Every time I drive from the Inland Empire to my in laws in Orange County, I promise my kids that one day we will go up in the giant orange balloon we pass off the 5 freeway in Irvine. Today was the day we finally did it!
This giant orange balloon is located at the Orange County Great Park off of Marine Ave. (Exit the 5 or 405 onto Sand Canyon Ave. to Marine and you'll run right into it.) This Great Park IS truly great. Built upon the old El Toro Marine Base, this park is a fun filled day trip with art galleries, community gardens, free carousel and fun little rock climbing park. We went on a Sunday, so we were able to explore the weekly Sunday Farmer's Market that runs rain or shine from 10 to 2. The children sampled everything from juicy oranges to fresh baked bread. A row of food trucks have amazing smelling food including wood fired pizza to shrimp plates. We were tempted to grab a plate and listen to a girl and her guitar performing for the crowd. But instead we grabbed some hummus and a bagette to take with us later to the beach.
But back to the balloon... When you first arrive, make a bee line to the visitor's center to sign a waiver to ride the balloon and receive your beeper to wait for your tickets. Yes, this is a popular attraction. But it's free so it's worth the wait. It took about an hour for our beeper to buzz, but in the meantime we rode the carousel numerous times and played with the camera obscura. We got our tickets (anyone can ride) and went over to the helium (not hot air) balloon. The balloon goes up 400 feet and takes about 10 minutes. We had 2 7 year olds, a 4 year old and a 3 year old and none of them were scared while (tethered) but up in the air. The view was beautiful and I was so glad to finally experience it. It was a slow and steady ascend and descend (nothing jarring). I have been told by different people that they were unable to ride it when they went because of arriving too late with no more tickets and due to the wind. We arrived at the visitor center at 10 and had an hour wait and by 11, the wait was two hours. The balloon is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 3 pm and 7pm to 10 pm and Saturday and Sunday 9am to 3pm and 7pm to 10pm.
This park definitely has something for all ages (we didn't even make it to the Farm and Food Lab!) and made for a chill, fun day in OC. There are plenty of bathrooms (clean), a water station near the carousel and friendly greeters in each studio gallery willing to answer questions.
We are definitely going back only this time we will try the antiques market on the first Sunday of each month.
I give the Great Park 5 stars because it's completely FREE!!! Free parking, free balloon ride and free carousel? The park is still in the growing stages, but what a concept! Check in at the information booth to get your pager for riding the balloon. We only waited 45 minutes on a Friday. While we waited, we rode the carousel and played at the park. The balloon only operates Thurs.-Sun. Check the website for times. Our boys showed no fear on the balloon ride, but my husband and I couldn't look down! Our balloon operator also mentioned to us that the park hosts a large carnival type event in July and a Harvest festival in October. We are looking forward to those.
The Orange air ballon is really cool and its free which makes it amazing! This is really nice to do if your visiting Orange County because you can see the a good portion of the city. The best time to go is a night because everything is lit up. Christmas time is absolutely beautiful!
A free tethered balloon ride- need I say more? The views of Orange County are amazing, the balloon is completely safe for all ages, and the experience is exhilarating. After the balloon ride, be sure to check out the new rock climbing area for kids and water play fun. The OC Great park is in its infant stages but its destined for greatness.
If you are ever in Orange County, you will most likely see this huge orange sphere high in the skies over the city of Irvine. Don't just enjoy this odd shape, go to it and take a ride. It's free, it's safe, it's fun.
I was quite happy to learn that the cage where the passengers are assembled for the flight in the balloon is a sturdy steel structure with enclosed sides and mesh netting above the rail. I was so glad to realize my kids were going to be very safe. After that, I enjoyed the softly moving ascent into the skies of Orange County and was amazed to see for miles. The large acreage of the former El Toro Marine Base was below us and we could see the Great Park taking shape.
We can't wait to come back for a night flight.