portion of a diorama of 19th century Calistoga, at Calistoga’s Sharpsteen Museum
California place names often have colorful origins and Calistoga is no exception. Founded as a spa resort in the late 19th century by the visionary San Francisco millionaire Samuel Brannan, the name of the town comes from his famous drunken mis-fire, “I’m going to make this the Calistoga of Sarifornia” (meant as, “the Saratoga of California”). Blessed with abundant natural hot springs, excellent weather and easy access to both the Napa Valley and Clear Lake, the town is well situated for vacation.
We’ve been taking the waters at Calistoga Spa Hot Springs a few times a year since we moved to California 20 years ago. It’s an old-school, family-oriented place where you’re likely to hear Russian, Polish and Japanese spoken in any of the soaking tubs any time of day throughout the year. People come here for the healing waters, period. After our most recent visit, we spent time in the town’s most excellent Sharpsteen Museum, founded by Ben Sharpsteen, the Academy Award-winning Disney animator. Filled with beautifully crafted dioramas, artifacts and historic exhibits telling the story of Calistoga, the museum is well worth a visit and sets a high standard for small town museums.
photo of an original cottage from Calistoga’s early days as a spa resort