While You’re in Town: Hike Calistoga’s Newest Trail

LOHMT_trail_trees_sky_higherHere’s one for the “While You’re in Town” file:  the next time you’re visiting our winery, take a few hours to hike the Oat Hill Mine Trail, an historic carriage and mining road in Calistoga.

As a visitor, there’s so much fun to be had in the upper Napa Valley just by spending your days eating and drinking that it’s easy to overlook another draw of our region:  the miles of beautiful hiking trails that meander through unspoiled forests and mountains surrounding the valley vineyards.  This weekend the Lower Oat Hill Mine Trail in Calistoga will be dedicated as the most recent portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area Ridge Trail, this admirable project seeks to create a continuous 550+-mile trail for hikers, mountain bicyclists, and equestrians along the ridgelines surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area.  With 340+ miles of trails on the Ridge Trail already open, the Lower Oat Hill Mine Trail adds 4.5 miles to that growing total.

The Ridge Trail website describes the beauty of the Lower Oat Hill Mine Trail best:  “This 4.5 mile trail follows an historic carriage and mining road, crossing seasonal creeks as it climbs through oak woodlands and chaparral, offering clear views of the Napa Valley and Mt. St. Helena.”  The Lower Oat Hill Mine Tail connects with the Palisades Trail, which wanders along those stunning Palisades cliffs visible from our winery guest house.  Time to grab those hiking boots!

The Quieter Side of Napa Valley

A friend of mine recently referred to St. Helena as the “land of the right hand turn.” I got good laugh out of that one because we both knew, from his shorthand reference, exactly what he meant: that God forbid you find yourself, on a weekend afternoon during the summer, on Highway 29 in St. Helena having to make a left hand turn. As you sit there in the your car, stranded in the center of the road, blinker clicking endlessly as the cars full of irritated people back up behind you and the line of cars coming towards you extends into the horizon, your blood pressure tends to rise and your patience fray. We love our visitors in the Napa Valley and we certainly recognize where our bread is buttered, but the fact of the matter is the valley can get a bit crowded around this time of year. It helps to have some strategies to cope.

It’s a great idea for visitors to consider using Calistoga as their home base during their stay in the wine country. Calistoga, by virtue of its location in the north tip of the Napa Valley, stays a bit quieter throughout the busy season, which allows visitors to decide how much of the crowds and bustling nature of the valley you want to bite off. You may want to throw yourself into the thick of it one day, do some shopping, dining, and of course wine tasting along with the crowds, but it’s also really nice to have the ability to decide the next day that you want a quieter day, maybe a day to poke around Calistoga which retains its small farming town charm.

A perfect day for those who want a quieter Napa Valley experience is to start your day with one of the excellent cappuccinos at Calistoga Roastery or, for those who like a little more fuel to power them, breakfast at our down-home favorite, Café Sarafornia. After breakfast, explore the variety of shops on Lincoln Avenue, which meld a level of sophistication with a folksy lack of pretension. Along with art galleries, boutique clothing shops, and wine stores, you’ll find an independent bookstore filled with local favorites, my kids’ favorite candy shop, and a hardware store full of hardworking people with dirt under their fingernails. After shopping, pick up some sandwiches from Palisades Deli and visit one or two of the small, family-owned wineries in the area. For visitors whose only experience of Napa Valley wine tasting is at the large wineries along 29 that are open to the public, it is surprising to find that it is a completely different experience to go to small winery where visitors often get to sit and chat with the owner, hearing the ins and outs of winemaking and vineyards from someone on the ground floor. That personal connection makes the wine come alive in your glass in a whole new way.

Finish up your day with dinner at any one of the fantastically reviewed restaurants in Calistoga, perhaps accompanied by a bottle of the wine you tasted earlier that day at a local winery. All in all, I’d say that’s a perfect day for those in search of the quieter side of Napa Valley.

While You’re in Town

One of the great things about having a winery in Napa Valley is that you get to play tour guide for all of the people who come visit. I keep handy a list of my favorite places and activities that I think our guests would enjoy, and I get the chance to pull it out often. Of course there are tons of wineries worth visiting in Napa, from the beautiful and elegant to the rustic and simple, and all of them will let you taste fantastic Napa Valley wine. But there are some non-wine-related places that I like to recommend to visitors, too. We keep a pinboard on Pinterest called “While You’re in Town” with these ideas and others for our visitors. We update it frequently, adding new favorites, so if you’re interested in places to go in Napa Valley, you’ll want to check it often.

Here are some of my current favorites:

The Model Bakery – St. Helena – Don’t even think about starting a day of wine tasting without a cappuccino and famous English muffin from this place.

Woodhouse Chocolates – St. Helena – One word: Exquisite.

Café Sarafornia – Calistoga – Just down the road from the winery is the most down-home, comforting diner I know, with the best food. The Huevos Rancheros are famous for a reason (They’re not bad as a wine over-consumption cure, either).

La Condesa – St. Helena – I know what you’re thinking: Gourmet Mexican food? Who needs it; I like my burrito place on the corner just fine, thanks. But this is worth a stop. Try the to-die-for mole: deep, complex, and thoroughly yummy.

Gott’s Roadside – St. Helena – It’s not much to look at, and on summer weekends the lines often run through the parking lot and down the street, but for a good reason: don’t leave Napa Valley without a stop for a hamburger (or ahi tuna burger, or fish tacos – all delicious) at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena. Yes, it’s that good.

Robert Louis Stevenson Park – Calistoga – Take a day off wine tasting and hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena. The 10.2-mile round trip with a 2,000-foot elevation gain is tough, but will reward you with a mesmerizing view of the valley from the top of the mountain. On your way up, remind yourself that you’ve got a glass of wine and the hot springs of Calistoga waiting for you when you get back.