Hot Air Ballooning in Sonoma County
Experience the stunning landscape throughout Sonoma County from the basket of a hot-air balloon.
Most balloons launch in the early morning hours, because that time of the day is almost always cool and tends to have light winds, factors that make it easy to launch and land. Later in the day, warmth can create vertical air currents called thermals.
It's up, up, and away for a bird's-eye view of the tapestry of rolling hills, mountain peaks, vineyards, and ocean views laid out below.
Most people are surprised by how quiet a hot air balloon is-except, of course, when the propane burners are fired up, filling the balloon with hot air. Way up high, floating above the world, you'll feel like a bird. And just like a bird you'll be able to spot the movement of wildlife below. Drift over vineyards, fields planted with crops, and streams and creeks. Sometimes you'll feel that you can reach out and touch the top of a nearby mountain (better not, though).
Already thinking about how to get here? Consider flying into STS - Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, where you can fly direct from Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Diego and more.
A Balloon Over Sonoma, Santa Rosa
A Balloon Over Sonoma was founded on Sept. 19, 1993-210 years from the date of the first-ever balloon flight in history by the Montgolfier Brothers in Annonay, France. Airline pilot and company founder Chuck Arreola, known to ballooners as Captain Chuck, has flown balloons for more than 17 years, with 1,300-plus hours of balloon flight time.
For your balloon adventure you'll meet Captain Chuck on Aviation Boulevard in Santa Rosa and be transported, along with the balloon equipment, to the launching point, which will depend on wind and weather.
The entire experience lasts from three to four hours, with 45 minutes to 1.5 hours of actual flight time. That's followed by a complimentary champagne brunch. Prices are $245 a person, $195 for kids 6-12, and a special Romance Flight goes for $665.
Details: 109 Wikiup Meadows Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-293-7760
Up & Away Ballooning, Windsor
Up & Away Ballooning offers rides for 2-16 guests, and has been sharing Sonoma's spectacular wine country views for more than 20 years. Pilots David Dunrud, Armand Oconnor, Daniel Clauden, and Russ James have all been hot air ballooning for decades, and Up & Away is Sonoma County's largest balloon operation.
You'll meet at Ace It Bike Tours in Windsor (arrive early for coffee and tea), then be taken to the launch site. Depending on the winds aloft, you will enjoy panoramic views that vary from serene countryside to beautiful vineyards, miles of stunning rugged ocean coast, the Russian River and on clear days, the San Francisco skyline. At lower elevations you'll cruise above the grapevines and be able to spot wildlife. The flight itself is 45 minutes to an hour. Once back to Windsor, you’ll celebrate the morning with a sparkling wine and mimosa toast with your pilot.
Wine Country Balloons, Santa Rosa
Wine Country Balloons uses the skills of three highly-experienced balloon pilots. Chief Pilot Scott van der Horst has flown balloons since 1972 and flies most of the company's adventures.
He has more than 5,000 hours of balloon flight behind him, and is also a hot air balloon instructor. John Wright has been a single and multi-engine pilot since 1961, and became the county's very first hot air balloon pilot. The third pilot is the ubiquitous Chuck Arreola (owner of A Balloon Over Sonoma).
You'll meet your pilot on Aviation Boulevard in Santa Rosa and be transported to the Sonoma County launch site, which could be in Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, or Sonoma Valley.
Prices are $235/person ($10 discount for seniors and children less than 12). For private flights - available in two- to 16-passenger size balloons - a $400 surcharge is levied in addition to the per-passenger rates. Amenities such as a DVD of your flight or a wedding service by a pilot-minister are available for additional fees.
Details: 397 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-538-7359
Looking for more fun things to do during your trip to Sonoma County? Take a look at the many outdoor activities to enjoy in the valleys, vineyards, coastline and Russian River areas of Sonoma County.