Town Profile: Middletown

April 14, 2022

Middletown got its name because it’s located halfway between Calistoga and Lower Lake. For years it served as a stop for those traveling over the windy stagecoach road over Mount St. Helena. If you were lucky then, you’d arrive in Middletown dusty and battered with all your luggage. If you were unlucky, you got held up at gunpoint by the notorious Buck English, a good-for-nothing who delighted in robbing stagecoaches just as they entered the valley, then running off to his hideout in the rugged Mayacamas Mountains surrounding town.

While it’s safe to drive into town now without fear of armed robbery, you can still get to know the town’s history. The Gibson Museum and Cultural Center resides just a couple of blocks down the street from where Buck got in a gunfight with F. Prebble. (Buck, ever the coward, hid behind a tree.) You’ll spot the Gibson easily because of the unique fence surrounding it, created from old farm implements. Step inside, and you’ll get a personalized tour filled with stories.

But Middletown has more than just stories. It’s got plenty to do. First, swing by Koontz Mercantile to pick up unique items you won’t find anywhere else. They carry original welded artwork created by owner Reuben Koontz, backpacking gear, artisanal foods, and many other hard-to-find items. Then, for more gifts, make sure you stop at the Bunk House Gift Shop and Middletown Florist and Gifts, where you can pick up a handcrafted bouquet of flowers and some fantastic bacon jam all in the same place. Finally, if you’re looking for something for kids, you have to stop by Funtopia Toys and Games. There you’ll find both classic and sustainably made toys, all chosen to inspire creativity and encourage active, fun playtimes.

For a dose of art, you have to stop by The MAC. It rests on the corner of Highway 175 and Highway 29 and serves as an art gallery and community hub. The MAC has regularly rotating exhibits featuring some of the best artists in Northern California and holds regular art, writing, and craft classes. And, on the first Friday of the month, it also hosts a Makers’ Fair and live music.

Just a block away you’ll find Shed Horn Cellars, one of four different wineries located in the  Middletown area. Stop for a taste, then head down the road to Beaver Creek Vineyards, where you can enjoy some of winemaker Martin Pohl’s unique, biodynamic wines. Directly across the highway is Twin Pine Casino, where you can do some wine tasting at their Off the Vine area in their gift shop. And, if you’re willing to make a short drive, visit Langtry Farms Vineyard and Winery, once home to the famed Victorian socialite Lillie Langtree, considered at the time the most beautiful woman in the world.

By now, you’re probably hungry, and there’s no lack of food in Middletown. Grab a bite to eat at Buddha Thai Kitchen, one of the best Thai restaurants in the area. They only cook from scratch, using their own recipes. People come from all over to enjoy their food. If you prefer Mexican, give La Parilla a try. And for more traditional American fare, you can’t go wrong at The Cowpoke Café, which serves classic diner breakfasts and lunches. For something more casual, stop at Mom and Dad’s Jolly Kone, where you can pick up a burger and some soft serve, then kick back at a picnic table enjoying the cool Lake County evenings.