The Spa That Time Forgot: Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs

by Cristina Mueller (S.F.) & Heather Summerville (Brooklyn)

Blast from the past: Palm trees and ’50s fonts greet you at the entrance of Dr. Wilkinson’s resort.

Way back when, we were roommates, fresh out of college, living in a closet-size apartment in New York. (Let’s just say you get to be pretty close friends after three years of splitting 500 square feet between you.) Now that the majority of the continental U.S. separates us, we’ve instituted a “friendcation” clause in our relationship, which dictates a mandatory trip together at least once a year. So this past weekend, the two of us met in Napa Valley, California to visit the charmingly retro Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs in the tiny town of Calistoga. The motel and spa—opened in 1952 by this venerable doctor—is renowned for its mineral-rich, skin- and health-restoring mud baths. So we figured, when in Calistoga…

do as the Calistogans do. The treatment, as you can see, was very lo-fi: You slide yourself into a giant tub of what appears to be slightly wet mulch (which smells earthy, to put it nicely) and the aesthetician proceeds to bury you up to your neck. (Claustrophobics and quicksand paranoiacs, beware.) Then she applies a quick clay mask and places chilled cucumber slices over your eyes (wise move: I don’t think it does much to look at the mud while you’re in it), and 10 minutes later, she returns to dig you out and dunk you in your own personal mineral water bath.

With the treatment, you get access to all the facilities: steam room, two pools and—maybe our favorite part of the experience—a Paul Bunyan-size hot tub (above), which will fit you and 37 of your closest friends.

Afterward, we took our newly mineralized selves to the neighboring town of St. Helena, where we proceeded to drink a bit more Hogwash than we intended and ate french fries and aioli under a fruit-laden fig tree. Life’s not half bad.

The doctor is in: mud baths, steam baths, mineral baths and more.