When is a balloon festival not (just) a balloon festival?
That’s a tough question, especially when a huge yearly event is billed as such (I mean, it's called the Festival of Ballooning, after all) and there certainly are plenty of hot-air balloons to be displayed. Still, the Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning—in its 30th year, running from July 27 through 29 at Solberg Airport in Readington—is also part amusement park, with a healthy number of rides, an arts-and-crafts emporium, a yoga and Zumba demonstration, and lots and lots of food.
Of the 30 years, Quick Chek has been a major sponsor for 20. And for the first time, Patch is partnering with the festival to get you in at a great price.
Between May 13 and 20, use this link to buy tickets with the promotional code PATCH12, and you'll get adult tickets for just $15 (they're normally $30 at the gate). We suggest using the print-at-home option—it's easiest for most people. If you choose to have the tickets mailed to you, make sure you're buying general admission tickets for the code to work.
While you're there, find the Patch folks at the event. If you sign up for a newsletter, we'll get you a free tethered balloon ride.
If that's not enough, there will also be a fireworks display and five different concerts to enjoy: On Friday night, July 27, Eddie Money brings his hits from the '70s and '80s to the festival. Saturday’s daytime concert is aimed at teens, while Saturday night welcomes Motown legend Smokey Robinson to the stage. Sunday’s teen concert stars R5 featuring Ross Lynch from the Disney Channel show Austin and Ally. Sunday’s final concert at 3:00 p.m. brings Poison's Bret Michaels to Readington.
"Twice a day, mass ascensions of more than 100 balloons from around the world and headlining concerts each day. ... Think 'state fair' with balloons," Russ Mensch, a spokesman for the festival, said. "[We'll have] non-stop, affordable family entertainment, children's amusement rides, fireworks, a nighttime 'balloon glow,' the Running with the Balloons 5K race, the Quick Chek hospitality tent, hundreds of arts & crafts and food vendors, and lots, lots more."
This is an experience that is unique not only to New Jersey but, the country; the Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning is considered the largest summertime balloon festival in North America, which is why it's the star of this installment of Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town, but in reach, and worth the trip.
DAY TRIPPER DIGEST
Why it’s Worth the Trip: More than 100 colorful hot-air balloons from around the world are expected when the event kicks off. Plus it is a carnival, fair, concert arena, and a lot more all in one spot.
How to Get There From Here: See the driving directions on the festival's site.
You’ll Probably Get Hungry: An event like this requires a lot of room to maneuver, and Solberg Airport has that. However, that means there are many immediate alternate attractions nearby, and you will need to do a little driving to get to those places. If you choose to eat somewhere other than at the Festival, drive into neighboring Branchburg for Italian food from La Casa Bianca or Bensi, Japanese cuisine from Domo 7 or Masa Sushi, classy sit-down fare from Stoney Brook Grille, or quick Mexican from Moe’s Southwest Grill
While You’re in the Area: Once you’ve arrived at the Festival of Ballooning you might want to stay all day. If that's not the case, we suggest some of the many parks found in Somerset County: Hillcrest, White Oak, Duke Island, and North Branch are all within driving distance if you need a quieter atmosphere. You can visit , see historic buildings like the Old Dutch Parsonage, or visit the Children’s Museum of Somerset County.
The hard physics of ballooning dictate that it is safest to launch hot air balloons when the surface winds are less than 6 to 8 mph. Ascensions are at the two times during the day when winds are calmest—one hour after sunrise, and one hour prior to sunset.
But there's plenty going on for the rest of the day.
“The festival has grown over the past 20 years with new elements constantly added to appeal to those who come year after year, or for those who haven't been here in a few years [or have never been here before]," Mensch said. "[We host] new balloons each year as well as festival favorites. The live concert was added in 1994, and The Beach Boys were the first major headliners in 2000."
According to festival organizers, the best time to come is early in the morning to watch the 6:30 a.m. ascension, or in the mid-afternoon to watch the 6:30 p.m. ascension. Traffic tends to build up around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, so to avoid traffic, plan to arrive a bit earlier. Remember that New Jersey’s main driving arteries tend to be extremely busy in the summertime as-is, so that should be factored into any driving plans.
For Mensch, this year's festival means "more entertainment, more attractions, and more food. The festival has grown from 40 balloons and 40,000 people to over 100 balloons and 150,000 to 175,000 people are expected.”
The Festival of Ballooning starts Friday, July 27 (1 p.m. to 10 p.m.), and contoniues Saturday, July 28 (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and Sunday, July 29 (6 a.m. to 8 p.m.).
This post is shared among Patch sites serving communities in northern New Jersey. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.