Nestled in the northern end of Napa Valley, Calistoga has been famous for its hot springs since the 1870s, when visitors flocked from far and near to partake of the healing waters. The town's renowned wine industry soon followed. But Calistoga is more than an adult playground; its casual, low-key vibe makes it an ideal setting for family fun. Here are a few ideas for kid-friendly activities in Calistoga that are reason enough to load the car.
Best Things to See and Do
Plan a visit to Old Faithful Geyser of California, one of only three geysers in the world that erupt regularly. Depending on the season, the geyser shoots a 30-to-80 foot burst of water skyward every 5 to 55 minutes (5 to 35 minutes in winter; 20 to 55 minutes in summer). The small Geology Museum explains how geysers work, along with such other natural wonders as volcanoes and earthquakes. A bocce ball court, native plant garden and lounging areas offer play and relaxation – picnics encouraged. Of special interest to younger visitors is the Goat Farm, with goats, four-horned sheep and llamas that kids can feed.
Novice golfers can join their parents at the Mount St. Helena Golf Course, a 9-hole, par 34 course tucked into the Napa Valley Fairgrounds. It's a year-round course with three sets of tees to accommodate various skill levels. It also features a driving range, golf carts and rental clubs. Early and late-afternoon tee times are best for summer play.
Another alluring Calistoga attraction is Pioneer Park, located at 1308 Cedar St. Pioneer Park is a perfect place for kids to burn energy. It offers an abundance of green, meadowy grass, a newly designed children's play area, several barbecue pits and, best of all, clean restrooms! Pick up sandwiches downtown and head to the park for a relaxing picnic lunch. On Thursday evenings during summer months, families arrive in droves for Calistoga Concerts in the Park. These live musical performances run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free. Parents who are architecture enthusiasts will also appreciate the lovingly restored Neo Classical Revival home right next to the park.
Another healthy, kid-friendly opportunity is biking Calistoga's charming backroads. Click on Calistoga Bikeshop’s website for some handy local routes (they even have a map app with real-time data), or stop by the store for a route recommendation. Didn’t bring your own bikes? No worries. The store stocks a versatile selection of bikes, helmets, gear and accessories. The shop experts will fit you out and give you a quick lesson on hydraulic brakes. Helmets, locks and rack bags are included in the rental fee. It’s also possible to arrange a guided tour.
Gliding the sky in a rainbow-colored hot-air balloon is a quintessential Napa Valley experience. Calistoga Balloons is located within walking distance of many downtown hotels and resorts. Groups meet before dawn at the Historic Train Depot. After check-in, the company takes you to one of its numerous launch sites (determined daily by the pilots to be the safest, most enjoyable and scenic flight path for that particular morning). Flights last an hour and are guaranteed to get your older kids off their iPhones and “into” the flight. While the minimum age requirement is 5 years old, the company recommends waiting until your children are old enough to enjoy the experience.
Still aching to visit a local winery? Sterling Vineyards is a family-friendly choice for everyone. The winery is housed in a white, Grecian-inspired villa on top of a hill, its architectural splendor as compelling as the wines within. Especially appealing to children is the gondola, featuring the only aerial tram in Napa Valley. The gondola rises 300 feet from the valley floor to reach the winery, providing panoramic views of the surrounding area. On arrival, visitors can take a self-paced, self-guided winery tour.
The city of Calistoga hosts a number of special events throughout the year, but the hands-down favorite with kids is the Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade. Each year, dozens of tractors, trucks and various pieces of farm equipment are adorned with multicolored Christmas lights, and sent rumbling down Lincoln Avenue, the city’s main street, to the eager anticipation of its thrilled spectators. Expect Christmas carols, warm apple cider and a visit from Santa himself. Admission is free. Join the festivities on the first Saturday in December from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Well, you must be hungry after all that adventure! Luckily, Calistoga is fully loaded with kid-friendly eateries offering affordable prices and many menu items children like. Among the most popular local family favorites are Bosko's Trattoria on Lincoln Avenue, which serves pizza and other popular Italian dishes. The casual Palisades Deli Café, also on Lincoln Avenue, has soups, salads and other munchable takeaway items. And don't miss out on Buster's Southern Barbeque, situated at 1207 Foothill Blvd. Buster's serves up some of the tangiest barbecue ribs in the valley, as well as juicy tri-tip sandwiches, flavorful chili, hamburgers, hot dogs and more. Grab a table inside or out, then place your order at the window. Buy a bottle of their housemade hot sauce to take home (it’s that good).
Apparently, despite its reputation for fine wines and hot spring resorts, there is no shortage of things for kids to do in Calistoga.
Judee Shipman has authored eight books (Crazy Horse Appearing, Yule Log, ABODE, Portable Chess Coach and others), two websites (Top50States.com, prntr.com) and countless online articles. She also writes poetry and composes original word puzzles. Her crosswords have appeared in TV Guide.