Before I had kids, I swore I wouldn’t be that mom who obsessed about birthday parties and went over the top for the perfect celebration. I vowed to keep them low-key and in control with just a few friends and limited presents. Then, I had kids. And like many pre-child ideas I had about the kind of parent I would be, that one went straight out the window. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crazy excessive about parties, but I do put a lot of thought into them, trying to come up with the right venue, at least a loose theme, fun activities, and a nod to the party guests’ parents (hello, beer and wine!). And I’m well aware that some eyes are rolling now (ooh, she’s that mom), but I can deal.
As we’ve surged into spring, birthday parties have been on my mind. (Is it just me, or is spring, like, birthday party season? Something good must be happening nine months prior to this time of year.) And I like to see what other parents do for their kids’ celebrations to get much-needed ideas for my own. Birthday parties are a challenge for me for a few reasons: 1) I have two January babes, which means parties have to be indoors 2) We live in a typical DC rowhouse that doesn’t host 15 toddlers, plus siblings, plus parents very well (and we know this from fun-but-utterly-chaotic experience). 3) Parties out of the house sometimes have rules and limitations that aren’t so easy to heed (what, no beer at the zoo?!).
All that said, I’m always on the lookout for good party places and ideas, and surely I’m not alone in that endeavor. So, I’ve compiled a list of places and ideas, both indoor and outdoor, to help with the party planning. Some come from experience, some are recommendations from friends, others I’ve just read about. And I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments section.
Tumbling – If your kids are toddler age or older, you’ve likely been to a birthday party at Gymboree, Jonah’s Treehouse, JW Tumbles, or a similar place. The great thing about these parties is that the work is done for you—party supplies are included, fun activities are planned and led by staff, and there’s no cleanup afterwards. A party at Jonah’s Treehouse in Glover Park costs $395 for a 90-minute package, which includes just about everthing but the cake. JW Tumbles, which has locations in Virginia, costs $320 for the same amount of time. Gymboree costs $375.
FONZ –The National Zoo hosts parties for childen ages 4-8 in one of three indoor decorated party rooms. For $325 for up to 10 children (plus $20 for each additional child) two hours of party time includes a walking tour of selected zoo exhibits, zoo-themed goody bags, party supplies, and snacks (you supply the cake). They also offer goodies like bagel platters for adults and Geogetown Cupcake delivery at extra cost. Parties are at 10am on Saturdays and Sundays. I hear they book up early, so be sure to reserve the date well in advance.
H Street Country Club – We went to a party here this past winter and loved it. This H Street Corrider establishment is popular among bar hoppers at night, but early in the day on weekends it’s all about kids. After a good while of fun on a fantastic DC-themed minigolf course, kids feast on quesadillas, chicken tenders, and birthday cake while parents can mingle at the bar. The party continues with a piñata and more minigolf before wrapping up. Visit their website for details.
Lucky Strike Lanes – Who doesn’t love a bowling party? Lucky Strike Lanes offers packages that are recommended for kids ages 3-4 and up. You get your own party space, plus your own bowling lanes (which you can decorate). Costs depend on the size of the party and what you include, so give them a call for specifics.
Capitol Skyline Pool – This is for summer birthdays only, since the pool is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. We attended a super fun party here last year. While they don’t have a set package for kids’ birthday parties, you can work with the manager to plan a bash. Not only can guests splash around in the competition-sized pool, they can enjoy food, cake, and other birthday fun in a sectioned-off area by the restaurant.
National Building Museum – At select times on Saturdays and Sundays, the museum hosts birthday parties in the Building Zone and other museum rooms. Activities include a walk around the upper level of the museum (acrophobes beware), building related stories and crafts, and free play in the Building Zone. Costs run upwards of $400 for members and $480 for nonmembers.
Glen Echo Park – There are a couple of options for birthday parties at Glen Echo Park, a wonderful milieu of art, culture and amusement that kids love. Kids can watch a play or puppet show then celebrate in a private room—facility rentals and party packages are available. If you think the crowd will get too antsy for a production, rent the room for food and cake, then enjoy the carousel and other fun throughout the park. Give them a call for costs and details.
Color Me Mine – The pottery painting place with a few locations in the area offers party packages for kids. Packages may vary by locations. At the Silver Spring store, the type of party depends on the age—Paint me a Story is for children 3-5, The Pottery Party is for ages 6 and up, and The Tile Party is for ages 10 and up. Prices depend on the size of the party, but generally start at $100 for 12 people, plus about $8 for each piece of pottery.
Restaurant Party Room – Many area restaurants have private rooms where you can throw a party for little or no cost (for the room itself)—they figure the profit comes from all of the food and drinks ordered for guests. We went that avenue for Owen’s last birthday and reserved the upstairs at The Argonaut, a tavern on H Street NE, for his bash. The space was great with plenty of seating in the main room (we covered the tables with paper and let the kids color) and a couple of small rooms, including one that became a dance area for the kids. It did turn a bit into happy hour for parents, but that can happen at 4pm on a cold winter Saturday, especially when there’s a bar in the room (kids drinks served, too!). But, we avoided the hassle of cramming everyone into our house, pulled off a mean game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and the kids—young and old—had a blast.