Forty 40th Birthday Party Ideas That Will Make You Downright Excited for the Big Four-Oh

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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, with the threat of COVID-19 still looming large, the confusion of figuring out the best way to celebrate this milestone is bringing you right 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 your celebration one to remember, whether you’re comfortable with in-person events right now or would prefer to celebrate virtually.

Editor’s note: Per recent CDC advice, the best way to minimize COVID risk and ensure that people can safely gather is to get vaccinated or get the booster if you’re eligible. And before gathering with friends and family, the CDC also suggests testing in advance and avoiding crowded indoor spaces. They also recommend that people continue to wear masks indoors in public spaces. (Psst: Here’s where to buy N95 and KN95 masks online right now.)

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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 avoid the crowds and get 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 a few of your favorite people with you? If your crew already has a camping pro or two, simply reserve the grounds you want to stay at and tell everyone to bring along their gear (and extra marshmallows). If camping is new to you, look into 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 a house a couple hours away

An Under the Tuscan Sun moment would certainly be amazing. But now is probably not the time to invite 16 of your dearest friends to an international soiree (and the child care cost…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—and such a rental, especially in shoulder season, could be lovely, affordable and low-risk. Check out some gorgeous options here.

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. You can even volunteer virtually these days. Whatever it is, you and your crew can make a difference (and still go for drinks after).

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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. (a la Demi Moore in Ghost, perhaps?) Look for pottery studios near you that offer group lessons. Hint: If you keep the party extra small, you’ll also benefit from more one-on-one time with an instructor.

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 a few 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. If you keep your guest list small (i.e., pandemic-friendly), it may not be as expensive as you’d assume. Plus, 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 somm by asking around at your local wine shop, five-star restaurant or Facebook wine snobs. Then, invite a few friends over so you can wine n’ dine them al fresco.

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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, so why not give them the business on your birthday, too? 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 yummy night in with a few friends.

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 better the beer. Bonus: Many taprooms feature outdoor tastings, a great option for folks who aren’t comfortable with indoor celebrations right now. And chances are there will be some great menus to go along with those great beer flights.

13. Go wine tasting

There’s nothing quite like sipping on the juice of the Gods at a winery or vineyard, and many are still offering tastings. That said, it’s typically by appointment only to keep things Covid safe, so call before you hop in the car and make the trip. Alternatively, you can explore virtual wine tasting options for a cozy, at-home experience that goes down just as easy.

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? Yep, many of us are on the hunt for a new hobby these days, and 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, for example. But if you missed out on the sourdough baking frenzy early on in the pandemic, don’t fret. You can still learn how to bake the perfect loaf by signing up for a sourdough baking class—there are multiple virtual options out there. It’s more complicated and interesting than you’d think, and you’ll be rewarded with a fresh loaf to slice in the morning for breakfast.

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16. Karaoke your heart out

Reserve a room for a small group. Order some pitchers of beer. And have your go-to song at the ready. (Psst: Here are some easy karaoke songs to get the party started.)

17. Catch a movie

Depending on your comfort level, a trip to the movie theater might not be on the agenda at the moment. Instead, why not have a few friends over for a home movie night, complete with cocktails and good eats? The options are plentiful—a streamable new release, a classic you never got around to watching, or a cheesy rom-com you’ve seen a hundred times are all fair game—and if the weather is nice you can even set up a projector in your backyard and make it an outdoor event.

18. Or rent out a theater

You really miss going to the movies. (We get it.) Good news: 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 over to learn your favorite game, or asking them to join you for some online gaming fun.

20. Go bowling

It never sounds as fun on paper as it actually is. Divide your party into teams to up the competition, and perhaps ask for bumpers and extra beer to keep things fun for all.

21. Cheer on a sports team

While it’s possible to attend a live sporting event these days, the consensus, sadly, is that it’s still not really advisable at the moment (thanks, Omicron). Instead, invite your fellow sports fans over, serve some tasty food and cold beer (and cake, of course) and root, root, root for the home team from the comfort of, well, home.

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 and virtual tour options, or inquire about renting out a space for a private event. Cocktails in the Egyptian wing? Don’t mind if we do.

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23. Get Toasted And Roasted

Celebrate your birthday by inviting all your friends to participate in a good old fashioned roast over Zoom—just be sure to send out a cocktail recipe with the invite, so you can be treated to a proper toast before the sharp-tongued comedy begins.

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

A huge party isn’t really in the cards right now—and for those of us who want to crawl under the table at the thought of having everyone we know in the same room, that’s not such a big deal. In fact, a party with just a few of your very best friends makes for a very memorable celebration, especially when you take it up a notch by getting together at a vacation house or fancy hotel—spouses included (or not).

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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 with only a small number of guests (depending on your comfort level) and without the distraction of screentime. 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, whilst providing an opportunity for the kind of human contact we could all benefit from right now.

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. Better yet, make it a masquerade and hold a contest to see who can turn their N95 mask into a work of art.

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29. Host a casino night

Bringing a little Atlantic City to you is easier than it sounds. Nab a poker 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. After all, even if it’s just a small shindig in your own home, breaking the ice 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. Watch A Magic Show

Will you go for the cliché, super cheesy magician or opt for a modern illusionist who’s less top hat and coattails and more “that’s a cute Zara blazer”? There’s no wrong answer, friends—just decide whether you want the event to take place at your home or have friends tune in remotely to a virtual magic show, and then sit back and enjoy the show.

33. Take a virtual dance class

You may have an aching back and flat feet that are no longer capable of wearing stilettos, but don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old to dance. Sign up for a virtual dance class and get ready to cut a rug. It sure beats a crowded dance floor teaming with 20 year olds, right?

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34. Have an at-home spa day

Score some top-notch skin care products and have a couple friends over for a day of pampering. You can even go all out and hire a masseuse and/or manicurist to come to you. (If you’re choosing between the two, we cast our vote in favor of deep tissue massage.)

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 plenty of options for having the performance (spoiler: no one really gets murdered) come to you—and 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 conquer. 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 your birthday— be a diva and bring your own table.

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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.

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