The Best Kids’ Birthday Party Places
Wish the birthday bash (and mess) wasn't at your house this year? Check out our round-up of best kids' birthday party places. You can trust these venues to throw an amazing party for a minimal cost.
At a bowling party, partygoers will pick up vibrantly colored lightweight balls and head to designated lanes. You let the location know whether you want bumpers and ramps to make the experience easier for younger kids. Most bowling alleys also have pizza and drinks—and you can add cake, balloons, favors, and a pin the kids can sign at an extra cost.
Recommended venue: Lucky Strike. "The quality of the food is terrific; it's not your typical bowling-alley fare," says Dawn Loritz, whose son, Matthew, celebrated his tenth birthday at the Fort Worth location.
What kid can resist a dip in a swimming pool? You can choose a venue with lifeguards on staff, who will lead activities like water games, rafting, and relay races with kickboards. Adults might be able to get in the water, too. No wonder a swimming pool is one of the best places to have a birthday party!
Recommended venue: Aqua-Tots Swim School. Staff members lead water games in the indoor pool, which is generally 4 feet deep. After swimming, it's off to the party room, which is decked out in one of ten-plus themes you choose from, including mermaids and monsters. The price includes cake, balloons, themed decorations, and drinks. Pizza is available at an extra charge.
Let kids expend their energy by jumping on inflatable toys. A specialized bounce house venue is one of the most fun birthday party places for kids. They’ll go crazy for giant inflatable slides, obstacle courses, basketball nets, and more.
Recommended venue: BounceU, where partygoers (and at least two staff) play for 45 minutes. For an older crowd, you might want to opt for a "cosmic" bounce: The kids get glow-in-the-dark accessories and bounce with the lights off. The drinks, decorations, and invitations are included; you can add pizza, favors, and more kids at an extra cost.
"It's great for parties where kids are of mixed ages," says Paulette Marcus, of Orange, Connecticut, who has held four of her 10-year-old daughter's parties there. "Even when we had 27 kids at one party, because she invited her whole class, it never felt crowded."
Gymboree Play & Music
Looking for a first birthday party place? Consider Gymboree Play & Music. First birthday parties are similar to baby classes at the gym—kids join in activities on the cushy mats, tiny slides, and crawl-through tunnels Some locations have a private party room for food after the gym session. When making your guest list, keep in mind that kids ages 6 and up aren't allowed on the equipment.
"The staff was happy to incorporate my son's favorite elements, like playing peekaboo with colorful scarves and shaking maracas, from the Gymboree classes he's been taking," says Jan Baer, of Mountain View, California, whose son, Jaxon, had his first birthday party there. "I also like being able to bring in any food I wanted. We had pizza and Chinese food for the adults. Gymboree provided water and juice."
Are your party guests too old for Gymboree, but you like the idea of an active, energetic celebration? Just look at your local gym, which might be surprisingly fun for a kids’ or toddler birthday party place! Many fitness clubs, recreation centers, and Ys offer high-energy activities such as swimming, basketball, and games.
Recommended Venue: The Little Gym. You decide whether you want the standard gym party or one of the exclusive themes, including Princess, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, Superhero, and Spongebob Squarepants. "We partner with Nickelodeon to create an exclusive storyline and music for the Dora and Diego parties," says CEO Ruk Adams. At the Dora bash, partygoers help Dora and her friend, the birthday kid, overcome obstacles to get to the top of Big Birthday Mountain. "Our parachute becomes Isa's Flower Garden and kids use their imagination to cross Turtle River on our balance beam," says Adams.
Rebecca Sabela, of Fairfax, Virginia, chose the traditional gym party for her daughter's fourth birthday but brought a cake and decorations with a Disney Princess theme. "I liked having the party outside of the house but still being able to customize it," says Sabela. "And my daughter and her friends went crazy over the gym's moon bounce."
Arts and Crafts Store
Recommended venue: Michaels craft store, which has more than 1,250 locations in 49 states. You can choose a “themed party package” and choose from 10 fun craft themes. Alternately, you can “design your own party package” by picking out a craft project from anything in the store. Because there are literally thousands of options, you can tailor the activities to your child's interests, whether it's horses, butterflies, or superheroes. You buy the materials, and Michaels has them ready in a private party room (along with a party leader) on the Big Day.
"The person helping me from Michaels suggested painting wooden frames," says Marina John, who booked a party for ten to celebrate her daughter's sixth birthday. "I bought the frames, which were just a few dollars each with coupons, and Michaels provided the paints and glitter to decorate them." (You may need to buy the decorations, depending on the craft you choose.)
Sure, it’s fun to dine out at restaurants. But some establishments host birthday parties that turn kids into chefs for the day!
Recommended venue: California Pizza Kitchen. Before the restaurant opens on weekends, partygoers gather at a large table to make their own pizzas with any toppings they want. "We give older children, usually ages 8 and up, a ball of dough and tell them how to form it into a crust," explains Julie Castro, manager of the Huntington Beach, California, location. "Younger kids get their dough rolled out and everyone adds sauce and toppings." While the pizza is in the brick oven, mini chefs tour the kitchen.
"We only had one lull, and my husband read a book during that time," says Stacey Natal, founder of the blog TotalCityGirl.com, who booked a party at the pizza place for her daughter Ruby's fifth birthday.
When seeking “birthday party places near me,” you’re bound to come across the local movie theater. Almost nothing is easier than buying a handful of tickets for your little party attendants. But did you know some cinemas offer private screenings for birthday parties?
Recommended venue: Cinemark Theatre. You select a first-run flick for the kids and work with the theater manager to find a time when your group can have a private screening. Kids receive a "snack pack" with popcorn, a small piece of candy, and a drink to enjoy during the film. Before or after the movie, you get an hour in the party room or auditorium space for cake you bring.
"Most of the kids at my daughter's party have some form of autism, and the host from the theater was wonderful with them," says Kelli Rimondi, of Springfield, Massachusetts. "She worked around their food allergies and sensitivities."
School of Rock
Take singing and dancing to the next level with a music-themed birthday party place!
Recommended venue: School of Rock. Kids spend the first hour in the music room with an instructor. Little ones learn rhythm games, play instruments, and perform a rock version of "Happy Birthday" into standing mics. Tweens head to the sound studio to write a song. "We take a backing track of, say, a Katy Perry tune and then have the kids work with an instructor to come up with lyrics that match the interests of the guest of honor," says John Carboy, manager of the Farmingdale, New York, location.
Sure, you can thrift a bunch of dress-up clothing (tutus, dresses, scarves, etc.) and throw a fashionable party at home. But some venues will do the work for you.
Recommended venue: Kidville. You choose from 16 themes—ballerina to trains, space to animal safari—most of which involve either making your own dress-up items (such as fairy wings) or putting on a costume like a pink tutu from the location's stash. All parties also include gym activity such as freeze dance or an obstacle course relating to the theme.
Shannon Sutherland, of New York City, had her 3-year-old daughter's superhero party at Kidville in March. "Amelia wore her Wonder Woman costume, but all the kids made capes," she says.
More Fun Kids’ Birthday Party Places
Apple Orchard. Go apple picking, and kids can harvest their own healthy goodie bag while they get fresh air and exercise. Some orchards offer bonus activities, like visits with farm animals.
Build-A-Bear Workshop. Birthday guests make a furry friend from scratch. Kids choose, stuff, and accessorize their bear and then take it home. Check out buildabear.com for locations.
Ceramics Studio. Paint your own pottery—mugs, bowls, plates—at a ceramics studio.
Fire Department: For a donation, many fire departments offer their space and time. Young party goers can talk with firefighters, try out equipment, and even hop aboard the truck. But beware, if the fire bell rings, the party is over!
Factory: From crayons to jelly beans to potato chips, your kids can find out how their favorite stuff is made on a tour of a local factory, with free samples and goodie bags waiting at the end.
Ice Cream Shop: Your local ice-cream shop provides the ice cream and toppings, and you provide the sugar monsters. Contact a parlor in your town, or log on to benandjerrys.com for Scoop Shop locations.
Ice Rink: Kids can heat up on the ice with skating, games, and music. Skate rental are often included in the per-child price, and rinks usually have an event room for gifts and birthday cake.
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Museum: Find a museum that offers special kids' exhibits and programs, and take the gang. Some museums have discounted rates for children, so this could be a cheap birthday party place for kids!
Nature Center: Host a party at a nature center or botanical garden. The fun includes nature walks, plantings, and other projects.
Martial Arts Studio: Little ones will get a kick out of a party at a martial arts studio. They can play games and learn real karate kicks appropriate to their age.
Zoo: Head to the zoo and check out the animals by touring with a staff member, or zoo-it-yourself and host your own group viewing.