There's More to Calistoga (and Napa County) Than Wine

Most people come to Calistoga - a quaint little hilltown in Napa Valley - for the wineries, vineyards and spa stays. Calistoga had long been populated by the Wappo Native Americans, but after the Spanish colonial era, the town was established by Samuel Brannan who hoped to harness the town’s impressive natural springs for luxury tourism. In fact, the rumor is that Brannan wanted it to be a hot springs destination, like Saratoga, N.Y., and in his excitement, he said “Calistoga” - the name stuck.

Though Calistoga has impressive spas and wineries, there’s so much more to do in and around this charming town of only about 5,000 people. Here are some can’t-miss activities to take advantage of in conjunction with your wine tasting pursuits in Calistoga:

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride

napa things to do

The first hot air balloon voyage ever took place in Paris in 1783. Today, you can soar over scenic Calistoga and the rest of Napa Valley in a bright hot air balloon! Could there be anything more picturesque than rustic vineyards, lush natural scenery and a hot air balloon floating along through blue skies? Just make sure you book for a fog-free day.

Two excellent companies offer hot air balloon flights. Balloons Above the Valley is located in the city of Napa, about a 40 minute drive from Calistoga. Call or reserve your flight online - you can choose a private flight or a less expensive flight with a group. Flights generally leave very early in the morning. At the meeting site, you will have a small pre-flight snack of muffins and coffee and everyone will head to the flight destination together to watch the balloons inflate and prepare for the trip. After your flight, you’ll be treated to a fabulous fancy champagne brunch to celebrate!

Calistoga Balloons is great because they will pick you up from your hotel. Like Balloons Above the Valley, Calistoga Balloons has FAA certified pilots with much experience. You have the option to help the crew inflate balloons in the morning, and you’ll spend one hour floating over Mt. St. Helena, the Palisades Cliffs and Castello di Amorosa - see these awesome sites from an entirely new angle. You also have the option of combining your balloon trip with a champagne brunch, wine touring and tastings, or horseback riding for a day of off-the-charts fun.

Go Bicycling

There are several different bike tour companies in Calistoga and the surrounding areas that offer bike and wine tours. But if you’re looking to branch out on your own or get away from the wineries for a bit, Calistoga has some great trails to ride.

Oat Hill Mine Road isn’t really a road. It was built in the 19th century for access to the areas mines, but these days it looks more like a trail, with much plant growth. But it’s a great place to immerse yourself in the quiet beauty of nature with the Palisades as your background. You’ll be able to see Mount Diablo on this route, and maybe even Mt. St. Helena on a clear day. To access the trailhead, drive north of Calistoga on highway 29 until you reach the intersection of the highway with Silverado Trail. There’s a dirt lot for parking nearby and the Oat Hill trailhead is on the northeast side.

Silverado Trail boasts many vineyards and is a well-traveled highway. But it’s nice and flat with a wide shoulder, so it’s worthy of a relaxing bike ride through the vineyards.

Try Olive Oil Tasting

napa things to do

Everyone knows Napa Valley is wine country, but did you know you can get some great olive oil here? The climate perfect for grape growing is also perfect for cultivating olive groves, which makes sense when you think of the Mediterranean. Here are some great spots for tasting locally grown and distilled olive oils around Calistoga:

At Round Pond in nearby Rutherford, you have the unique opportunity to take a tour of the olive mill, learn about the cultivation, harvesting and production of olive oil, and take a guided tasting of their fresh oils and red wine vinegars with fancy breads, cheeses and local produce. The tour takes about an hour and a half, and you should make your reservations early. Round Pond is a gorgeous and serene family-run estate. They also make wines and have biodynamic vegetable and fruit gardens as well. Come for a garden to table brunch here and then stay for the wine and olive oil tasting - this place is a gem.

Olivier has a vineyard in Sonoma, but if you don’t have much time, a good option is to just head to their beautiful store on Main Street in nearby Helena to sample gourmet olive oils. Olivier is also an excellent place to buy souvenirs and gifts. Not only does it offer sumptuous olive oils, but also marinades, pure olive oil soaps and handcrafted tableware from Provence.

By Nicole Martinez