"New Year, new perspective,” I told Patrick. “You’ve never seen your city from above, except through some scratched-up plastic window in coach. What about a hot-air balloon? No windows, scratched or otherwise. Just a balloon, a basket, your baby, and the Big Blue.”
“We offer a daily Del Mar sunset coastal flight,” said Renee Lawson, who owns Sky’s the Limit Ballooning Adventures.
3251 Camino de los Coches, Carlsbad
“This time of year, when it gets dark early, we’ll meet around 2 p.m. at our office in Carlsbad. Our pilot will choose a launch site based on the winds that day. Sometimes, we’ll launch test balloons. About 80 percent of the time, we use an open field in the Encinitas area. We’ll do a safety briefing and get the balloon ready for launch. Depending on the wind, we’ll fly over Del Mar, Fairbanks Ranch, or Rancho Santa Fe; the flight is usually 45 to 60 minutes. After the landing, usually in Carmel Valley or Rancho Santa Fe, there’s a post-flight celebration with Champagne and nonalcoholic beverages. Then it’s back to our office — usually about three and half to four hours, total.”
Lawson doesn’t usually like heights; but the balloon doesn’t bother her. “I feel secure in the basket, looking out at everything. It’s not like looking down from the top of a building.” She added that, “we’ve been in business for 22 years, and we have a 100 percent safety record.”
Balloon size varies with the number of passengers. Non-private flights may carry as many as 16. “You just pay for the space in the basket ($165 per person). Private flights start at $1250 for two to five passengers and go up from there.”
“There’s also helicopters,” I said.
3753 John J. Montgomery Drive, Suite 2, Serra Mesa
“The cool thing about helicopters is they can land in such delightful places.” Mandy Patterson, vice president of operations at Corporate Helicopters (858-505-5650), was happy to let me know that “we have the exclusive rights to land at Stone Brewery in Escondido. We’ll fly people from Montgomery Field to the brewery, and we’ll provide them with an empty growler to fill with the beer of their choice after they tour and taste [$875 for two people]. And they can have lunch at the bistro there.” For those who prefer wine, they offer a similar run to Temecula ($1175 for two people). “Then we give them a nice coastal tour on the way back.”
Standard tours range between 30 and 60 minutes. The half-hour Diego Delight “flies you over the Torrey Pines Golf Course, Black’s Beach, Scripps Pier, La Jolla Shores, Crystal Pier, Belmont Park, SeaWorld, the downtown skyline, and the Coronado Bridge,” before heading over Balboa Park and Mission Valley. And the full hour “pretty much takes you everywhere in San Diego,” from the ocean to the mountains.
Prices depend on the number of passengers: some helicopters seat up to three passengers, and some seat up to five. “The Diego Delight for two or three people is $324. For five, it’s $749.” Reservations can be made online, and if you’re thinking about Valentine’s Day, think fast. “It’s our biggest day of the year. We do a special 18-minute coastal tour; $199 per couple.”
“Of course, if you want a dramatic shift in perspective,” I said, “you could always try blowing me out of the sky.” Patrick looked up.
3717 John J. Montgomery Drive, Serra Mesa
“All our pilots are military or former military by this stage, and we’ve been doing ‘air combat’ for about six months now,” said James Kapenas, general manager at San Diego Sky Tours (619-757-6419) out of Montgomery Field. “You have to have special authorization from the FAA. We’ll start in the hangar and do a brief on World War I–style dogfights. Then you’ll take off in tandem and fly in formation. You’ll do a little tour and then break off and chase each other around. You’re trying to get a better position than the other person for a ‘kill shot.’ Everybody loves it [$499 for two people].”