Calistoga, once a waste of a farmland in the northern most tip of Napa county (wine country) is now a sleepy town brimming with world class spas, geothermal wonders such as the petrified forest and the “Old Faithful” geyser, one of the only two in North America and the only one in California (the other is in the famous Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming). Though not as popular as its other counterparts in wine country, Calistoga is dotted with its fair share of wine tasting rooms and estates, quite a few of which are dog friendly. In addition, there are accommodations for canines as well as plenty of dog welcoming hiking trails, all of this was enough to get us completely sold on this quaint town. So off we went to Calistoga with Babu tucked snug in the car.
Look no further than the Bear Flag Inn for your night’s stay if you have your pooch in tow. Owners Dennis and Marjorie are major dog lovers (have two dogs and one cat) and have their primary residence as well as cottages spread across acres of green for your dog to sniff and romp around. Dogs are welcome in the cottages or the outward facing rooms in the main building, all at no extra cost! You will be greeted with wine and snacks in the evening, with the red coming in from grapes from their very own vineyard facing the inn. They also cook yummy breakfast for you and you can notify them of any dietary restrictions that you may have in advance. We had a very comfortable stay and I highly recommend this place for the hospitality, cleanliness and major dog love shown by the hosts. A perfect place for dog lovers to rest, it has five star rating on BringFido.com and I can attest to it’s popularity.
Solbar, the restaurant of the famous hospitality group Solage and our first lunch spot in Calistoga, is extremely dog-friendly with a giant patio and a MUST visit if you are with your pooch/vegetarian/vegan/plain hungry! The food was top notch Californian-American with hints of Asian influence (think of lamb gyros with a twist or sweet potato chapattis) and all ingredients were locally sourced, as is the norm of every place in wine country (yay for California’s immense bounty). Decor, service and food were top notch and the best part is that the menu changes daily as well as from lunch to dinner. The prices were very reasonable for the food served and that made us San Franciscans, used to over-hyped pricey food, very happy campers.
The second lunch spot (we had take out from a Nepalese place for dinner which was nothing to write about) which I highly recommend is Cindy’s backstreet kitchen, in the heart of downtown St. Helena, right next to Calistoga. CBK is helmed by Cindy Pawlcyn, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, chef-owner of Napa Valley’s Mustards Grill and co-creator of many popular Bay Area restaurants. CBK first opened its doors in 2003 and came recommended by one of the vintners at a wine tasting room. The food and service were marvelous and because this was off-season for tourists, we got a table in no time. The building is steeped in wine country history (harks back to the 1800s) and was once a 1920s bordello(how scandalous!), a cooperage that supplied barrels and casks for locals in the wine business. A beautiful brick building, it is a sight to behold in itself. We had excellent parsnip soup, fish and chips, grilled cheese sandwich and some scallops and all of them were delicious! Not sure if it has outdoor seating (although it was listed as dog friendly in www.dogfriendly.com ) because I couldn’t spot a patio, plus it was raining incessantly when we went in for lunch, so Babu had to be bundled up in the car.
Of the several wineries that are dog friendly in Napa (see the full list here), we tried Dutch Henry wineries (dog friendly) and also went to Markham because of the crowd at Chateau Montelena (despite what dog friendly.com says, dogs are not allowed in the wine tasting room) In both places we visited, the wine tasting costs $$ (25-30) but DH winery waives the tasting fee if you buy one of their bottles. We ended up buying a Muscato Blanc and a Petit Syrah from Markham. Graser winery, on Petrified forest road, is closed on Sundays.
The star attraction of the trip was undoubtedly the Old Faithful geyser at Tubbs lane, the only other of its kind and named so because it erupts unfailingly at known intervals of time. The eruption interval shortens to 5 mins during rainy season so we kind of lucked out. Plus the premises have two beautiful seated areas to watch the eruption from, and an enclosed area where goats graze. You can feed the goats buy buying goat food at the entrance store selling tickets. Finally there is also a small yet very informative geological museum nestled on the grounds. The whole property is very well maintained and neatly kept. For the safety of your pet, please keep him/her leashed at all times to prevent being scalded by the hot water of the geyser and watch from a safe distance.
The other attraction was the Old faithful goat farm on the property with kids, llamas and billy goats grazing nonchalantly, stopping only momentarily to stare at Babu who barked at them like a banshee as we fed the goats (you can purchase goat food at the store and feed them with that, they are very gentle and are used to being fed by humans)
The store has mementos as well as a picnic station providing plates and plastic cutlery for those interested in picnicking on the grounds. We loved this geothermal wonder and wanted to also explore the nearby Petrified Forest, named so because of the giant Redwoods turning to stone by the volcanic ash spouted by Mt. Helena, 3.4 million years ago. However, rain played spoil sport and we decided to bid Calistoga adieu at this point.
Overall, two thumbs up to Calistoga for being a great dog-friendly destination in wine country and we will definitely be back to try out their spas! For more information on all things dog-friendly in Napa, please visit this website, which was a helpful source of information for us. Read about a guide to another Napa county gem, St. Helena in my previous blog post.