Soaring above California Clouds in a Hot Air Balloon

As someone scared of heights, I’ve definitely thought about riding hot air balloons, but never thought I would actually do it. How sturdy is that basket? How high does one go up? Is the wind really the one in charge? I’ll answer those questions and more throughout this post. For my 30th birthday, I faced my fear of heights and experienced a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t conquer my fear, but because I was willing to put myself outside of comfort zone, I was able to experience a magical ride above the clouds.

Why a Hot Air Balloon Ride

Larissa in a hot air balloon with the mountains and sky in the background. She is smiling at the camera with her tongue sticking out a little bit, holding up a peace sign.

First things first. Why did I even want to go on a hot air balloon ride? Well, I was planning for my 30th birthday. Due to it being the milestone of leaving my 20s, I wanted to enter this new decade with a bang. I was going to celebrate in my favorite city in the world, Paris. As I’m sure you guessed, that did not come to fruition.

Long story short, I ended up going to Sonoma, California because I originally wanted to go last year for my birthday. My cousin and two friends joined me for the trip. In searching for unique things to do while visiting, a hot air balloon ride came up and I entertained the idea.

Booking with Sonoma Ballooning

Larissa standing in the basket of a hot air balloon, smiling with her mouth open. People are in the background of the asset and the colorful hot air balloon with a flame burning can be seen above Larissa's head.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure what made me ultimately decide to go with Sonoma Ballooning. I had a great time though and I’m happy with my decision. Upon researching their site, I noticed there were various packages available. I wanted to do the Soar + Savor package because it included a wine tasting after the flight. I ended up having to call to see if people in the party could join the tasting part, even if they were planning to drink, which they were happy to accommodate.

I talked with Mary Anne and she was super helpful with coordinating our party as we booked separately. She answered all my questions and explained the process to me.

Before the Hot Air Balloon Ride

The colorful hot air balloon on the ground as the balloon heats up. A medium fog covers everything.

Two days prior to our flight, we all received a call letting us know the winds were projected to be too strong on the Tuesday of our flight. They offered us rescheduling options. The winds looked best that upcoming weekend; however, we were in town until Wednesday. Monday was the only day that worked for us and we verbally rescheduled with Sonoma Ballooning.

The Day of the Hot Air Balloon Ride

We woke up really early and drove to Sonoma Park. We parked the car and headed into the building to check in. They had light refreshments, including hot coffee and tea. We reviewed the safety procedures and then headed out to the runway to experience a hot air balloon ride!

hot air balloon take-off

A clear blue sky with the sun in the distance and clouds covering the ground as far as the eye can see.

Nine people climbed into the basket prior to push-off; four on each side and the balloon operator in the back. There is a division in the middle so the basket stays balanced the for the entirety of the ride. We were pushed down the runway by the staff and before we knew it, the wind picked us up and we rose above the clouds.

hot air balloon views

A clear blue sky with clouds covering most of the green land below and mountains peeking from the clouds.

The views were like no other I had seen; truly a magical experience. There are no words to accurately describe it. Watching the sunrise while the clouds hovered over the greenery below was breathtaking. The flame from the balloon was loud but kept us warm on that brisk February morning. Highly recommend wearing layers

Expecting to hit turbulence like planes do when they hit clouds, I started to get nervous as the balloon continued to rise. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and I felt safe and stable the whole time. The ride was smooth from beginning to end.

hot air balloon landing

Larissa and her friends sitting the back of a truck smiling at the camera.

Fun Fact: The balloon operator doesn’t have complete control on landing, which was surprising to me. We initially planned to land in a field, but we missed it. We attempted to make another landing soon after and again, that didn’t work out. Finally, on the third attempt, we made landfall. We landed on some shrubs and waited for the ground team to find and rescue us. They were in constant communication with the balloon operator

Once they found us, they dragged the basket, with us in it, to more stable ground. We then all got out of the basket and walked down the train tracks to reach the truck which brought us back to the original take off spot.

We went back upstairs into the building for a champagne toast. Here’s a recap of the entire experience if you’d like to watch.

Cheers to a Magical Experience

Although I’m scared of heights, I would do it again and I hope to ride one in the more iconic locations like New Mexico and Turkey. Have you ever ridden a hot air balloon? Would you consider riding one? Let me know in the comments!

As always, thank you for reading and supporting Life with Larissa.

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