Forty is the new 30. It feels good to be turning the big 4-0. You’ve accomplished so much, and you’re right where you want to be. But the confusion of figuring out the best way to celebrate this milestone is bringing you back to the directionless chaos of your 20s (don’t get us wrong, being 24 was fun, but Mountain Dew and mango vodka?). Fret no more—we’ve come up with 40 different 40th birthday party ideas that will make this year one to remember. (Pro tip: book your babysitter now.)
1. Rent out a roller-skating rink
It may not seem like the most original idea in the world, but who cares? It’s fun, especially when you have the entire rink to you and your wild—or incredibly tame—party. And if you really want to commit to this idea, invite your friends and family to dress up. Whether it’s ’70s-themed, ’80s-themed or a Halloween choose your own adventure, adding a costume element will take this party to the next level.
2. Go camping
All you want for your 40th is to get out of dodge and decompress in the wilderness. So…why not take your favorite people with you? If your crew is already filled with camping pros, simply reserve the grounds you want to stay at and tell everyone to bring along their gear (and extra marshmallows). If camping is newer to you, look into group options that have sleeping arrangements and grills already set up. And if you’re fancy, research glamping sites near you. No one said you had to rough it to enjoy Mother Nature.
3. Rent an Airbnb a couple hours away
An Under the Tuscan Sun moment would certainly be amazing. But you don’t have the time or the money to send yourself and 16 of your dearest friends on an international soiree (let alone pay for the child care, yikes). But that doesn’t mean you can’t get away. We’re guessing a short drive, within a few hours or so, could land you at a beautiful beach house, a scenic mountain abode or even in the vicinity of a winery. A rental home in an area like these, especially in shoulder season, could be lovely and affordable.
4. Volunteer for something you care about
Instead of cashmere sweaters and gift certificates, ask your loved ones to take part in helping a cause that’s close to your heart. It could be volunteering at a soup kitchen, building a playground for an underserved community or tutoring children. Whatever it is, you and your crew can make a difference (and still go for drinks after).
5. Take a pottery class
You’ve always wanted your turn at the wheel. It just seemed so…cool! Spoiler alert: It’s way harder than it looks, but that’s no reason you can’t get your hands dirty. Look for pottery studios near you that offer group lessons. If you want more one-on-one time with an instructor, keep the party extra small.
6. Host a small dinner party
You love cooking and hosting. So whether you keep it simple with some hearty big-batch recipes or you put on your chef’s hat, dust off the ramekins and whip up 20 brag-worthy perfectly risen soufflés, a small dinner party at your own home is a wonderfully intimate 40th birthday party option. And hey, if you’re doing all of the cooking, ask your guests to bring the wine.
7. Hire a private chef
Or maybe you don’t want to actually cook yourself. Bring in a talented chef to serve up a delicious dinner. Depending on how small you keep the party, it may not be as expensive as you’d assume. And isn’t it just so nice thinking about eating a five-star meal in your home that you had nothing to do with? Dreams do come true.
8. Plan a pizza party with a sommelier
You revel in playing on both sides of the high-low spectrum—you can talk about the use of the fisheye lens in The Favorite all day long, but you also make time for every franchise in the Real Housewives universe. Which brings us to humble pizza and fancy wine. Uh yeah, that’s your calling in a nutshell. Order in the pizza from your go-to spot, and hire a som by asking around your local wine shop, five-star restaurant or Facebook wine snobs.
9. Plan a potluck
Make things incredibly easy on yourself and ask everyone to chip in. You provide the location, ambience and time, and everyone else brings the food. (Just make sure somebody’s on birthday cake duty, OK?)
10. Book a private room at your favorite restaurant
It’s your fav joint for a reason—the food’s consistently delicious, the service is great and the prices don’t break the bank. You go there at least once a week with just your partner or fam, but why not give them the business of hosting a larger party? And if they know you as a frequent customer, chances are they’ll throw in some things to wet your whistle.
11. Or order in from your favorite restaurant
OK, so said favorite restaurant is 300 square feet with only counter service. In that case, bring your favorite restaurant to you. Order family-style and set up a buffet in your kitchen for a low-key but yum night in.
12. Tour a brewery
If you’ve always wanted to see how the sausage is made—but way less bloody—visit a local brewery. It doesn’t have to be Budweiser or Coors Light, often the smaller the brewery, the more fun. And chances are that along with some great beer flights are some great menus.
13. Go wine tasting
There’s nothing like visiting a vineyard or winery to taste the product on the vicinity. While Napa is ideal for primo vino, there are plenty of wineries and vineyards across the country. Check in to see if you can make a reservation for a group before you head out.
14. Roast your own coffee
You couldn’t live without your morning—and 3 p.m.—caffeine boost. And now that you’re turning 40, isn’t it a good time to actually learn how this stuff is made? Taking a coffee roasting class at your local coffee shop will not only be highly informative but super fun.
15. Make sourdough
As we get older, we tend to start to appreciate the finer, simple things—like a beautifully baked loaf of sourdough. So sign up for a sourdough baking class to learn how this delicacy is made (it’s more complicated and interesting than you’d think) and come home with a fresh loaf to slice in the morning for breakfast.
16. Karaoke your heart out
Reserve a room. Order some pitchers of beer. And have your go-to song at the ready.
17. Go to a movie
When’s the last time you actually went to a movie theater and ordered popcorn and a Coke? Buy a row of tickets and bring your family and friends to a mid-day flick.
18. Or rent out a theater
Some theaters, like the Alamo Drafthouse in various cities across the country, allow you to rent out a theater and screen the movie of your choice for all your buddies. (That’ll be A League of Their Own, thank you very much.) The sweetest part is that, because it’s a dinner theater, you can also offer all your pals some food and drink while they’re there.
19. Host a game night
You played Settlers of Catan once and now you’re addicted. Make an entire night of it by inviting your other board gamer friends or rookies to learn your favorite game.
20. Go bowling
It never sounds as fun on paper as it actually is. Divide your party into teams to up the competition, or opt for bumpers and extra beer to keep things fun.
21. Cheer on a sports team
Sporting events have the party built into them. Whether it’s a race track, minor league basketball game or college football, secure some seats in the bleachers (or box seats if you’re fancy) and root, root, root for the home team.
22. Have a night at the museum
Remember that scene where Ross and Rachel get it on in the planetarium? Yeah, don’t do that. But do look into adult or member nights at your local museum, or inquire about renting out a space for a private event. Cocktails in the Egyptian wing? Don’t mind if we do.
23. Plan a drop-in vacation
You’ve had San Miguel de Allende on your mind for an entire year. But how do you plan an entire international birthday trip? Well, you don’t have to. It’s called a drop-in vacation, and millennials have made them a “thing.” All you have to do is book your part of the trip and invite people to join you for whatever makes sense for them. With your itinerary in mind, they’d book their own travel and accommodations and maybe even make some of their own plans. Everyone does what they want and the birthday girl gets to see some pals. Easy!
24. Plan a ‘a long walk for a ham sandwich’ night
You’ve heard the phrase “that’s a long walk for a ham sandwich,” maybe after telling a really long story with an uneventful ending? (We’ve all been there.) Well, why not plan an actual long walk for a ham sandwich…or several? Invite your group of friends to take part in a ham sandwich crawl where participants plate their own take on a ham sandwich (perhaps with a signature cocktail). Whether the group actually walks, Ubers or bikes from home to home is up to you.
25. Take a best friends only trip
The pressure to throw a huge party is real. But for some of us, the idea of every person we know in one room is enough to make us want to crawl under the table and never come out. Make things easy by keeping your party to only your five or six very best friends. Take it up a notch by getting everybody together at a vacation house or fancy hotel—spouses included (or not).
26. Hold ‘A Little Bit of Everything’ Club
If you’ve been meaning to organize a book club or something of that nature, a one-off Little Bit of Everything Club might be right up your alley. The premise behind the ALBEC is similar to a book club, but it’s not just a book club. Instead, the host picks from a variety of things for participants to do, whether that’s reading a great long-form article (or even just a regular one!), cooking an interesting recipe together, listening to an podcast episode, playing a new video game, etc. Since you’re not reading an entire book, most people will actually be able to participate! And who knows? Maybe you’ll kick off a new tradition.
27. Have a ‘no-phones’ party
It’s like a normal party, but without the distractions of your screen. Yep, you collect everyone’s phones. No, you’re not holding them hostage (you can make it so anyone can easily access their phones if they need to), but you are inviting your guests to be more present and engaged. It may wind up being a hit, it may be total failure, but hey, at least you’re giving yourself some good banter to kick off the night with, right?
28. Have a costume party
Who cares if your big day lands around Halloween or not? Dressing up is fun. Provide your guests with a theme (a decade, pop culture, etc.) or let them choose their own adventure.
29. Host a casino night
Bringing a little Atlantic City to you is easier than it sounds. Nab a poker and/or roulette cloth from Amazon, order in some food and let the games begin. You can even raise the stakes (get it?) by hiring a professional dealer. No matter what, though, the house wins.
30. Bring in a tarot card reader
It may sound a little woo-woo, but you’d be surprised how your party guests will flock to have their cards read. Whether you’re hosting a shindig in your own home or bringing things to a venue, breaking up the crowd with some one-on-one entertainment is party hosting 101.
31. Read your horoscopes with an astrologer
In that same vein, you’d be surprised to learn that Uncle Fred knows he’s a Cancer sun, Aries rising and Scorpio moon. Inviting an astrologer to your party is a great way to treat your guests with some personal “me” time as they get their charts read. And who doesn’t love hearing how Saturn in Pisces will affect their finances? (Just make sure to tell your guests to come prepared with the exact hour and location they were born.)
32. Hire a magician
There are two options with this one. You can go for the cliché, super cheesy magician—nothing wrong with that. Or, you can find a more modern illusionist who’s less top hat and coattails and more “that’s a cute Zara blazer.” Either way, make sure you get in your chance to pick a card, any card.
33. Go dancing
You may have an aching back and flat feet that are no longer capable of wearing stilettos. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go out on the town and cut up a rug. Find a club that offers an ’80s night (or whatever jams you’re into.) Or, if the thought of a crowded dance floor teaming with 20 year olds is too rich for your blood, hire a DJ to spin at your private party—or heck, even in your basement.
34. Spend the day at a Korean spa
The fun thing about many Korean spas is that they cater amazingly well to large groups—to give you an idea, Spa Castle in Queens is 100,000 square-feet. Think: body scrubs, saunas, steam baths, massages and more. Keep in mind that most services are same-sex only. So if you’re hosting an all-women party, this could be perfect.
35. Make it a murder mystery
You can host a plain-old dinner party…or you can host a dinner party where somebody gets murdered. The uptick of interest in murder mystery experiences means there are probably plenty to choose from in your area. Whether the performance (spoiler: no one really gets murdered) comes to you or you go to them, it will definitely be dinner and a show.
36. Take a hike
Want to earn that birthday cake? Well, now that you actually are over the hill, why don’t you climb one? It doesn’t have to be Everest (or even basecamp), but find a local hike near you that everyone in your party can partake in. Pack some trail mix and water for the road and celebrate your summit with hearty PB&Js and some incredible photos at the top.
37. Picnic in the park
But do it like an adult. This means matching table cloths, adorable wicker baskets, cheese from your local farmers market and enough wine to satisfy a small army. Not so into sitting on the ground? It’s totally fine to bring your own table.
38. Organize a field day
This one’s all about nostalgia. Tap into those elementary school memories by organizing a 50-yard dash, game of capture the flag, long jump, kickball and more. You bring the equipment and some unbiased referees (hey, it’s OK to ask for some birthday leniency), and your family and friends can bring the healthy competitive attitudes. Heads up though: Grilling in the park is basically mandatory to help everyone replete their energy afterwards.
39. Run a race
You’ve been getting into shape and now you’re ready to run that 3K! How exciting! Why not invite your fellow runner friends to join in? Especially if the run is for a good cause, you’d be surprised by how many of your friends and family members would jump on board for a little birthday celebration exercise.
40. Throw a surprise party…for your friends
This is some next level hostessing, but here’s the crux: You invite friends, one at a time, to what they think is a boring-ish event (say, dinner to talk through the PTA proposal). Then, when they get there…Surprise! It’s your blowout 40th birthday party! Just make sure it’s casual enough that guests won’t be caught off-guard by attire, and be sure they have a safe way to get home afterwards.