18 birthday party ideas

Whether you're on a shoestring budget or the sky's the limit, we have 19 birthday party ideas your kids (and their friends) will love

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  • Photograph: Thomas M Kubik

    Little Beans Cafe

  • Photograph: Maggie Rife

    Bubbles Academy

  • Photograph: Melissa Salvatore

    Heritage Littles

  • Photograph: Marina Makropoulos

    Roots Pizza

  • Pied Piper Parties & Playschool

  • Pump It Up

  • Actors Gymnasium

  • Eli's Cheesecake World

  • iCream

  • Key Lime Cove

  • Team Blonde

  • Easel Art Studio

Photograph: Thomas M Kubik

Little Beans Cafe

1

The Actors Gymnasium at Noyes Cultural Arts Center

Instead of running away to join the circus, kids can head to this Evanston studio that often collaborates with Lookingglass Theatre on acrobatic productions. The Circus Arts party package, for ages eight and up, includes instruction on two circus tricks such as juggling, unicycling, trapeze or tightwire. Imaginastics, for younger kids, has the skilled and silly entertainers focusing on tumbling, gymnastics and storytelling. If it’s good enough for David Schwimmer, it’s good enough for your budding Bozo. $375 includes 60 minutes of instructional time and 30 minutes for cake (bring your own) for up to 15 children; pay $75 for up to five more kids.

  1. 927 Noyes St, Evanston
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2

Bubbles Academy

If you dream it, Bubbles can create it. This whimsical spot will take care of all of your party needs—you just need to take care of the food and goodie bags. If your child dreams of a superhero, the staff can create a party around that theme. Princesses and pirates? No problem. The talented instructors can lead sing-alongs and art classes, or you can opt for open play with bubbles, balls and building blocks. Packages start at $650, $550 if you are registered for a class.

  1. 1504 N Fremont St
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3

Children's Museum of Immigration at the Swedish American Museum

  • Price band: 1/4

Party kids get private access during normal hours to this Andersonville kids’ museum, where they can board a replica steamer ship on a “trip” to America, “milk” the wooden cow and row a Viking ship. Celebrate with your own spread in a small adjacent classroom (setup and cleanup are your job). Museum staff will lead a themed craft and game (Pippi Longstocking, Viking or Pioneer) for an additional $5 per kid. $175 (members $125) for three hours for up to 20 kids (30 guest max).

  1. 5211 N Clark St
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4

Easel Art Studio

  • Critics choice

Your budding Picasso will love this Wicker Park kid-focused art studio. A party here allows the little ones to rotate through age-appropriate crafts—fully smocked, of course. The team will work with you beforehand to approve the projects. You can choose to order in food from anywhere or take advantage of the discount Easel has with Piece pizza. Once art time is over, there are toys and a stand-up sandbox for even more fun. No need for goodie bags because kids get to take home their art. Parties cost $300 plus $12 per kid for the projects, and that includes the entire space, teachers, goodie bags and, if you choose, face painting or temporary tattoos.

  1. 1911 N Milwaukee Ave
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5

Eli's Cheesecake World

Indulge in a cheesecake extravaganza with a party package that includes a guided factory tour and hands-on mini-cake decorating for each guest with pastry bags and candy toppings, plus decorations, traditional birthday cake and drinks. $15 per child for a minimum of ten guests and a maximum of 40. Adults can take the tour with cake and drinks for $5 each. Taxes are not included.

  1. 6701 W Forest Preserve Dr
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6

Frozen Ropes

Little sluggers love parties at this huge indoor baseball training center, where they practice swinging in the batting cages, play guess-your-speed radar and hit the field with coaches for game play (bring your own gloves and bats). $475 World Series party gets 18 players 30 minutes in the batting cages, an hour in the full stadium and 30 minutes in the party room. $10 per additional kid.

7

Little Beans

  • Critics choice

This cute play space modeled after a town with its own grocery store, fire station and auto shop also hosts full-service birthday parties. For $550, you can get the standard package that includes two hours of fun in the playspace and three "Bean Buddies" that will do all of the setup and cleanup. If you want to add to the party, the team can help with food and decorations and even balloon animals or music. For summer parties, check out the back deck full of water toys and a private ice cream shop.

  1. 1809 W Webster Ave
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8

Heritage Littles

  • Price band: 2/4

If you're looking for a fun space with a relaxed vibe, this new Lincoln Avenue spot should be your pick. Part bike shop, part photo shop and part event space, it's one of the more unique picks. The party space has a special perk: a built-in milk and cookie bar with plenty of cookies. The rental fee is $325 for two hours for 15 kids including setup and cleanup. The rest is open to what you make it when you bring your own decor and food. Of course, the staff is willing to help with ideas and even supply face painters or parties in a box (courtesy of Land of Nod) for an additional fee.

  1. 2868 N Lincoln Ave
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9

Historic Wagner Farm

Experience a real “living farm” (read: not a petting zoo) with a party at this Glenview Park District spot. The Lil Farmers package (for ages 3–6) offers crafts like birdhouse painting and games such as Pin the Spots on the Cow, plus face time with sheep, draft horses and cows. Splurge on a horse-drawn wagon ride, $125 per 30 minutes. $270 for 90-minute parties for 10–25 kids, $305 package for older kids includes craft supplies, games and two staff helpers.

  1. 1510 Wagner Rd, Glenview
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10

iCream

  • Price band: 1/4

Young molecular gastronomists scream over this new-age ice-cream shop that fuses science with sweetness. Guests choose from more than 30 ice-cream flavors (from traditional vanilla and chocolate to burnt sugar and cream soda), tons of mix-ins (gum balls, fresh fruit, Oreos) and color options (kids get a major kick from eating orange-tinted mint ice cream), then go behind the counter to help churn their frozen treats on-the-spot with the help of liquid nitrogen. $150 shuts down iCream for an hour-long private party, plus $5 per guest for the ice cream. Groups larger than 20 should reserve at least 90 minutes.

  1. 1537 N Milwaukee Ave
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11

Inside Out Art Studio

Master mask maker Jeff Semmerling opens his Lincoln Square art studio to partyers ages seven and up to make their own creations (from a kid-sized basic form) or other crafts (puppets, sculpture, jewelry). You’re welcome to bring your own food and party decorations. $200 for 15 kids max.

  1. 4041 N Milwaukee Ave, suite 302
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12

Key Lime Cove

Your kids will forever thank you for a birthday trip to this tropical indoor water park (the temp’s a constant 82 degrees) in Gurnee with two body slides and a hurricane vortex whirlpool tube ride, so suck it up, shave your legs and brave baring that day-glo skin for a day. Overnight accommodations in two four-person rooms, plus eight Lost Paradise Waterpark admission wristbands, will set you back $320.

13

Pied Piper Parties and Playschool

  • Critics choice

This playschool, cooking school and party place has it all. Started by a former preschool teacher and chef, the space caters to kids who love to explore, with an emphasis on cooking. The facility is entirely nut-free, which should put some parents at ease. Kids can participate in classes that teach healthy food and cooking, or art, music and stories.

  1. 2864 N Lincoln Ave
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14

Pump It Up

  • Critics choice

Kids with boundless energy will enjoy bouncing from inflatable to inflatable, sliding down slides and using their imagination around every corner. The space often hosts theme jumps—superhero, glow jumps, family jumps—so check the calendar often!

  1. 821 W Eastman St
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15

Ravinia Pavilion

  • Price band: 3/4

Summertime soirees find a musical home at the open-air fest where little jammers can jump around. Past kid crowd-pleasers have included the Dirty Sock Funtime Band, Justin Roberts and, of course, Ralph’s World. $20, $25 or $30 per person; all packages include tent or lawn setup with table and chairs, pavilion tickets, lunch, balloons and gift for the birthday child. ($25 gets you goody bags, $30 adds a personalized birthday cake).

  1. 418 Sheridan Rd
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16

Roots Handmade Pizza

  • Price band: 1/4

If you plan to have a lot of adult guests in addition to kids, this is a great pick for its awesome Quad City pizza and, if you choose, Midwestern craft beer collection. There are two main spots in the restaurant, an upstairs and downstairs space, that can be transformed into the perfect party spot. The team is amenable to bringing in your own entertainment or toys, and if you are looking for a great cake, or cake balls, next door's West Town Bakery can whip up something great. Party prices vary based on time of year, which room and amount of food/drinks you want, so call for details.

  1. 1924 W Chicago Ave
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17

Team Blonde

  • Price band: 3/4

Blond-tressed duo Jayne Ertel and Heidi Vance’s studio hosts birthday bangle-making parties (think beaded bracelets, pendant necklaces) that score big with little design types. The adjoining ecofriendly spa offers polish changes to spruce up crafters’ nails. Down the street, Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor keeps the party going with a deal for an ice-cream cake, cupcakes or build-your-own sundaes, plus soda, balloons, a staff person and party room for an hour. $20 minimum per child for one or two jewelry creations or polish service; 25-kid max for 45 minutes to an hour of activity, plus time for cake. Brown Cow package is an extra $7 per person.

  1. 7442 W Madison Ave, Forest Park
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18

The Wishcraft Workshop

  • Price band: 3/4

This cheerful North Center storefront personalizes parties from start to finish. Chat with the owners ahead of time to tell them what makes your child tick (he raves about robots or she’s bound for a life in theater) and they take it from there with custom invites, birthday banners and an art project to suit your kid’s style (recycled-water-bottle robots, for example). $375 for a two-hour party for ten, $435 for up to 15, $495 for 20; $15 per additional child . Includes invites, paper goods, art project and embroidered T-shirt for the b-day kid.

  1. 3907 N Damen Ave
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