Setting up a balloon at the Hot Air Balloon Classic in Windsor
The action starts early each morning during the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic.

Sonoma County's Festival of Hot Air Balloons

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The annual Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic that floats into Sonoma County each summer now has a new home — the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

Hot air balloons soar overhead at the Hot Air Balloon Classic, Windsor
Hot Air Balloon Classic

The 2020 event will be held Saturday, August 29, and Sunday, August 30. Both days get going early - really early! The gates open at 4 a.m., and 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 'Sonoma County Strong Glow 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, you can enjoy live music, chomping on tasty breakfast food, snatching up event souvenirs, checking out the work of local craftspeople, and watching the children have fun in the Kids PlayLand.

A balloon shaped like the head of a panda bear delights the crowd at the Hot Air Balloon Classic, Windsor
Hot Air Balloon Classic

You can also 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.

Events wind down at 10:30 a.m., and you'll still have most of the day ahead of you.

What you need to know:

  • Location: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa
  • Hours (both days): Gates open at 4 a.m.; the Sonoma County Strong Glow Show begins at 5 a.m.; tethered balloon rides are offered from 5:30-10:30 a.m., depending on wind conditions; and the main balloon launch is at 6:30 a.m. Event ends at 10:30 a.m. 

For ideas about what to do with the rest of your day, read Hot Air Ballooning in Sonoma County, 5 Fun Things to do in Santa Rosa, and Top Wineries in Santa Rosa, and check our listings of things to do in Sonoma County.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez