Most people travel to Napa for the wine, of course, but the region has much more to offer, including elegant cuisine, luxurious accommodations and beautiful scenery. Before you plan a visit, grab these essentials to make the most of the suggestions in our local guide.
We asked Paola Singer, author of our guide to Napa Valley, to name a few items she was glad to have on her last visit — or wished she had packed. Then we turned to Ria Misra, an editor at Wirecutter, for the best products to fill those needs as well as her expert suggestions. Here are their picks.
A bag for markets and vineyards
“This sounds counterintuitive,” said Ms. Singer, “but I wish I’d had a couple of tasty snacks with me as I hopped from winery to winery. Many of them are not allowed to offer food, so unless you have everything meticulously planned, you might get hungry — and a little tipsy — at one point or another.”
With this in mind, Ms. Misra suggests stopping first at the Oxbow Public Market, which has great to-go options, baked goods, chocolate and local produce. Carry your supplies in a Baggu Duck Bag — its adjustable strap lets you sling it over your shoulder as you tour and make the strap longer or shorter depending on how much you have to carry.
“I wish I’d packed a few of those cushioned wine-bottle protectors for the wines I brought back home,” Ms. Singer added, “which ended up being wrapped in T-shirts and sweaters — not ideal.”
Although Wirecutter hasn’t yet done a guide to wine-bottle shipping sleeves, Ms. Misra noted that many of their testers have used WineSkins in checked luggage to protect bottles of wine successfully. And remember, do not put wine in your carry-on. Even sealed bottles are subject to TSA rules — nothing larger than three ounces allowed.
Truly pocket-size binoculars
Grapes aren’t the only thing that grows well in Napa soil: wildflowers also spring up and offer dazzling seasonal displays. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the bloom, a pair of compact binoculars will give you a much bigger, and sharper, view of the flowers, as well as the valley’s birds and butterflies.
The Pentax AD 8×25 WP binoculars are small and light enough that you can carry them in a pocket, but they have a wider field of view than many binoculars their size. Plus, the ornithologist that tested them for Wirecutter said that colors seen through them were bright and shapes were clear.
A light down coat
“Yes, days can be warm and sunny,” Ms. Singer said, “but nights are quite cool — part of the reason this is a prime winegrowing area.” Given Napa’s dry summers, you’ll have no need for water-resistant outer layers, so Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down Jacket should be more than sufficient, and it packs down to the size of an orange.
A mud cleanup kit
After a soak in Calistoga’s mud pools, you’ll need to tidy up. Pack a few travel-size bottles of your own favorite toiletries, just for comfort’s sake. Ms. Misra suggests Nalgene’s Travel Bottle Kit, which is dishwasher-safe, reusable and comes in a variety of sizes. Toss those into the Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry Bag, which has a hook attached. Finally, slip a resealable pack of body wipes, like the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes, into your bag, too, in case any stray splotches of mud linger.