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

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.