This Restored Calistoga Resort Is Exactly What the Dr. Ordered

Doc Wilkinson’s hot springs hotel gets a very 2021 update

July 9, 2021 7:15 am
Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs and Mud Baths
Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs and Mud Baths
Katie Newburn

During a five-week, four-country, five-state tour of the late-pandemic world, I slept in 15 different rooms, including the one I grew up in, a cabin near enough to Denali, a corner suite in the Sierras and a cubby in the back of a vacation cottage that I definitely would have died in if there’d been a fire, given the lack of windows/escape route. Of all of them, one was best: a first-floor room at the newly revamped Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs in Calistoga. It is mud-bath heaven, and here is why. 

A historic hotel, since the 1950s is historic now

Dr. Wilkinson’s has been a presence in Calistoga since Dick Whitman first set eyes on Don Draper (read: 1952). The titular John Wilkinson, with his wife Edy, turned Calistoga’s historic hot springs into a spa-centric attraction for visitors to Napa more, or at least equally, interested in extreme relaxation and mineral-rich “mud baths” as wine tasting. After over a half-century offering guests a reasonably priced getaway right on the edge of Calistoga’s extremely telegenic downtown, the Wilkinsons’ kids sold the property to hotel investment firm Chartres Lodging Group in 2019; following a year of renovations, it’s now fully reopened. 

Katie Newburn

#instachic #jadore #poolwithaview #wellnesstravel #gratitude #relaxation #robelife

Speaking of telegenic: the resort comes by its California mid-century design aesthetic honestly, given that it is an actual mid-century California property, and it pursues it emphatically, with a color palette of pale wood, mustard, avocado and pumpkin. It is all extremely Instagrammable, right down to the mural above one of the three mineral-water pools. When I was there, the pool crowd was quantifiably 50 percent francophone, which is no wonder, given that the hotel precisely fits a European vision of what a California resort should look like. (Exactly this, though Dr. Wilkinson’s is fancier.) On my stay, it made for an interesting crowd on the pool deck: half practicing influencers, half Frenchies complaining about the heat (fair enough: it was 104), with a few of us normies in robes in the background. Moral of the story: pack your nicest swimwear. 

Don’t skip the massage

Did I mention the heat? I arrived at the hotel following an interminable drive from Tahoe, in the middle of June’s inland heat wave — sufficiently out of it/dehydrated that I showed up for my massage in a bathing suit. That’s not how it works, given that it’s hard to get, or give, a massage through a few millimeters of lycra.

“Have you had a massage before?” the therapist asked me. 

This is sort of like being asked if you have ever washed your face with soap, both in the sense that (a) you’ve probably screwed something up if you’ve been asked that question, but also (b) there are good reasons why the answer might be no. In any case, she was extremely kind, and I was extremely mortified re: my spa-centric misstep but also too tired to care much. The massage was excellent, and the decor here wonderfully understated. (I do not understand the desire among some spas to trick out their spa suites, given that half the people in them have their eyes closed 90 percent of the time and the other half are presumably focused on working/wondering what they will have for dinner.) Massage: five stars. 

Codi Ann Backman

The in-room situation is excellent 

Some rooms here have a Peloton, others have a clawfoot tub, and still others have a second bed, or bunks, for families staying together. (I have presented those amenities in order of desirability.) Mine had Malin & Goetz products in the shower and a QR-code enabled assortment of bathroom products including Hydrant hydration packs, Wooden Spoon Herbs’ Mushroom Magic and a rose quartz eye massage tool from Mount Lai — a mini Sephora Luxe over the sink. There was also a turquoise Galaxy fridge, which I immediately stocked with groceries from the next-door Cal Mart. I did not need to chill a plastic-encased charcuterie assortment of salami, provolone and crackers because I ate that 20 minutes after buying it, in bed, while watching the series finale of Breaking Bad on the Netflix-enabled giant-screen TV.

Emma Morris

But seriously, there are better ways to eat here

The on-site restaurant, House of Better, is perfectly attuned to its surroundings, with “elevated counter service” nearish the pools and an array of Southwestern options, a product of Trevor Logan’s time in and around New Mexico. (You might know Logan from the former Green Chile Kitchen on McAllister Street, which closed in 2019, or his Chile Pies Baking Co., in Guerneville.) I had an off-the-menu drink with a ton of garlic in it, which was amazing, plus the guacamole tasting flight (dreaming of the day when all food is served in tasting flights BTW; we’re almost there as it is) with Mexican, Middle Eastern and Japanese takes. (My favorite was the last on that list, with yuzu furikake, wasabi, ginger and toasted sesame oil, though I obviously ate all of them, by myself.) This was followed by the carne adovada, also delicious. My only regret, from the entire stay: that I forgot to order a slice of green chile pie before I headed back south, toward home.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.