Children have an unsurpassed capacity to live in rich, imaginative worlds. Keeping this remarkable gift in mind when you set out to throw an amazing birthday party will ensure lifelong memories and a rip-roaring time to boot. We’ve rounded up a list of venues and party themes that conspire to tap into children’s playful, creative, soulful, silly selves and provide them with the kinds of play that will transport them magically through their special day.
LET’S GO SWIMMING
As the weather gets cooler, the idea of a pool party becomes that much more unique and enticing. Head to 92Y, 14th Street Y, or West Side YMCA, where qualified instructors and lifeguards will ensure a safe and memorable afternoon in the city’s best (and heated!) indoor pools. Asphalt Green is also a great place for a splashing bash, with a games leader and a lifeguard overseeing the fun.
“Good guys” and “bad guys” figure their way into so many kids’ favorite fantasies. Let the heroes and villains set the scene for your next birthday party: Give each guest a character to play (parents can play too!), offer up an amazing backdrop, and let your imaginations race. Perhaps a group of robber villains will board a subway car at the New York Transit Museum in search of the undercover princess and her covert team of security guards. Little conductors can steer the getaway coach at Kidville’s Rockin’ Road Birthday Bash, where they are given a conductor’s cap, bandana, and their very own live band to help rock the rails. Or, hop aboard the Moonsoup Train at MoonSoup for a party filled with activities and games certain to delight your small travelers.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
Do your kids dream about astronauts? Revel in the make-up of dark matter? Contemplate the expanding universe? Then host a Cosmic Blast Off party at the American Museum of Natural History, where they can journey through the solar system and you can even hire Buzz Lightyear to be their guide. Play space-age mini-golf beneath the 1964 World’s Fair Rockets at the New York Hall of Science and take home your own flying saucers. At SPiN Galactic NY, the kids will have a stellar time playing ping pong in their private event room (replete with disco ball, dance floor, and more). Take your space blasters on an adventure they’ll never forget at ExerBlast, where an urgent mission to save the waning energy of the planet Botania has kids calling upon their own energy reserves.
FROM CARNIVAL TO CIRCUS
My Gym is the perfect venue for a colorful, delightful spree of carnivalesque with games, rides, puppets, songs, and more to entertain your sprites. Or, go for the real deal outdoors at Victorian Gardens in Central Park (open May-September) with a party of unlimited rides and games. At Karma Kids Yoga, kids can practice their own acrobatic skills with a Circus Yoga Party, including Flying Partner Yoga, juggling, and walking a tight rope! Gather the gang at apple seeds, where bright parachutes, bubbles, and instruments will have every guest giggling with glee. And at Columbus Gym, kids can put on their own circus act with a game-filled hour and a half of beams, hoops, scooters, and music. Or, see an amazing show live at the Big Apple Circus! Birthday party tickets are available for groups of ten or more, and include special meals with clown noses or goody bags.
GO FOR THE GOLD
The 2012 Olympics had every kid in the country dreaming of gold. So why not throw a party for your little Olympians-in-training? At 74th St. MAGIC, party coaches engage and inspire your kids to tumble, bounce, swing, and soar through the gym on a zipline. Check out SportimeNY, where kids can compete in a wide range of their favorite Olympic games, even swimming. Gymnastics is the main event at Jodi’s Gym, where budding tumblers can swing on bars, prance on balance beams, tumble, climb, and stretch their way to birthday party gold. Trained coaches at The JCC in Manhattan will lead your birthday band of kids ages 3-12 in their choice of any sport, including baseball, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, tennis, or golf. Or consider founding your own Olympic Birthday sport at The Gaga Center, where little athletes play rousing games in which they strike, dive, jump, and twist in a high-energy take on dodgeball. Plus, starting this month, Bounce and Flip—a 3,000-square-foot gymnastics facility—will welcome children ages 2-17 years to a birthday big on tumbling and gymnastics fun.
Let your little ones play “soldiers” and head straight to Bowlmor Lanes, where they can arm themselves with “cannon balls” as a birthday battalion. Or, let them fire at the enemy fortresses at the end of the lane at 300 New York bowling at Chelsea Piers. Alternatively, what better backdrop for an elite fighting force than The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, where the staff takes care of all the role play work for you? Kids play tug of war and scale obstacle courses as marines of the ship for the day. And you can never go wrong hosting a party at FAO Schwarz, where a toy soldier salutes your guests and marches them to the most magical toy store party.
Kids generally love to eat. And (helpful or not), they also love to be in the center of the bustle of meal prep. For their birthdays, let them be in charge of the kitchen for once. At Taste Buds Kitchen, party planners will help your kids whip up a range of good eats at either their place or yours. A cooking party with Home Cooking New York presents fun, hands-on activities for kids as they plan, prep, and cook their entire birthday meal (dessert included). For younger kids, Brooklyn Children’s Museum is the perfect place to let imaginations go wild: You can help your party organize an operational Pizzeria and Ice Cream Shop. Give out rotating roles—a head chef, toppings applicators, oven overseers, drink servers, ice cream scoopers, shop clerks, and of course, the very satisfied customers.
Give the kids pith helmets and help them channel their inner Steve Irwins through the urban jungle of New York City. At a Bronx Zoo or Central Park Zoo party, kids will get unique opportunities to interact with favorite zooland friends—feeding fish to the sea lions or swapping stories with the snow monkeys. An Animal Masks party at the ever-artistic Children’s Museum of Manhattan is a roaring great time. Kids can play hide and seek with green geckos and other cool critters at a Liberty Science Center birthday party before gawking at hundreds of fish and sea creatures in their enormous aquarium. And at Citibabes, tots can have a Jungle Safari Party romping around the gorgeous indoor playspace (you can even add on a petting zoo!).
Kids will love the “Spider’s Alive!” exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, where they can climb on a giant tarantula, get up close and personal with spiders of all kinds, and venture through the creepy web-filled world of our eight-legged insect friends. At Mad Science, why not have a bubbling potions party? Mix up a tornado in a jar and experiment with dazzling chemical reactions while you’re at it. For the wizards and witches amongst you, try levitating in mid-air in front of your party guests at Fantasma Magic, where parties are full of supernatural wonders.
A CINEMATIC CELEBRATION
Give your guests movie tickets to a matinee show at your own private theater. Rent out the screening room at 92YTribeca for your next popcorn party and invite the whole class! Madame Tussauds 4D Marvel Superhero Movie is three floors of interactive, multi-sensory excitement for a flick-loving crowd. At Dave & Buster’s the screen is interactive—eat, drink and play at your very own video arcade.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
Do your children love the spotlight? Give them the stage! Take your rising stars to TADA! Youth Theater, where they’ll enjoy an exclusive theater performance and have a special opportunity to be part of the show. Manhattan Movement & Arts Center is pro at celebrating creativity in children. Let them help throw a party that celebrates the love of performance in your child. Put on a private fairytale performance of your child’s choosing at Galli Theater, where the whole party is invited to take to the stage and help direct the action. Musical theater is the domain of Applause NYC—parties here steal the show and leave your children dreaming of bright Broadway lights. What’s more, Broadway Birthday Bashes, the official birthday party division of The Peoples Improv Theater, creates musicals inspired by your birthday boy or girl. Packages can include backstage passes to meet the performers, snow cones, and face painting.
A SWEET CELEBRATION
Indulge in the sweetest birthday of all with a Candy Land-inspired party! At Dylan’s Candy Bar, guests play candy games and go on a candy spree. Or head over to HiArt!, where kids can make gingerbread houses and build sculptures out of candy. Host a cake decorating party at Make Meaning. Kids glam up cakes on motorized turntables with glitter, fondant, disco dust, and more.
Soccer has finally taken off in this country, and the kids couldn’t be happier. Let them run, pass, and kick their way through an amazing game-filled party with Super Soccer Stars, a leader in kids’ soccer in the city. If you have a soccer star, you’ve probably heard of Coach Fher. And if you’ve heard of Coach Fher, you know he knows how to play the soccer party game. Another fantastic option for a soccer party is at Kids In Sports: a team of experienced and talented coaches lead the fun as kids race, chase, and scrimmage.
The birthday parties at Get Coiffed are off-the-wall fun as party goers are transformed into rock stars, tattoos and all. Cozy’s Cuts for Kids has been glamming up the gals for years. A party here pulls all the stops: hair, manicure, makeup, and more. Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids invites children into their own private dressing room, where they’re pampered and prepped to put on their own fashion show. Girls get to create their own runway outfits to rock the red carpet at The Craft Studio.
Your fair maiden and knight in shining armor can celebrate their birthdays medieval-pageantry-style. The Reebok Sports Club/NY and The Sports Club/LA-Upper East Side let you customize your royal theme, scale the rock climbing wall, and retreat to the bouncy castle. At a Princess and Knight Party at the Art Farm in the City, kids get to dress up in armor and regalia, fight dragons, and take home tiaras (amongst other courtly amusements). Kids are regally costumed and rule the day in the magical play castle at Let’s Dress Up! A royal tea party and cupcake decorating follow suit. From April through October, the Queens County Farm Museum offers an enchanted getaway for royalty seeking refuge in peasant-life: hayrides, a petting farm, and other old-worldly delights await your youngster at this historic oasis. Moreover, the new slumber party experience known as Knightwatch Medieval at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side kicks off on Friday, November 16. For children ages 6 to 12 and their adult chaperones, the local Gothic Cathedral is a magical setting for a sleepover. Activities include a scavenger hunt guided by a court jester, a celebration with medieval dancing, singing, art projects, and bedtime tales told by a professional storyteller.
There’s nothing more magical than immersing yourself in a great storybook. At StoryTime by Design, founders Karen Levine and Cori Cohen make your child’s favorite books come alive. At Scribble Press, young writers design and illustrate their own books, and the birthday guest of honor receives a very special keepsake. Aspiring writers and illustrators design, create, and publish wire-bound books and more at the Scholastic Store.
FIRST BIRTHDAY FABULOUS
Your baby’s first birthday is a milestone for him or her and for you. Celebrate that first tremendous year with abandon. Poppyseed Pre-Nursery offers a birthday party full of music and dance for your baby’s first big celebration. New York Kids Club has a special “My 1st Birthday Party” package that includes gym time, instruments, cake, and keepsakes. Let your one-year-old tumble, crawl, prance, and play at a Discovery Loves Babies party at Discovery Programs. Gymboree Play & Music also hosts first birthday parties for up to 20 children, complete with trained, enthusiastic teachers, all party supplies, and a special gift for the birthday boy or girl. And Playgarden in Tribeca makes b’days memorable with party games, sports, and a flying zipline finale.
EVERYBODY WAS KUNG-FU FIGHTING
At Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts Dojo, your kids will be entertained with a skilled demonstration and expert instruction as they karate-chop their way to the birthday cake. Black-belts-in-training will get a kick out of the Tae Kwon Do Party at Gymtime Rhythm & Glues, where the experts take care of everything from entertainment to food to clean up. Let West Side Taekwondo lead your birthday warrior in some master moves during a private lesson filled with fun and games. At East Side Tae Kwon Do, slice your birthday cake with a samurai sword!
WILL WORK FOR CAKE
Kids can build, sculpt, craft, and create with the best of them—they just need the tools and the space. Luckily, the city teems with talented people who know how to help. Budding architects and urban planners alike will delight in the Museum of the City of New York’s awesome Skyscraper Capers Party, where they will draft, build, and stack replicas of our mecca’s signature skyline. Sculpting, muralling, decorating, and creating—at Kids At Work, your all-inclusive party will overflow with kids at play. Color Me Mine allows potters-in-progress to create and keep special keepsakes of their birthdays to have for years to come. Kids will learn the art of weaving and felting and take home unique, handmade creations when they party at Loop of the Loom.
For the little ballerinas in your life, let a big ballerina entertain and host your birthday guests. With Twinkle Party, a real ballerina comes right to your home to dance and play with your tiny dancers. Children dance a ballet story told by the instructor at Ballet Academy East and take home crowns and wands. The fabulous Peridance Capezio Center offers games, music, and lessons in a range of dance styles by a renowned faculty of professional dancers.
Retro is fab, and for kids today the ‘70s are back in a big way. Head to Tie Dye Town where your party will have a blast making a mess and rocking out with tie dye. Rock the mic with a Karaoke Disco Party at Kids at Art. Let your birthday boys and girls move and groove at Yogi Beans where instructors craft music, games, and movement specifically for your crew.
TO THE BEAT OF THEIR OWN DRUMMERS
Little Maestros are a band of world-class performers and musicians that customize their musical parties for your child. Guests get to play instruments along with the instructor at TLB Music, and then have free reign of the incredible studio space (replete with rock climbing wall, transportation corner, play kitchen, and more). Moey’s Music Party knows how to get little feet swinging. Moey sings, dances, plays, and tells stories that will stay with your kids long after the party ends. If you invite Robert the Guitar Guy with Moving to the Beat to your home, expect your children to be entranced: he keeps the troupes laughing, dancing, and singing with silly, fun, dramatic play. At The Early Ear, music teachers introduce the birthday child and guests to musical instruments as well as lead them in song and dance.
For the full list of birthday venues mentioned in this story, click here.