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Pulling up at Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, it’s immediately clear that this is not the typical posh Napa Valley spa. A teal blue 1952 Buick Special is parked at the curb and a vintage neon sign glows outside the mid-century modern-inspired property. Think motel vibes meets sunny modern fun. The retro touches harken back to the property’s origin as Calistoga’s first wellness resort, opened in 1952 by pioneering wellness practitioner John “Doc” Wilkinson and his wife, Edy. Doc was a chiropractor and believed that mud baths and mineral waters were natural extensions of his massage and chiropractic therapies.
This isn’t five-star luxury (we lug our own bags up the stairs to our rooms) but everyone here is so friendly and I’m impressed by how every detail embodies the spirit of wellness. The fruit-infused spa water at check in is a great first impression, and my friend and I each pick out an essential oil for the aromatherapy diffusers in our room. I select a calming lavender blend to help me drift to sleep.
Instead of a typical minibar there are organic whole flower teas by Portland-based The Qi and retro Galanz mini fridges to store extra slices of pie from the on-site House of Better restaurant for a midnight snack. Guilty as charged. I’m delighted by the apothecary cabinet in the bathroom, with all manner of bath and self-care amenities available for purchase. The curated selection could be straight out of Credo Beauty, including hair serum, a rose quartz eye massage tool, mushroom magic tincture, and aloe-orange face scrub. A few guest rooms are even stocked with Peloton bikes.
House of Better, the resort’s new Southwestern counter-service restaurant and bar, is worth seeking out even if you aren’t staying overnight. Chef Trevor Logan incorporates New Mexican green chiles throughout the menu, from green chile stew to power bowls and green chile apple pie with a savory cheddar crust. Start with a flight of dips, salsas, and guacamole rich in heart-healthy fats and plant-powered protein. Logan shares his recipe for fire roasted green chile dip with Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca beans with us here.
Even if you don’t care for chiles, there are several hearty-but-healthy vegan dishes like quinoa avocado squash bowls with Anasazi beans and sautéed kale, an herby maitake mushroom salad with edamame and pickled zucchini, and wood-fired flatbreads on weekends. The drink menu is equally appealing with herbal tonics and ferments, housemade agua frescas, mood-boosting adaptogenic cocktails, and medicinal teas. My favorite is the fire cider wellness tonic – an invigorating blend of apple cider vinegar, honey, turmeric, ginger and horseradish.
The best part of my stay? Soaking in the three geothermal mineral pools after dinner while catching up with a dear friend. The Balneology Association of North America (BANA), the leading authority of therapeutic bathing and medicinal springs, has even deemed these waters to have the ability to strengthen skin, balance stressed nervous systems, hydrate, and detoxify.
Soon the renovated private mud baths will be back in business too, so guests can soak in nourishing local Calistoga volcanic ash while indugling in a hand and scalp massage. Follow that with a mineral Epsom salt soak and steam, and you’re guaranteed to drift off to sleep in the weighted blanket they wrap you in at the end.
Note: Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs hosted the author for a one-night stay and dinner.