Throwing a Party in the Great Indoors

By Susan Eliot Briggs

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"FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Don’t Let Bay Area Weather Stop the Fun
Soon, it will be cold and rainy. You haven’t the faintest idea what to do for your child’s birthday party this year. This happens to many parents who have children with birthdays between October and March. Even in the often sunny Bay Area, no one wants to depend on an outside party, only to be surprised by rain. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of party services and indoor destinations available to help parents.

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Staying Close to Home

"FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">If your child is 4 or younger, a party at home with a few friends and family would probably be perfect. It can also work well for an older child, provided you have enough space. A large family room, playroom, basement or even a garage will allow the kids space to run around and have fun.

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"FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">If you just don’t have the space, consider asking a friend or relative who has a larger home. If you do use a friend’s house, make sure to leave it spotless when the party is over, perhaps offering to pay for a cleaning service.

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"FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Another possibility is to rent a room at the local park, community or recreation center, or a church. Many of these locations are available for a reasonable price ($20 an hour plus insurance at some public parks). Recreation centers are often near playgrounds, which have the added bonus of allowing kids to run around if you luck out and get a sunny day.

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Whether you party at home, grandma’s house or a rented location, the planning is the same. If your child is old enough, allow him or her to select the theme. If you need ideas, there are plenty of great books available to help, such as the Parents Party Book from the editors of Parents Magazine (Roundtable Press, New York. 1999). Once you have a theme, select the invitations, decorations and the craft or entertainment. Decide what kind of a role you want to play in your child’s party. Some parents are very creative, have lots of energy and want to run the whole thing. Other parents would prefer to hire someone to help entertain the kids.


A big hit with preschool and kindergarten-age girls is a princess tea party, put on by a local company called Cristina’s Closet. Little girls (and boys) get to dress up in fancy costumes, get their faces painted, do crafts and have tea (pink lemonade) and cookies. The owner, Carolyn Tom, manages everything, including the invitations, decorations, food and the entertainment.


Animals are always a big hit with kids. Petting zoos and pony parties can come to your house and give the kids a chance to interact with the animals. This is a great party to have in your garage.


Other classic party entertainers include clowns, magicians, balloon artists, face painters, puppeteers and popular characters. When looking to book one of these services, start with recommendations from friends and then always ask for and check references before signing a contract. You don’t want to be Steve Martin in the movie Parenthood, forced into pretending to be a cowboy because the entertainment didn’t show up.


Getting Up and Out

With busy families and older kids, many parents opt for a party at a fun location. In the Bay Area, we have everything from miniature golf to visits to the local fire station. Often there are birthday party or event coordinators who can take care of as much or as little of the party as you want. If you are on a tight budget, don’t automatically rule out a destination party. You can limit the cost by reducing the number of children and opting for the least expensive package.


Using Your Brain

Museums are quickly becoming popular locations for birthday parties in the winter months.


“Parents are often surprised when everyone who is invited decides to come,”

says Sandra McConnell, until recently the birthday party coordinator for the Children’s Discovery Museum.


Museum admission is included so families will often pay extra to bring siblings and explore the museum while one child is at the party. The museum provides a party room, along with an art or science activity, such as making slime and/or gift bags. McConnell recalls one 4 year-old boy saying, “This was the best day of my life, ever!”


A Good Sport

Birthday parties centered on a sport allow kids to get exercise, have fun and often try something new. For younger kids (4 and younger), parties at one of the area’s gymnastics centers are usually a big hit. For older kids (5 and older), options include bowling, horseback riding in a corral, indoor swimming, ice-skating and rock climbing. Around the Bay Area, there are six locations of Touchstone Climbing Centers that regularly host birthday parties for kids ages 6-14. The staff to child ratio is 6:1 and parents who are trained can also belay the kids.


“Kids have so much fun that many of them decide to come back for their own birthday,” says instructor Jer Jackson.


Getting Crafty

For kids who are artistically inclined, a party at a bead shop, teddy bear factory or pottery studio might be the perfect birthday. Color Me Mine, a chain of pottery studios, offers birthday parties for ages 5 and older. Parents pre-select four or five pieces from which the kids can choose. Party packages include one staff member, one and a half hours of studio time and the glazing and firing of the ceramics.


If you don’t want to limit your choices to just one activity, why not go to an indoor amusement park such as The Jungle Fun & Adventure or Bamboola? These locations offer birthday parties everyday and have a variety of packages to suit your child’s age and your budget.


So don’t let the drippy weather get you down. With a little planning and creativity, you too can hear your child say, “This was the best day of my life, ever!”



Note: All prices listed are for the most basic party options. When two prices are listed, the first price is for members.

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Party Services – Come to your Home

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"MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Cristina’s Closet – Princess tea parties; $295 for eight children. 408-253-4577;

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"MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">My Pony Party – Pony rides, petting zoo, reptiles. Prices start at $160 for 1 hour; outside the 408 area code pays extra. 408-847-6424;

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"MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">The Lizard Lady – Fun with reptiles; $160-180 for up to 20 children, ages 3-12. 650-355-4105.

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"MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Sophie’s Stress Free Soirees – Personalized theme bashes; prices start at $300 for 12 children. 650-952-5502;


Mad Science – Interactive sciences shows for ages 5-12; $165 for 14 children. 877-390-5437;


Party Destinations in Silicon Valley


Children’s Discovery Museum – $175 for 12 kids (ages 0-8). 408-298-5437, ext. 268.


Palo Alto Junior Museum – $195/$225 for ages 3 and older; party size varies by age. 650-329-2111.


Spring Down Equestrian Center – $30/child; minimum of six children; ages 6 and older. 650-851-1114.


The Winter Lodge – Ice skating; $10/child; minimum of 20 children; ages 5 and older. 650- 493-4566.


a">Bamboola – Packages from $9.95-$23.95 per child; minimum of 10 children; ages 2-10. 408-448-4386.


a">Gold Star Gymnastics – $200 for 10 kids ages 3 and older; 650-694-7827.


Gymboree – $225 for 20 children ages 4 and younger; 650-949-5798.


Build a Bear Workshop – Average price is $25-30 per child; minimum of six kids; ages 3 and older. 1-877-789-2327.


FasTracKids – Educational theme partie; $250 for 12 kids; ages 3-7. 650-947-9550.