More Family Friendly Than Ever:
Remodeled Calistoga Motel Woos Guests of All Ages
By Kathy Chin Leong
Fun! fun! fun! Three swimming pools. One pie vending machine. Picnic tables and swings. A signpost topped with the word “Happiness” that points towards the spa. A recent overhaul of Dr.Wilkinson’s 1952 hot springs resort motel is a long-awaited gift to families that previously equated Napa Valley to an adult playground. The revamped Calistoga property now named Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Sprin.gs unleashes new delights that go beyond its mud bath origins and welcomes kids of all ages.
Previously, the interiors felt dark and gloomy, sorely in need of a facelift. It utilized gray cinder block, serving its purpose for generations of fans who came mainly for the mud baths. But now, newly added upscale features are appealing to both parents and kids.
Once you step onto the premises, pure joy echoes throughout. You have to smile at the parked, minty Buick with fuzzy white dice on the dashboard and the license plate reading “LUVDMUD.” And then there’s the giant outdoor rain shower head that blends in with a waterfall graphic with the word AHH…. The Mid-Century modern architecture, bold murals and vibrant splashes of color may make you feel, at least for a moment you are in Palm Springs.
As you look around, you realize you have everything you need for a complete weekend stay, and it’s all about the water. The warm geothermal pools are encircled with patio recliners and giant outdoor beds. You can rent a curtained cabana for $150 for the whole day which includes a ceiling fan and snacks. The geothermal pool waters are, as they say, great for the skin, and you can dip into any of the three pools throughout your stay. The spa mineral pool, however, is only for adults.
Outdoor games like a customized Jenga with Dr. Wilkonson’s name carved on the blocks, fire pits, and swings and picnic tables are enough to make you want to put away your cell phone for a while, at least.
On site is a new casual restaurant, The House of Better, that was built on top of a former parking lot. The menu of healthy Mexican fare includes veggie bowls, fish tacos, and more. Hearty grains are an excellent asset to its entrees, and even the house cocktails taste refreshing and light. And its signature pies will be ones you dream about long after you leave. The day we came, the chef concocted a green chile apple pie. At $6.50 a slice, the decadent treat was worth every calorie.
Harkening to the past and familiar are several items. Posted around the site are the mosaic murals Doc’s wife Edy loved so much. Also kept was the original Doctor Wilkinson’s neon sign. Underneath it is the new slogan Where Happiness Meets Wellness.” The old porch cabins have been refurbished and now available to book, ideal for families and groups.
The outdoor spa area features the hottest mineral pool of the three, plus curtained massage cabanas, couches, umbrellas, and a fire table. My favorite was the pair of swinging wicker egg-shaped chairs suspended from hooks.
The indoor spa zone has been re-imagined as well. When I came more than five years ago, the women’s mud baths featured several tubs in a single room that also included an open row of showers with hoses strewn throughout.
This place was definitely not for the shy. You would lay in your mud bathtub naked along with strangers who were also getting the service. After 20 minutes, the attendants would help lift you out and hose you down like patio furniture after the winter season. Next, you would take a shower in the same room and watch bits of mud fall off and out of the crevices of your body onto the cement ground.
Today the mud bath area is privatized with curtains. The entire space has been transformed into an elegant spa with small rooms for tub immersions, mud baths, massages, and more.
The new owners did an outstanding job capturing the mod-1970s with a pop-out palette of pumpkin orange and various shades of turquoise and pale pink and inside and out. Magnificent murals, orange wire chairs, turquoise side tables, bright orange water refill stations, clever sign posts, fire pits, and cabanas all come together to create an enticing pool environment where you will want to linger for hours.
Gaze at the antique water tower painted with fat raindrops. A wall of greenery around the poolside softens hard edges. Tunes from the late Jim Croce and early Elton John reminded me of my high school days.
Rooms are a designer’s dream with high-end products. Malin and Goetz bath gel and shampoo. Dry Bar hair dryers. The owners went chic even on the turquoise Galanz mini fridge. It made me think of the pastel appliances used in the kitchen for the Great British Bake-Off show. A cream colored SMEG electric water pot is also available to make your own Vietnamese coffee drink that is also provided.
Who knew ugly cinder blocks could be transformed by a coat of paint? In Room 215, hung on white cinder block walls are blonde wood shelves to display black and white photos of the old Doc Wilkinson mud baths. Light wood ceilings with white cross beams open up the rooms for airiness and sunshine.
Comfy room details include the built-in cushioned bench with a round wood writing table, a built-in USB charger on the bedside dresser, additional uplights for more illumination, and the ubiquitous, but generously-sized, flat screen TV.
Details are important. And I do appreciate the full length mirror because not every hotel has one. And perhaps it is a psychological thing, but you simply feel pampered to don the Doc Wilkinson pink bathrobe hung in the closet for guests.
The eco-touch is a nice one, and, more often than not, today’s guests will choose a hotel that is environmentally-savvy over one that is not. Guests get their own refillable pink water bottles upon arrival, and pumpkin orange spigots of purified water are strategically located. Electric car chargers on premises? Check. In-room recycle cans? Check.
The wellness theme is played up with panache. Rooms feature scent diffusers you can turn on or off. To calm your nerves and settle your tummy are packets of herbal tea flowers. We also found notepads with RX tattooed on each page, a mock prescription pad. If you book the Peloton unit, you can sweat out your toxins riding the in-room Peloton bike. In addition to a healthy restaurant that offers fermented mushroom teas, the hotel gifts each guest a bag of Dr.Wilkinson’s Home Remedy bath soak upon checkout.
While located in downtown Calistoga with great shops and restaurants, there is so much here to do you will want to hang out at the resort. The bottom line is this: if you are a family with small kids, a wellness fan, design junkie, spa maven, or simply a traveler seeking respite, flock to the doc.
Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs
1507 Lincoln Ave.
Rates start at $254