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Sonoma County’s Festival of Hot Air Balloons

The action starts early each morning during the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic in Windsor.

The annual Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic floats 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.

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: Keiser Park, 700 Windsor River Road, Windsor 95492. Check out the map.
  • Parking: $5, cash only, at Keiser Park and Windsor High School.
  • Hours (both days): Gates open at 4 a.m.; Dawn Patrol begins at 5 a.m.; balloon launch is at 6:30 a.m. Event ends at 10:30 a.m.
  • Tickets: Advance tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-12; kids under 3 are free. Order online. All funds raised will be used to benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
  • Tethered Balloon Rides: $20 for adults and $10 for children 10 or younger (the minimum age allowed is up to each pilot); tethered rides can only be purchased during the event. 

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 Windsor, and Asian Restaurants in Windsor, and check our listings of things to do in Sonoma County.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez

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