off our clients after the mud bath…No hoses here at Dr W’s, only a carefully attended shower experience to wash the mud off…then to the mineral bath with whirlpool!  No hose down here at Dr. W’s, never has been, never will be!”  A massage completes "The Works". The main ingredients of the mudbaths are mineral water, volcanic ash and peat moss.  If you've never had a mudbath, you must try one!   They defy description.




Over the years, Dr. Wilkinson’s garnered much attention, attracting the likes of reporter Robin Leach who did a segment on the resort on his "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" television show.  In celebration of the resort’s 60th anniversary in July 2012, the Wilkinsons reached out to the Queen of England (also celebrating her 60th anniversary—as queen) and offered to bring their mud bath experience to her in London. While the Queen politely congratulated them, she didn’t take them up on the offer. No matter: More than a million guests have taken the Wilkinsons up on their offer of a truly transformative mud bath experience. “Just like the queen, we’re still here!” says Carolynne.


Today, Calistoga has a number of terrific restaurants.  Among the oldies, but goodies, are Brannan’s Grill and the frequently heralded Greystone Restaurant.  The latter is housed in one of the largest stone buildings in the world.  Built by Chinese Laborers from local stone quarries in 1889, Greystone was once the Christian Brothers Winery.

You can’t be in Calistoga without making a stop on State Route 29 in nearby Oakville.  With a population of 71 (at the 2010 census,) this tiny town (1.359-square miles) is renowned for its Oakville Grocery.  At any given time of day, you'll find a myriad of tourists’ cars in the grocery’s parking lot.  The Oakville Grocery Co. has been operating continuously since 1881.  Once a general store, its old wooden walls are crammed with gourmet goodies.  The Oakville branch of the U.S. Post office is on the grocery's covered porch.  You can probably buy the same products at home, for a lesser price, but they seem to taste better when they come from the Oakville Grocery.




JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 43 national Travel Writer Awards. She is also a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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