San Francisco: Side Trips

Calistoga Mud Baths

Calistoga Ian Shive / Indian Springs
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I love wine country as much as the next gluttonous wino pig, but for the past few years, we've been doing our "wine tasting" as a kind of afterthought, preferring instead to take in the mud baths and good life of Calistoga, 75 miles from San Francisco in Napa Valley. My family and I make an annual sojourn to Indian Springs, a classic, efficiency-cabin kind of a place. The style of it is some weird and wonderful combination of 1940s motorcourt-sanitarium (but it was recently redone and swankified!). Indian Springs features an Olympic-size "geyser-fed mineral pool" that's basically like an enormous bathtub — for most of its length, it's only about 3 feet deep, so it's great for kids. Best of all are the on-site mud baths, complete with no-nonsense, matronly Slavic women who hose you down post-bath — you'll still be gritty for days, though, in places you didn't know you had.

From Indian Springs, you can walk into town to eat; or, better yet, go across the street to the terrific grocery store with many meats marinating in anticipation of you barbecuing them on the Indian Springs grills. If you must taste wine while you're here, Calistoga is centrally situated, putting the many fine vineyards of Napa and Sonoma within close range. Our favorite is Rombauer Vineyards, probably because we once won a private tour at a raffle. Also, the Zinfandel tastes like crushed violets. Designate a driver or hire Affiliated Limo (800-351-4377), my favorite San Francisco–based car service. Ask for Sammy and tell him I sent you.

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