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Sonoma County’s Festival of Hot Air Balloons

Ballon Art

The annual Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic is floating into Windsor’s 27-acre Keiser Park every year in June. Check here for this year's dates.

Both days get going early — really early! At 5 a.m., when the pre-dawn morning is clinging to its last bit of darkness, a few brightly-lit balloons will rise majestically into the air. Within moments, almost as if the balloons made it happen, the first hints of sunlight will begin to color the landscape.

Even if you’re not an early-riser, this stunning event, known as the “Dawn Patrol,” is a must. And think about this: To set aloft at 5 a.m., the balloon pilots had to leave their beds in the wee hours and travel to the field to fill their balloons.  

But if you miss that spectacular sight at dawn, don’t despair: about 30 balloons will participate in the big main launch, scheduled for much later … well, at 6:30 a.m. on both days.

And while the colorful balloons drift hither and yon above, spectators below will be enjoying live music, chomping on tasty breakfast food, snatching up event souvenirs, checking out the work of local craftspeople, and keeping an eye on their offspring at the Kids PlayLand.

They’ll also be able to take a short ride in a tethered balloon, which is tied with two or three lines to heavy objects on the ground (such as a truck). When the balloon launches, it rises about 50 feet, floats for a while, and then lands — giving passengers much of the experience of an un-tethered flight. The big difference, of course, is the view, since un-tethered balloons rise to around 1,000 feet.

Most pilots are coming from various locations in Sonoma County and other parts of California, but a few hail from Oregon and Nevada, and one intrepid guy is hauling his balloon, Spunky, all the way from Georgia.

Among this year’s special balloon shapes are a cartoonish monster called the Purple People Eater, a whimsical black-and-white Party Panda , and a very cute, fishy-looking Sushi. You can see the 2013 balloons here.

Sonoma County pilots hail from Santa Rosa (Jim Abell, Jimmy Long), Cloverdale (John Barnes), Forestville (Daniel Claudon), Windsor (David Dunrud, Mike Kijak) and Sebastopol (John Wright).

Events wind down at 11 a.m., and you’ll still have most of the day ahead of you.

What you need to know:

  • Location: Keiser Park, 700 Windsor River Road, Windsor 95492. Check out the map.
  • Hours (both days): Dawn Patrol begins at 5 a.m.; balloon launch is at 6:30 a.m. Event ends at 11 a.m.
  • Tickets: Advance tickets are $6 (Adult)/$5 (Child 6-12); at the door, $10/$5. Kids under 6 enter free. Presale tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. All funds raised will be used to benefit the Windsor Education Foundation and the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
  • And the family dog? Your dog is welcome as long as it’s on a leash at all times; however, the pooch isn’t allowed on the launch field or near the balloons.
  • Camping: Available at Keiser Park. Details on this page.

Find more info on things to do in Sonoma County.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez

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