It's a big year for one of North Texas' most beloved events: The InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival is turning 40.
For the past four decades, thousands of spectators have been turning up to watch more than 40 hot-air balloons soar through the sky, while also enjoying live music and entertainment, kids' activities, tons of food and drink, and handmade products from local merchants.
If, like a lot of folks, you're journeying in from out of town for this three-day festival, held this year from September 20-22 at Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve, you might find it handy to have a primer on Plano. Here's everything you need to know before you go.
The festival launches its balloons five times over the weekend, weather permitting. The larger-than-life creations go up on Friday at 6 pm, Saturday at 7 am and 6 pm, and Sunday at 7 am and 6 pm. General admission tickets are $10, kids 3-12 years old are $5, and tots under 3 are free.
Prime parking (at four nearby locations) is $10, and off-site parking at the Plano Event Center is $5. If you don't want to stress about driving, it's a wise idea to carpool, ride-share, or take the DART. The Parker Road DART station will be running the free "Balloon Flyer" buses during the festival's operating hours, which are Friday 4-10 pm, Saturday 6 am-10 pm, and Sunday 6 am-7 pm.
Where to stay
There are several nearby hotels, some which might even be offering festival packages and specials. Head here to see all your options.
What to eat
There will be more than 40 food concessionaires and booths on-site offering uplifting menu items like fresh-squeezed lemonade, funnel cakes, turkey legs, kettle corn, burgers, smoothies, gelato, and more. Venture outside the park, and you can sample Plano's ever-growing culinary scene. From downtown to the Shops at Legacy, the Shops at Willow Bend to Legacy West, you'll find hundreds of tasty options for every palate.
For the kids
The Central Market Kids Fun Zone will have obstacle courses, huge slides, a pirate ship to scale, and the "berry-go-round" to ride, along with a crafts area, face painting, and the Plano Symphony Orchestra Instrument Area. There's even a toddler zone designed with the littles in mind. Rides vary in price from $2-$4, and all-day wristbands are available for $20.
For the runners
Lace up your sneakers for the 5k and 1k on Saturday, and the half-marathon and 10k on Sunday. Not only will all participants receive a snazzy finishers medal, but they also get two tickets to the festival itself, plus parking on race day. Head here to register.
How to ride
Fancy going up in the air yourself? Book a tethered balloon ride and hover 20-30 feet above the ground for several minutes. Approximately 10-12 people can go up at one time (depending on weight and at the pilot's discretion) and tickets are available onsite in cash only. Adults cost $25 per ride, kids 6-12 only $15. No one under the age of six is allowed to ride.
What else to do
Of course the balloons are the main attraction, but there's a lot on the docket besides watching Simba and Rocket the Flying Squirrel soar through the sky. The RE/MAX of Texas parachute team will land right in the middle of the launch field on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons, while a fireworks show is set for Saturday evening. Live music and local performances will take place on two entertainment stages.
Click here to plan your trip.