If you want to conjure up an iconic image of Sonoma County, a good example is the vision of hot air balloons rising above the vineyards.
Balloon rides are a popular tourist attraction, but the annual Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic has been the county’s leading balloon event since it began in 1990.
The event, which has drawn as many as 18,000 spectators in recent years, was due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but it will return in June.
And it’s moving from its traditional location in Keizer Park in Windsor to Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Petaluma. The move was prompted by the need for more space and easier access, the organizers explained.
“Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, with proximity to two freeways, is not only easily accessible with plenty of parking; the central location will allow the balloons to be visible to many living in the city and outside,” they said in a statement.
The popular annual celebration began as a local Rotary Club project, which later led to the creation of a separate nonprofit organization, said Ted Richie, chairman and chairman of the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic for nearly a decade and a half.
“Originally, it started as a get-together for local balloon pilots,” Richie said. “They would fly together and people would come to see.”
In the past, the balloon event has been a voluntary effort, but this year the organizers have hired Janet Ciel, producer of Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival since 1993 and manager of Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, to produce the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic.
Ceil also produced the Wine Country Winter Festival in 2016 at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa and Petaluma’s Fourth of July events in 2015 and 2016.
“The ultimate goal of this festival is to educate and build excitement around hot air ballooning, and I’m ready for that,” Ciel said. “I was lucky many years ago to go up in one of the balloons during this event and I will never forget it.
“Of course I hope not only to build spectators, but to make this a lively event for everyone in the family. In addition to all the balloon-related events, there will be a lot of good food, some cool balloon-related treats for shopping fun, live music and family entertainment as well as children’s activities.” she added.
The doors open at 4 a.m. on June 4 and 5, followed by the popular Dawn Patrol, with illuminated balloons, at 4 p.m. 05.30 while the sky is dark. The main launch, with about 30 balloons from around the world, arrives around noon. 6. Bring a jacket. It can be chilly so early in the morning.
Tethered-ride tickets will also be on sale so visitors can experience a hot air balloon ride without going too far up and away.
Festival times may vary depending on weather conditions, but the event usually ends around noon. 10. The event offers food, coffee, beer and mimosas.
Participants will have the opportunity to talk to balloon pilots and see on their own what it takes to inflate and launch the balloons. The public is also invited to volunteer to help the crew with the balloons after a short training session.
Ticket sales will be announced later this month or in early February. For information, check out SCHABC.org or the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic page on Facebook.
You can contact staff writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.