Kick your child’s star power up a notch on their special day the L.A. way, with a one-of-a-kind celebration served up with a touch of the delicious, the wild and a side of the fantastic. Why not knock a few things off the bucket list while they’re young, and let the adults come along for the enchanting ride?
Around-the-World Adventures in Ice Cream
The idea began, once upon a time, at a little girl’s birthday party. Adrienne Borlongan, founder and chief flavor master of Wanderlust Creamery (wanderlustcreamery.com), with four L.A.-area locations, is from L.A., but her parents are from the Philippines. She grew up eating lots of exotic foods – including the bright purple Filipino yam called ube – and her adventurous eating always met with a few raised eyebrows, especially around her classmates.
“When I was growing up and my birthday cake was purple, an ube cake, kids from my class would be like, ‘What’s that? Ew! I don’t want to try it!’” she says. This reaction inspired Borlongan to open people’s minds through the language of ice cream. Now, at Wanderlust, every month finds her crafting new inspirations. Always-available flavors include Sticky Rice Mango (Thailand), Pretzel + Rúgbraud (Iceland) – a toasted pretzel- infused ice cream served with caramelized Icelandic rye crumbs – Ube Malted Crunch (Philippines) and Honey Lavender (France).
You can make your child’s next birthday a global celebration by hosting a party at a Wanderlust ice cream shop, or bring the world of ice cream home by renting their charming ice cream cart.
Roving Like Robin Hood
Channel your child’s inner Robin Hood, Legolas, Princess Merida or Katniss Everdeen and hit all your birthday targets, too, when you party with Pasadena Roving Archers (rovingarchers.com). The cheerful, passionate archers from this most enchanting nonprofit will teach your child a skill that appears in lots of storybooks. They’re so dedicated to your enjoyment of the sport they love so much that they all volunteer.
The best way to plan your party with the Roving Archers is to arrange a group class where they can accommodate 10 to 20 partygoers with wonderful personal attention. These sessions take place around noon on Saturday and last two hours. Slots book up fast, so they suggest scheduling your party at least two months in advance.
Lessons are conducted in Lower Arroyo Seco Park, not far from Old Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. The public park has lots of trees for hanging piñatas and is a great picnic spot, with plenty of great restaurants nearby to provide delicacies for your picnic basket. Check out Lark Cake Shop (larkcakeshop.com) for the ultimate in birthday cake indulgence.
Since there is no minimum-age requirement, your archery birthday is perfect for the whole family. Partygoers only need to be old enough to take instruction and follow safety rules. After a round of safety lessons, archers learn basic commands, practice shooting at targets and play lots of games. At the end of the day, test your shooting skills by trying to break balloons set up on hay bale targets. Pop one and win the coveted “I Popped the Balloon” pin.
If the party turns your child into an aspiring Olympian, consider joining PRA’s Olympic Archery Development program.
Birthday Biking and Boating
Nothing says L.A. like a swanboat ride in one of the city’s most iconic parks. Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) rents beautiful swan paddleboats at Echo Park Lake and Lake Balboa in Van Nuys. When I asked why swan boats and not, say, dragons or ducks, they basically said less is more. The swans seem to keep in tune with the flora and fauna of the lakes, while also appearing Disney-esque.
Some of the first swan paddleboats came to U.S. shores via a Boston company called, not surprisingly, Swan Boats. They have been manufacturing the charmers since the 1800s. Two sizes are available. One seats two adults and two kids under 10, while others can accommodate up to five adults. Swan boat birthday parties last two hours, which includes safety instructions, loading and unloading and life jackets for all ages, even infants. During your 90 minutes of water time, you might want to switch seats so that everyone can take a turn pedaling.
At Echo Park Lake, if the weather is too hot, you can pedal close to the fountain in the center of the lake and chill in the spray. You can even have a picnic on the water in your boat. Bring your own snacks or have the Beacon cafe at the boathouse (beaconechopark.com) prepare a meal for you. Mention Wheel Fun Rentals for a discount. After your ride, have fun with Discovery Agents, an app that takes you on a treasure hunt of history around the park.
At both locations, you can also rent bikes and specialty four-wheel surrey cycles or incorporate boating and bikes with a Free for All package. Guests receive birthday wristbands that allow them to hop on the bike of their choice, ride on the bike path around the lake, jump into a boat, then do it all again as many times as they wish. In the Surrey Scavenger Hunt, groups of people ride surrey bikes around the park and hunt for answers to specific questions.
A Red-Carpet Birthday
At the iconic El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood (elcapitantheatre.com), Disney helps you rock its Red Carpet Party Package like a real A-lister. This movie-themed party features a staff greeting upon arrival, VIP concessions and a personalized movie-themed sheet cake. After the main event, enjoy your celebration in a shared party room with ice cream, party paper goods and unlimited soft drinks.
Super-size the celebration with the Movie Premiere Party Package, which includes a private room to celebrate after the film. The birthday child and guests get to choose a lunch of hot dogs or two slices of pizza, with sandwich and salad options available.
Professional photographs of your red-carpet arrival in front of the theater, at the entrance to the party and inside the party room will add paparazzi flare to the experience, and guests are mailed a CD of party photos as a keepsake. Guests also keep their party credential and lanyard, and your birthday child will feel like a celebrity with the gift of a guest-autographed movie poster.
Parties need to be booked at least a week in advance.
Birthdays Gone Wild
Enjoy a two-hour birthday party at the wildest place in L.A., the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (lazoo.org). Start your celebration with a ride on one of the world’s most diverse carousels, the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel, featuring 64 beautifully hand-carved wooden endangered species. Adventure-seekers will also enjoy the Animal Encounter, a 30-minute visit with a zookeeper who will introduce your guests to a special new friend – maybe a reptile, an armadillo or a sugar glider! Face painting and caricature artists are also available as add-ons to the birthday fun.
Party like a primate at one of the zoo’s celebration locations. Bring up to 500 of your besties to Treetops Terrace, up to 200 guests to the Eucalyptus Grove or as many as 80 to the more intimate Mahale Mountain. Several gazebos around the zoo also host birthday celebrations. The zoo’s catering department can help put the magic in your birthday meal with everything from sandwiches to hamburgers to western barbecue. Bring your own food if you prefer, but note that there is no refrigeration available.
The zoo will put together a great gift bag for your guests, including paddle balls, a plastic slinky, puzzle, keychain, a small animal figure, crayons and coloring page and a pop-up toy. Ask about customizing a bag that is perfect for your guests.
Build Your Own Birthday Delights
The motto at Galco’s Soda Pop Stop (sodapopstop.com) has always been “freedom of choice,” and that’s why it is a great destination for soda-pop birthdays. Kids can try soda making at the deli’s Creation Station, where 80 syrups offer millions of ways to have delicious fun concocting old favorites and new inventions.
Partygoers can choose a mixture of flavors, add their preferred carbonation strength, then cap and custom label their bottle for only $2.99 each. The hard part is knowing when to stop. Soda flavors range from the old-fashioned (cola, orange and strawberry) to the exotic (guava, pineapple, habanero/lime) to the seasonal (apple pie, pumpkin spice and cranberry).
When it’s time to eat, the deli has everything a birthday child could possibly want, from sandwiches, potato and macaroni salads to chips and, of course, lots of candy. The Old Tyme Candy aisle is conveniently located next to the Retro Toy aisle, where you’ll find lots of low-cost, low-tech toys such as balsa airplanes and slinky-type toys for guests’ goody bags.
For your sandwich selection, consider the Blockbuster, which comes with a side of L.A. history. One day in the 1950s, legend has it that heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano dropped in at the deli’s former location in downtown L.A. for a sandwich to go. After his first bite of the sandwich, which was so big he could barely fit it into his mouth, he said, “Wow, this is a real blockbuster!” The Blockbuster, renamed after Marciano’s exclamation, comes with beef, turkey or tuna. Enjoy it and your soda creations on Galco’s private back patio – but be sure to contact the store in advance if you’re bringing a large group.
These ideas, of course, are just a start. Add a few touches of your own to make your child’s next party a great day in L.A.
Laura Elliott specializes in writing stories about self-discovery, pilgrimages, eco-travel and journeys of the heart. She enjoys sailing and traveling the world.