Our first week as official Calistogan’s was the first one in December, when the town holds its annual Xmas festivities. The holiday art fair, with small town simplicities and charms felt good to us. Lit up scenes of happy children, dedicated parents, smiling artisans, bakers, and musicians who all seemed to know each another. Afterwards I walked along the main street in town and discovered scores of empty chairs lining both sides of it. The annual “Lighted Tractor Parade” was slated for later that night and people were already staking out their places in advance. I went home and quickly returned with 2 folding chairs of our own. By the time the parade started that crisp night, Lincoln street was lined with 1-2-3 thousand excited people, who oohed and awed and clapped as many dozen farm vehicles -from small tractors to flatbeds to big rigs- crawled by in single file, draped in xmas lights. The next Saturday night there was another parade, with about 20 Aztec dancers and 100 Mexican traditionalists following a Sister Guadalupe display in the back of a slow moving pickup truck. It started at the high school and zig-zagged down Lincoln and past the firehouse to the catholic church, packed with celebrants.

Calistoga is a small town of about 5,500 residents, 75 miles north of San Francisco. Tourists are attracted to its natural thermal spas, mud baths, wineries, a famous geyser, hot-air balloon rides, and gorgeous surrounding landscapes and state parks. City hall is a small building with a bell tower on top and 3 friendly clerks inside located around the corner from the only traffic light in town. Across the street is the site of the weekly Farmer’s Market which we look forward to every Saturday as a growing social hub and source of healthy produce, live music, and good vibes. There are several parks scattered around town, a community pool, many ball fields, a local art scene with classes, and more dedicated plaques imbedded on benches, in rocks and at tree bases than I’ve ever seen. In the middle of town is the local wing of the Napa county fairgrounds, with a pavilion used frequently for events, a small golf course, an RV park (where we first stayed last fall), and the Calistoga Speedway which hosts several car and motorbike races throughout the summer.

There’s a significant Latino population here which enriches and broadens our experience -and has thankfully reacquainted us with authentic Mexican food! Many are associated with the labor forces required by the scores of wineries, spas and restaurants which dominate the economy and landscape. (Both Calistoga mineral water and Crystal Geyser have their bottling plants here too). Our sense is that the laborers are valued, respected and happy here, and make a better living than most elsewhere for the same work. This is a relaxed town. There’s respect and warmth from its people, and a certain harmony and acceptance. The young sales and service people are noticeably friendly.

The heart of town along Lincoln street is charming, and looks like a town in the gold country. Overhangs above the sidewalk provide shade in the summer. With the exception of the popular hardware store, chainstores are not allowed here. The well-paved streets are lined with sycamore, oak, olive, persimmon, pine and palm trees, and cactuses, and show off many beautiful styles of architecture going back to the 1800’s. There are large lots with gorgeous victorians, old farmhouses, barns, water towers, craftsmans, clusters of cottages, and mid century moderns to admire, often with adirondack chairs on the lawns, peace signs made from wine barrel planks on the porches (including ours), and varied artsy-quirky things to notice. There are 3-4 nice mobile home parks and several older, attractive churches to admire: Catholic; Baptist; Russian Orthodox; Episcopal, 7th Day Adventist, Presbyterian, and Jehovah’s Witness, among others. There’s a gorgeous old Monastery too. The monastic nuns walk around wearing black robes, and sell homemade cookies at the farmers market. The lone high school starts at 7th grade and graduates about 60 seniors every May. It struggles at times to field enough players for their sports teams to compete against other schools -except for soccer, at which they excel.

Among our treasured early experiences here was exploring the streets of Calistoga on bike and getting waved to or nodded at by most everyone we passed. We bike almost daily now, sometimes for many hours. It’s nice and flat here, situated between 2 mountain ranges that are about 2 miles apart. We enjoy riding both nearby and out to the farther reaches of town, and have discovered some awesome roads that wind past vineyards and landscapes that mimick the paintings and photos sold in the art galleries in town. The mountain range to our west is mostly pine trees, and includes a famous petrified forest. The range to the east is especially beautiful. Storybook foothills front tall, rounded Mt St Helena, and a stunning stretch called the Palisades that features a dramatic mile-long volcanic wall of mauve outcroppings reminiscent of Wyoming. They can turn orange at dusk from the setting sun which is really gorgeous. The beautiful winding foot trail that leads up to the Palisades starts in town, and has become a favorite hiking destination of ours. Someday we plan on making it all the way to Table Rock. There are several other trailheads nearby as well that lead up into both ranges.

The Napa river starts in these hills and flows down through Calistoga, with 2-3 tributaries that join in from both ranges to snake southward into the Napa delta 35 miles away. We like to check the river flow at the many crossings around town. El Nino’s strong rains rose the river many feet last month which was exciting, and washed over a river-crossing that we often use to get downtown. We hope to see a repeat performance of this water level in March.

We feel very lucky to have landed in Calistoga for the time being. We wanted a small town and we got ourselves a good one.













1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Matt Colonell
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 16:08:04

    Great photos, Matt! What a lovely little town. It seems you have found happiness in you own backyard!


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