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Baby, it's cold outside (sometimes): Where to birthday party?

I have had occasion to pat myself on the back for "scheduling" (hehe) my children's birthdays in the generally warmer months. But still, it's Portland! So, even in April, a birthday cannot be expected to be held out-of-doors. We've chosen to hold most of our birthday parties around the house; but for big celebrations, it doesn't really work (and who wants to clean?). Andy asks:

I was just wondering if any of you wise mamas out there had suggestions for places to have birthday parties during these cold, rainy months. Both of my kids are blessed with winter birthdays. When they were young we would just have small family gatherings at our house but now that they are a little older and want to invite more friends it just doesn't work out to have it at home, where the kids end up running in circles around our very small house. We'd like to avoid having it at Chuck E Cheese for many reasons, but don't have a huge budget to rent expensive spaces, especially given that their birthdays are just a month apart. Do you have any suggestions of places to hold small-ish birthday parties that won't break the bank?

I'd love to hear ideas, as my soon-to-be-eight-year-old has demanded a biggish party, with friends, this year. Our birthday party category turns up recommendations for a two-year-old's party; a post about indoor climbing gyms, with ideas for parties there; a good word for the Academy Theatre's birthday parties; and thoughts from those who have had parties at the Children's Museum. I'd love to hear your other ideas, especially those with less cost-per-partygoer!


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I just went to a birthday party for a 3 year old at J-Jump in Vancouver WA. It was SOOO much fun! We will definitely have a party there for my son some time in the future. It was a Friday night party. Apparently its around $75 cheaper to have a party during the week VS. the weekend. The kids got to run and jump for about a little over an hour. We arrived early and they let us start playing even before the birthday boy got there. Then they called everyone in the party to the party room where they did presents and cake... it was a good time. I know they have one in Clackamas. The thing that impressed me most is that they try and group ages together so you dont have 2 year olds jumping with 13 year olds. They let the parents jump with the kids to so we were able to keep track of my 2 year old even when there were bigger kids. http://www.jjjump.com/ The second part was a bit crazy/unorganized but I think its what you make it.

We have three winter birthdays, two of which are 6 days apart. I've looked into community center parties, etc., but the cost can run pretty high when you have to provide all your own food, plates, decorations, etc. But we've been to parties at Mt. Scott and East Portland that were quite fun. There are play gyms around, too, and Do Jump on Hawthorne is available for parties, though I don't know what they cost.

Flying Pie pizza has a room that can be reserved (or part of the room) for large parties. The room is free -- you just pay for the pizza and drinks.

Also, don't totally discount holding at least part of the party outdoors. Our oldest had a spy party in December this year, and we did an outdoor scavenger hunt in our neighborhood. They were only in our house for cake and presents, which was doable.

This year for the younger ones, we just had the parties at home and limited the guests. As they get older, we're encouraging them to choose one or two special friends to invite to do something you couldn't do with a large party -- getting nails done, ice skating, etc. -- to help us limit costs and hassle.

Hope that helps.

a bowling alley can be a great party. depending on where you live, some of them have awesome food. also, you can usually find good deals and coupons for free games and stuff.

a movie party? you can get group admission.

or, how about just call someplacew your kids like? and ask for a tour? a factory or store or something?

It's been a while now, but I remember considering having my son's 4th Birthday Party at SCRAP. We didn't end up doing it because of a scheduling conflict (if memory serves correctly) but I remember it sounding fun and being a great deal. Definitely a quieter kind of thing--kids would have access to materials and one of the staff members would guide them through a project and then the spot was available for food/cake as well.

The community room at People's Co-op (upstairs) is a nice big space with a kitchen and it's super cheap (even more so if you are a member). Of course, you must provide all the food and fun, but if you're just looking for a nice indoor space, it's awesome.

I have a nine year old and here are some of the parties we've been invited to this year and last..
Laser tag
Portland climbing gym
north Clackamas aquatic park
wunderland nickel arcade
sunburst gymnastic center
JJ extreme

a couple other ideas that we haven't participated in-
the new pool at East Portland Community Center
winterhawks game ( most sport places will do parties)
we took a bunch of kids to the circus a couple years ago for $10 each, maybe see what's going on at the rose garden?!

Hope that helps a bit!

The CHAP Art Factory (at NW Marshall in the Pearl) would be a fun place to have a party...I just walked by the other day, and it's a great, messy non profit art space for kids that benefits local childrens' hospitals. It's a great space, and different than the usual jumpy-gym winter party that we've gone to.


Could also do a pool party at one of the community center (indoor) pools...there's a nice one at Mt. Scott, and also at East Portland Community Center, and they both have rooms for parties.

Have fun!

my daughter just had heard 3rd birthday party at CHAP and it was a great experience! they tailored all the activities for 3-year-olds and there were a ton of volunteers on hand to help out with everything from setting up the cake table to helping kids paint. highlight of the party was having kids dip their feet in paint and jump on a mattress! my daughter and all her guests had a blast! plus, we opted to have our guests make donations to CHAP instead of gifts.

Out of this World Pizza and Play in Hillsboro isn't super cheap, but not terrible, and it's super easy. There are private party rooms for different group sizes, and staff does all the setup and cleanup. See http://www.outofthisworld.net/Ver2/Birthdays_01.html. OOTW features a really great play space that is the antithesis of Chuck E Cheese -- lots of happy, energized kids, and no bells, whistles, broken machines, or cheap prizes. There's also a charming magician on staff.

At around 8 or 9 years old, we had my daughter's b-day party at the skating rink at Mt. Scott Community Center. It was a total hit. For a flat fee (that I want to say was around $75, but it's been a while), we got the rink to ourselves, skate rental was included and an adjacent party room with tables, chairs and a fridge. And we could have up to 30 skaters without additional charge. You do have to clean up, but that was no problem. I did cupcakes, ice cream bars and other finger food.

The pool parties are fun, but it's hard to keep track of the kids because the parties are during open swim times.

We just had my daughter's birthday party at SCRAP and I can't recommend it more!!! Very reasonable and the kids had a blast making robots. Low-key and creative, plus it supports a great local nonprofit.

Two other places that we've been to for parties that I haven't seen mentioned yet are the Jantzen Beach carousel, a rented out preschool/daycare. We've also seen lunchtime party groups at restaurants (Laurelwood, HUB, Old Town Pizza, Kennedy School, etc).

We're out in the suburbs a little bit, but the last two years I have rented a big community room and hosted the party there. It's about $40 for 2 hours and from there you can come up with just about anything.

Last year I did a robot theme and did the whole part myself pretty inexpensively. This year we are hiring Mad Science to come, a little more expensive.

If you are inviting a lot of kids, especially active kids, Pump It Up is pretty popular.

This is a pretty good list of area options: http://nwkids.com/guide/birthday-guide

Kennedy School soaking pool might be fun. Good for the winter months, and I have seen elementary age kids having smallish (five or six kids maybe) parties there. It's only $5 each to swim and you could get lunch before or after as well.

I have done CHAP 2 years running! I LOVE this place. It is open to the public and is a great place to drop by anytime to do Art.

I also heard that some local Fire Stations do B-day party tours for little ones. How fun is that?

We just went to a 8 year old girl's birthday party at Sound Roots Music School last weekend and it was amazing!

The teacher was like Jack Black from School of Rock and had all the kids jamming like rock stars in a matter of minutes. At the beginning of the party, they asked the birthday girl for some song suggestions and customized the party for her and her friends.

They had all kinds of musical equipment for the kids to use like mics, amps, electric guitars and even drums! I am pretty sure the birthday hosts brought their own food and beverages but they mentioned there was food available through Sound Roots as well.

Supposedly the party is available for kids as young as turning 2 and as old as you want. The parties are so customized I can see how it can work for all different ages. The space was really nice and everyone seemed to have a great time!

I am a little biased because I work at one, but local churches are a great place to have parties. I am one of the ministers at First Christian Church located downtown in the Park Blocks and we have some awesome spaces for children's parties. Look at churches in your own neighborhood as well.

Also another vote for CHAP, hands down the best birthday party place ever.

CHAP looks like fun but it seems pretty out of reach financially for a lot of people - $275! Plus, they want $10 per guest for donations.

We have done the fire station tour with lunch/party at a brew pub after. The SW Lucky Lab has an upstairs party room that is much cheaper during the day (11:00 - 1:00) than at night. We decorated, had pizza, games and cupcakes. Milagros has a community room to rent. We have been/invited to parties at: Children's Museum, Pump it Up, Sound Roots Music, SWCC, Motavilla Community Center, covered area at Tryon Creek State Park, and just at homes with lots of kids and few kids. This year we invited 5 kids (he will be 5) for an at home party. We said it was ok if parents do a drop off which will reduce number of bodies in the house - if they take us up on the offer!

I'm with Jessica A. - We had our daughter's 3 year Birthday Party at Sound Roots School of Music in January. It was the best kid birthday party I have ever been to! The teacher was amazing and had all the kids jammin' - perfect timing for teacher-led activities and "free" time play. I would highly recommend it and we will be back for the 4, 5, 6 and so on Birthday's! It's pretty reasonable at 14.00/kid a minimum of 8 kids. Totally worth it - no clean up and not at my house!! We also did a book exchange instead of gifts - it was so nice. Everyone brought an age appropriate wrapped book and we exchanged at the end of the party - everyone left with something and we didn't leave with a bunch of toys we didn't need!

The 100th Monkey Studio in SE Portland offers an array of art themed "Indoor" Birthday Parties. You are able to bring your own food and drinks.

Base Price $165 Includes:
½ hour set-up prior 2 hour party
Two staff helpers helping with pre-approved art project & games
½ hour clean up
Maximum of 15 artists at a table or 20 if there is no art occurring at the party
Face painting (optional)
Basic Beverages- coffee, tea & water
T-shirt for the b-day person

You can check out our website at www.the100thmonkeystudio.com

Sound Roots School of Modern Music! We held a joint birthday there for my 2 yr old girl and 5 yr old boy. It was a blast! Organizing the party was easy and there is catering for food or coffee close by (we brought our own food but utilized the coffee shop that shares the space). Music teacher Tyleena lead us through some singing, dancing, musical chairs etc. They asked us what music my kids are into and worked it into our party. Then the kids got to rock out and explore some instruments. If you have kids of any age into music, singing, dancing or performing it is a great place to party.

If you want an extensive listing of just about every different party venue and party service provider in the area, pick up Metro Parent's February issue. It's their annual Birthday Party Resource Guide...

You can view it online here:


We recently had my son's birthday party at the family room at Milagros Boutique. It was much cheaper ($60 for three hours, I believe) to have it than to rent out space at a community center. And all we really wanted was space, not a party planner, not an organized activity. etc. So it was perfect for our small party.

we also recently attended a 2 year old birthday party at sound roots school of modern music. it was great! all the kids had a blast dancing and singing along to the music. the teacher was fabulous!

Over the years we have had parties at Milagro's, The Children's Museum, Mimosa Studios, Peninsula Park (with the indoor play park set up), Rainbow Playground showroom, Kid's Club Fun & Fitness (Vancouver), the Burger King Playland on SW Barbur, The Merry Kitchen Cooking School, Naydenov Gymnastics (Vancouver), and Glo-Golf also in Vancouver, and just ONCE at our little house. Wow--That's a lot of parties! They all turned out pretty fun.

Maybe a topic for another post, but has anyone opted out of the birthday party scene? How did you explain it to your kid? Did they understand?

I'm ok with small family celebrations, but typical birthday parties are just too much for me.

Yes, we do opt out of the birthday party scene.

My kids have winter birthdays and we have small parties (5 guests max) at home. We had a dinosaur theme one time, with everyone making masks out of paper bags. We've done make-your-own pizzas. My husband has done simple science experiments with the kids and this year my 10yo and his friends did riddles and mindbender puzzles. (You might not think that 5 ten-year-old's would have such a blast sitting around doing puzzles - but they did.)

We have never felt obligated to invite the whole class or spend a lot of money renting space for something fancy or provide more than cake and a balloon and a simple activity.

There was really never a question of explaining this to our kids. They have enjoyed the type of party in this discussion very much, but they know that our family doesn't do it that way.

I haven't seen it posted yet (?), but we just had my daughter's 2nd birthday at Gymboree. She and all her friends had a great time and both my kids (ages 2 and 3) still are talking about it (and now my 3 year old wants to have his next birthday there as well)!

I was originally thinking it would be expensive, but it was actually cheaper than having the party at a public community center!

We were able to customize the event with activities my daughter enjoys and also played a CD we burned for her with her favorite songs. I think they allow up to 15 children (more for extra $$), but only 7 showed up - which actually worked out well, as there was plenty of space to run, jump, dance, tumble, and equipment to go around - no waiting in lines or sharing required.

Our instructor was wonderful - excellent at balancing "free play" with activities and responding to the childrens' interests. We have been to a bunch of birthday parties recently at other in-door venues and I have never seen my kids be so happy aor so in-tune with the instructor!

From the parent's side, once you get over the cost (which can seem shocking at first for a toddler's party), they handle EVERYTHING! All we had to do was show up with a cake! They provided the invitations, utensils (even cake knife), gift bags (which had age-appropriate safe gifts - no chocking-hazard plastic do-dads or candy to have to hide/throw away before the kids actually see them!), and also a discount for anything in their store (we let our daughter pick out her own present after the party). And we were truly guests, participating in the fun (they did ALL The set-up, serving, clean-up...they even provided baby wipes!).

If it isn't clear - I HIGHLY recommend Gymboree and wish we could continue to have our parties there longer!!! (I think they have a 5-year old age limit to keep everything scaled to "little kids".)


We opt out of the party scene.
Every other year we have a friend party and on alternate years it is family only.
I limit the number to 3-5 kids and even in the winter we find activities that we can do outside rain or shine. I don't have a large house either. I find that having it organized keeps the kids busy and out the door in 2 hours.
For gifts we do a book exchange where everyone brings a wrapped book and takes another home. NO bags of plastic treat stuff.
After some of the parties I have attended I wonder how much $$ was spent and how will the parents top it the next year.

One option is the celebrate the "real birthday" with relatives or a couple of close friends and then have a half-birthday celebration in a park 6 months later when presumably the weather would be better.

A very sensible article is presented here. Cheers!

About opting out of parties:

I'm from a family of 12 and our parents ruled that we could have a big birthday party on our 6th and 16th birthdays. All of our other birthdays were celebrated by a cake, after dinner, with family and sometimes a few friends. Worked out great and made the parties very special and fun.

Although I don't plan on having that many children, I think it is a good thing to have a rule about birthday bashes. We are going to rule 2, 6, 10 and 16 as the big birthday parties.

We recently attended a 4 yo's party at Papa's Pizza in Beaverton (I think they also have a Gresham store). It was a weekend and we had the place practically to ourselves.
A huge play area in a separate room (with a door!) - habitrail, ball pit, mini-carousel, mini-ferris wheel. It was clean, the pizza was good, the kids had a great time.
Their website says $5.95 per child includes the cups, plates, napkins, pizza, drinks, balloons, (but I believe you have to bring your own cake)

The portland playground gym does a great b-day party. Our son had his 6th b-day party there and it was easy and fun!

I recommend renting a party room or gym at the local community center. Big parties at per-person places like jump castles, etc are just financially out of reach for us. Call Portland Parks and Rec for sone Location recommendations. They have a great website.
I think it's okay to keep things small on a birthday. Big events can be a big stressor on little kids. My daughter's birthday is in April, so outside is no guarantee. And our apt. is small, so what to do? I think this year we are going to have three kids at a little party at home, and then maybe do an All Play Day in the summer when her whole daycare class can meet at a park when school is not in session. Ask folks to bring a snack to share. Not a birthday party, just a play day.
I think that actually my daughter would be overwhelmed this year by a large party and lots of gifts, another reason to keep things small.

A Portland area mother recommended I post this on here to let others know about my business:

For those looking for piratical parties, my crew and I can host wherever the wind may take you. We offer games, singing chanteys and jigging, tattooing (non-toxic skin pens used, of course), teaching the annals of real-life pirates, and much more. If you provide a space, we can be there...also, we offer gift packages and full-blown treasure hunts, essentially bringing the party to you! We have hosted ages 3 to 80, so we can properly gauge the party to the age. If you have any questions, you can contact Ace of Ruin on their facebook, or our website (though it is still under construction) or just give us a call: 317-2-MUTINY. Thanks for reading!

Although my husband and I were hoping to go low-key this year for our girl's birthday (she will be turning 4) she has been already talking about her "party" extensively in the past few weeks, to the point of mentioning friends she wants to invite and everything. *sigh*

While we could in theory host a low-key party with a few select friends at home, I am the type of personality that I will be an overly-anxious host, and I know I will also fret about cleaning the house from top to bottom...only to have it trashed AFTER the party by a handful of preschoolers.

I looked into CHAP this year and it looks like their art factor has sadly closed; they are only doing projects in the hospitals now.

I'm looking into The Playground Gym, as we have an early spring bday and I would ideally like to have space for the kids to get physical and get their sillies out. We may do a local community center too if that doesn't pan out.

P.S. Just wanted to point out that parties at SCRAP are only for kids 6 and older. Bummer for the preschooler parents!

Also, Cafe Au Play on SE Division can be rented out all to yourself, with a barita/beverage hostess available. It's not a huge space but very bright, lots of toys for toddler to preschoolers, books, comfy couch, and a few small cafe type tables. Outdoors (if weather permits) they also have nice outdoor patios and last year added a sandbox too. They are a nonprofit committed to serving families and nurturing childrens' development. Check them out!

I live on the west side and there are some nice indoor play areas that can be rented out from the local parks and rec dept. there is one at the walker road THPRD. i had my kids' combined 2 and 4 bday party at outdoorsin play area in hillsboro. there is a nice play structure and an alternate area for food, dance, and access to a big TV iff you want to do moveies. the play structure is great bcos it caters to age ranges from small to big. also, they have tons of toys that they pull out for all the kids. our guest list covered 1 to 5 yr olds, and everypne loved it.

I'm looking for a place under $200 that can hold about 75 people out of the cold.... Any suggestions?

Cooking birthday parties, if that's your child's thing, are great at the Merry Kitchen. $30/child and they're fed lunch or dinner, take home recipes and there's usually enough for the adults to sample. www.themerrykitchen.com
Classes are small (4 minimum, 8-10 maximum), but that way the kids don't get bored. It's all hands on.

We had a TRAM party where we parked at Spaghetti Factory, took the streetcar to the tram, walked around the OHSU suspension hall/bridge and back down. We came back to Spaghetti Factory for lunch! Not too expensive but a lot of fun and different!

My son just turned 5 and i completely dropped the ball on planning a party in advance and had no idea that weekend party dates fill up quick and that it is really expensive. We ended up renting the gym at Tucker Maxon just two weeks in advance and the kids got to play on the climbing wall and have full access to balls and different kinds of bikes. They all LOVED it and we could have as many kids as we wanted! Definitely recommend this...also, the P.E. teacher worked the climbing wall and made it really fun for the kids.

We've had parties at Emily Alexander's Preschool a few times. They are great! She does all the work, you just bring the kids and food. She does a puppet show and a craft.

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