My favorite children's birthday parties are the ones where kids are just invited to get together and share each others’ company over some food music and silly fun. Maybe the parents come up with a simple, original creative game, an eccentric relative starts a sing-along and there’s some kind of brilliant craft using organic, biodegradable materials.
But back in reality, we don’t always have time to get creative and we definitely don’t have space in our homes to host an entire class or two of kids. Our kids have December Birthdays, and, while we’d be happy with a party in the park, we chicken out for fear of bad weather.
So we’ve pulled together a little list of fun places to have kids birthdays.
Star Eco Station — The Eco Station is a non-profit organization that rescues exotic animals. They offer great educational programs plus hands-on experiences with a variety of animals including reptiles, big cats and birds. Several different rooms are available and birthdays include a tour of the facilities, education and interaction with animals. And they’ll help with goodie bags from the gift store. Because it is a non-profit, fees are tax-deductible. 10101 W. Jefferson Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232, (310) 842 8060
Santa Monica Swim Center — Pool party! For a few hundred bucks you can rent a party room at the Santa Monica Swim Center, reserve the sun deck and pay the entrance fee for the kids and parents. There is a rumor they will turn up the heat on days when they know a kid party is coming. And if it rains, who cares -- you're gonna get wet anyway! Beware, there is a mean wind that rolls through there so kids should bring warm clothes to wear even on sunny days. Pico and 16th Street in Santa Monica on the campus of Santa Monica City College.
Santa Monica Aquarium — Another nice eco themed, educational birthday venue is the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Run by Heal the Bay, they offer education, crafts and an animal touch tank. 1600 Ocean Front Walk (on the Santa Monica Pier) 310-393-6149 x 102.
The Santa Monica Pier Carousel: Also at the pier is the Carousel which can accommodate up to 30 party goers. Every birthday party should have a Wurlitzer.
The Park! Parks are the best for parties. But if you are afraid of getting rained out, you can book a community room at some parks. In Santa Monica the rooms are reasonably affordable, especially compared with the other venues on this list! Two parks that have great rooms are Joslyn Park and Marine Park. Joslyn Park has a really nice little playground that is great for small kids and toddlers. And a cute little room. The dog park near by is also a hit with the kids. Marine Park is much larger and so is their community room. Just get your reservations early: see more here.
I have a love/hate relationship with play gyms. Sometimes a padded room is the best place for kids, especially toddlers. These places can take a lot of stress out of your kid party needs.
Under the Sea in Culver City is a huge indoor playground with a nice feeding area and helpful staff. Smart Space also in Culver City, is much smaller and a little more personal. Also very small and appropriate for toddlers is west Los Angeles Creative Kids at the Olympic Collection Center.
Castle Golf! (Castle Park in Sherman Oaks). I had my 7th birthday at Castle Golf and you should too. (I got a skate board and “to it in the dirt” T-shirt and we ate pizza in one of the towers). Anyway, now it is owned by the City of Los Angeles Department of Parks. They’ve kept it up nicely and avoided spoiling it. It is a great alternative to those over-the-top miniature golf campuses and the nasty little prefab ones.
Bowling: We finally attended a bowling party. Pretty great. Like most venues, it isn't cheap, but it is pretty fun. The party we attended was all about the kids who were 4-6 years old. Parents didn't even try to bowl. Bigger kids took turns nicely in one lane. And in another, the little ones just kept rolling balls down there, but had loads of fun. Our party was held at Santa Monica's Bay Shore Lanes. Mar Vista Bowl on Venice is also an AMF bowling ally. They put up the gutter guards -- every lane has them and they just flip a switch. You get a party room upstairs and it is just fine. Nothing fancy. It absolutely looks like a room above a bowling ally. And you have to order our food through them, except for the cake. I would strongly recommend bringing additional activities for the kids, like crafts or games. At the party we attended, after we bowled, the kids ran amok in the party room upstairs as did the kids at the party next door. (I highly recommend non-party bowling! We also had a small get together of just two families and it was perfect -- parents can play in one lane, sans bumpers, and kids can play in the other.)
The Zoo: I haven't checked it out yet, but spotted birthday facilities at the Los Angeles Zoo. Looks like everyone has seen the high fees charged for parties and is jumping aboard. Many local museums and other venues also offer birthday packages. Please let us know if you have any favorites!