13 Birthday Ideas For Adults That Are More Fun Than Going Out To Dinner

Looking for birthday ideas for adults? Want to celebrate your birthday in a way that's more fun than a dinner out? Click through for meaningful birthday tips for grownups!

Birthday ideas for adults are often …. lacking, aren’t they?

It seems like our options are often limited to:

  • Corralling friends into a dinner out (but trying to do it on your Actual Birthday is nearly impossible plus budgets and traffic and dietary restrictions?)
  • Traveling (Which is awesome! But not always financially or logistically feasible)
  • Scrolling through all the Facebook birthday notifications and eating cake in the break room at work (When you’re really more of a pie person, anyhow.)

Today is my 39th birthday. We spent the last five days celebrating my birthday/our anniversary with a trip to Massachusetts and Vermont, but my thirst for celebration has yet to be quenched! I’m still going! If you’re looking for ways to celebrate your birthday, keeping reading.

13 Birthday Ideas For Adults That Are More Fun Than Going Out To Dinner

1. Take the day off and do as many happy-making things as you can

If it’s financially and logistically possible, take the day off from work. Switch shifts, request a personal day, or ask a family member to take the kids. AND THEN DO ALL YOUR FAVORITE THINGS.

What favorite things? The little things that make you happy that you keep putting off or ‘saving’ for special occasions. My birthday will include many of my favorite things: walking to the bakery, buying an almond croissant,  and then eating it next to the lake while I re-read one of my favorite books.

I’m getting a pedicure and having lunch with a friend at Shuang Cheng and ordering the garlic eggplant. I’m going to matinee by myself and then I’m going to wander Grand Avenue, popping into all the fancy shops. Maybe I’ll buy something! Maybe I’ll just look at amazing merchandising in Anthropologie, decide I need to treat myself with a little gift and buy one $15 candle!

If I do everything single one of these things, my whole dream day will ring up around $65. Not nothing, surely, but a pretty good price for a day filled almost exclusively with happiness.

2. Journal a bit about where you’d like to be this time next year

More than New Year’s Eve, I like to use my birthday as a time to check in with myself and my life. Am I making choices I’m proud of? Do my daily habits support the life I want for myself and my family? Where would I like to be on August 29th, next year?

If you need a bit of prompting and guidance for questions like these, here are nine birthday-related journaling prompts.

3. Put together your New Things List for the coming year

Every year on my birthday, I make a list of 25 new things I want to try in the coming year. I have yet to try all 25 things but even the practice of making the list (and noticing what I don’t complete!) is incredibly illuminating.

Your New Things are a great way to bond with friends, get outside your comfort zone, and make memories. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

4.  Try a birthday tradition from your ancestors

I’m Swedish, Norwegian, German, and a touch of French Canadian and Scottish, so there’s plenty to choose from. Maybe next year I’ll make myself a Swedish ‘princess cake’?

Here’s a great roundup of birthday traditions around the world!

5. Go to the top of your city’s/state’s/country’s tallest building at sunset

Take pictures in that perfect golden light, blow bubbles from the observation deck, thrust your arms behind you and holler about being the king of the world. Lots of tall buildings have a swanky restaurant or bar at the top so you can double dip here, getting dolled up and grabbing a free birthday drink.

6. Do something that makes you feel proud

Hike to the top of a mountain. Purge your closet. Forgive your ex. Reach out to that friend you haven’t talked to in ages. Finally schedule that doctor’s appointment. Chop all your hair off. Attempt that recipe you always thought was too hard. Start the next year of your life on the right foot!

7. Write a letter to yourself in five years

What’s your life like right now? Right this minute? Where will you be in five years time? A ranch house in the ‘burbs? Opening for Feist? Barrel racing?

What do you hope will be different in five years? What do you hope will be the same? Do you have any advice you’d give Future You? What’s one change you could make today that would be helpful to Future You?

8. Do something nice for your body

Your body deserves to celebrate another trip around the sun, too. What would feel the best? A massage? A floating tank? A yoga class? A long bike ride? A roll in the hay with your partner (or yourself!)

9. Throw yourself an amazing party

If you love celebrating your birthday and you wish your partner or best friend would throw you a party, tell them that.

And if that’s not on the table, throw the dang party for yourself. I know it’s very, very easy to get caught up in the way you’d like your life to look and how, exactly, you’d like things to go.

Sometimes, you have to choose between doing something yourself or not doing it at all. If that's the situation, JUST DO IT YOUR EVER-LOVING SELF. Share on X

Besides, if you plan it, you can choose a theme, the food, the guest list. Only the best for you, bunny.

Related: How to help other people make you happier

10. Go to a live show

Even better if it’s a band or performer you know nothing about. Open your city’s free arts & entertainment newspaper and go to the most recommended event that night, sight unseen

11. Get everything you possibly can for free

Free admission to Disneyland! Free Video Rentals! Free Sephora Gift! Or you could just go out to eat for every meal and see how many times you can get singing waiters.

12. Plan a long weekend getaway with your closest friends

Wouldn’t it be great to ring in your new year, on the porch of a beach house, drinking champagne with the friends you loved most? Poking around a little tourist town, going out for brunch and buying sea shell earrings? Or paddling around the bay in kayak, getting a bit sunburnt?

I swear by Airbnb for big group weekend rentals. If you’ve never booked with them, here’s $40 towards your first booking!

13. Make a list of all the awesome things you’ve accomplished in the last year

Too often we get hung up on what we haven’t done, the items that never seem to get crossed off our life to-do lists. Pour yourself something delicious, hunker down somewhere comfortable, and systemically think through the previous year and list every single cool, impressive, challenging thing you’ve done.

(If you need help jogging your memory, look through your Google calendar and your Facebook events!)

But I want to hear from you! How do you celebrate your birthday? Tell us in the comment so we can try your methods!

P.S. Babe, if you’re reading this, I’d like this for my birthday.

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

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  1. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    I wish I could afford to take the day off on my birthday! I only have ten days of annual leave so I try to spend them wisely, reserved for vacations overseas. But it’s an awesome idea. Everyone should get to spend their birthday away from their job! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Sharan Fifer

      I actually enjoyed working on my birthday. I would get amazing gifts from coworkers.

  2. Cynthia

    Happy birthday, Sarah! We share all the same feelings about birthdays. I realized a few years ago that I have a “birthday formula” that i know if I follow it, it will turn out amazing. My personal formula is: amazing long leisurely breakfast + going out to explore / do an activity + visit some natural space (like a botanical garden) + dinner some place I’ve long wanted to try and ordering a fancy drink + a party with friends, concert, or other interesting evening diversion that is not simply just going out to a bar. In the U.S. I would ALWAYS take my birthday off work, and in the country I live now, it’s a national holiday, so it works out.

  3. Halina

    Happy birthday, Sarah!

    Have you ever heard of FutureMe.org? You can email yourself and pick a day when it will be sent. I have emailed myself several years now, usually on my birthday. It’s such an experienced getting an email from yourself from however many years ago. I usually choose 2-3 birthdays in the future so I don’t remember what I wrote.

    Love the birthday ideas!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I’ll have to try that out!

    • Aisha Scott

      Great idea thank you so much!!!!

  4. Jennifer

    Happy Birthday! I am 40 and haven’t worked on my birthday since I graduated from college – my birthday tradition is to always take the day off. This year, since it was a milestone birthday, I really threw myself into collecting free things… and got quite a bit! It was fun to mix and match things at two of my favorite retailers so I only spent $1 of real money with my bday coupons ($25 and $15) – great deals and a great way to beat the system. 🙂

  5. Katie

    So I’ve been struggling lately in life, feeling “stuck” and not very fun. I have a new baby and have been remodeling a house down to the studs and life has just gotten away from me. Anyway, I’ve been googling things like, “how to be happy”, “how to be fun again”, and “how to start enjoying life”….but those searches didn’t produce anything. Reading this post has given me a huge boost of energy and ideas for how to make my life better this week! No, it is not my birthday, but boy oh boy, do I need this. Thank you so much for being so thoughtful in your posts and so authentic. Your insight is always so appreciated. Thank you for working hard to help me! I hope I can return the favor sometime in the future.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I’m so glad you found this useful, Katie!

  6. Annie

    Hot tip on Princess Cake! Woullet Bakery makes it and IT IS AMAZING! I’ve even seen them sell it by the slice at their downtown (US Bank Plaza) location.
    Also re: throwing yourself a party – sometimes it’s a matter of meeting your friends/family halfway. For my last milestone birthday, my friends & husband threw the party (did all the planning/food/decorating), but it was at our house. You like to plan, but don’t have the space? See if someone else will let you use their space and you take care of the rest!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks for the princess cake tip!

  7. Kathryn OHalloran

    It’s my birthday soon and my sister and I are going out to High Cheese. It’s like high tea but with cheeses instead = genius!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      That sounds AMAZING!

  8. Tracey

    My birthday is 5 days before Christmas which, the older I get, always seems like a huge hassle. One good thing I figured out, I was a baker in a past life and am very 1) particular about baked goods, and 2) have a very favorite cake I want for my birthday (yellow with chocolate buttercream frosting and sprinkles). Because our office holiday party usually falls on my birthday, I can bake my own cake and contribute it to the dessert table. And I get to eat my favorite cake!!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I love this! What a great way to celebrate!

    • Snow

      My boyfriends birthday is near Christmas and he HATED it..as a kid and even into adulthood he’d get birthday and Christmas gift as one, meaning on one of the two days kids live for, he wouldn’t get a gift….and rarely did he get a birthday party …kids not available because of to holidays or it became a holiday open house.
      So I called his siblings, let them in on the plan, and gave him a surprise birthday and a half party (6 months before his birthday). He was thrilled!
      His siblings continue to celebrate his birthday and a half as if it were his actual birthday.
      He refers to his actual birthday as his arrival date and looks forward to his ‘public’ birthday every summer!

      • Anonymous

        My daughters birthday is on Christmas Day!! It’s a tough one

        • Snaili

          My birthday is on 20th December so i might safe all my presents from my birthday and open them on Christmas day! #Double presents

  9. Sheila

    Happy Birthday! I also like to take mt birthday off work and have even taken a week of vacation around my birthday. I generally plan some wonderful things – this year I did an urban yoga retreat that included a number of non-yoga elements all designed for individual personal growth even though some were group activities. My birthday celebrating generally goes on over the course of a month and it gets better each year – next year I will be 53 in April and I have planned vacation time. Thank you for all you do – I look forward to your posts, ideas and positive relatable discussions. Have a wonderfully amazing “you” New Year!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks so much, Shelia! <3

      • Connie

        Sheila, what’s the yoga retreat you used?

  10. Meg

    I recently celebrated my 40th by volunteering for a cause I’m passionate about with a group of girlfriends – the cost was nothing and the memories, of course, are priceless!

  11. Anna

    I’m turning 26 next Thursday, had a huge letdown today when I realized it coincides with a big out-of-town event most of my friends will be at, so no dinner together on my birthday. But I made a new and improved plan after reading this!
    Now I’m going to spend the day at the tiny beach by our house, and then go to a ‘fancy’ dinner (at Outback, it’s my favorite) with my partner. Then Sunday we’re having a pool party at my partner’s parent’s house so our two families can meet and celebrate together. For celebrating with my friends, I’m gonna invite everyone over to have cake and watch a few favorite movies together the next weekend.
    Thanks for the new ideas, I’m much more excited about this year’s birthday now!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you found them helpful, Anna!

  12. Grissel

    Really liked this, will surely try it this birthday ?

  13. Jen

    Adding to #11: have a friend film or take photos of the happy birthdays from the restaurants. And make a collage of them as a keepsake! ?❤️

  14. Deatrice Richardson

    Well every birthday Nov 5 I celebrate a week before and a week afterwards. It’s really my Birthday all month. I start off the week before facials massages two deep tissue massages before and after birthday brunch day before go around town with friends gettting free stuff weekend of Birthday so Nov 2 and 9th I will be celebrating this year. Up getting hair and makeup done mall shopping with girl friends later dinner around 9 or 10 pm Limo pick up red carpet roll out. Next photo booth or paparazzi session next road trip entertainment some sharing of drinks casino ? club hopping hotel suite so trying to step it up from that.

  15. Jessica

    Happy Birthday!
    I found this post via Google, looking for something new for my 42nd birthday on Sept 10th. I’m a grandma this year and I’ve recently moved toward a more healthy life-style so food and alcohol is NOT on my list for the first time ever! So, thank you for the ideas and I am really going for it, this! I want to go somewhere sorta local, to do something active, healthy. I was thinking something like pole dance fitness or goat yoga, but I’ve never done pole dancing or yoga and my other peeps might not be interested. I like the idea of learning how to Canoe, kayak, paddle board, but it might be cold. So many ideas, weird weather time of year.
    Thanks again, for your thoughts and ideas!

  16. Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro

    This post just showed up in an email from PInterest a few minutes ago.

    Great suggestions!!!

    Here are a few more ideas:

    1) Reverse the digits and celebrate your birthday (or your friend’s birthday) as if you were that age. Relive what you liked. Add in what you wish you had done then… (For example, a 31 year old would recelebrate their 13th birthday).

    2) For those people with birthday’s at inconvenient times of the year (e.g., Christmas week) in addition to celebrating “half birthdays” you can celebrate hundred or thousand day birthdays. There are several calculators on the internet to figure out when these occur.

    3) For the really adventuresome people who like to be the center of attention at surprise events, form a surprise birthday club with some friends. Each person writes down 1) What they might like for a birthday celebration, 2) What they absolutely don’t want for their celebration, 3) Who they want to include for their celebration, 4) Who they do not want to include for their celebration, 5) Their name. phone and email. Their information is given to another group member–randomly assigned who becomes their birthday celebration organizer. A week or two before the celebration the honoree is told when & where to meet their birthday club captain, what to bring and wear, what time they will be home and nothing more. The captain is responsible for making the event a great one–working with the other club members and guests.

  17. Shweta

    Writing a complete post on social media can be a good idea to wish someone a happy birthday. Write everything that how you met first time and how your conversation started. your all lovely memories and tough situation when you stood side by side. It makes feel very great to everyone. Nice article by the way. thanks. 🙂

  18. suggi

    I recently celebrated my 40th by volunteering for a cause I’m passionate about with a group of girlfriends – the cost was nothing and the memories, of course, are priceless!!!

  19. Sissi

    Last year I gathered a few friends and we went to an escape room together – it was amazing! Afterwards we celebrated our escape at a bar. I think I am going to try to make this a bday tradition.

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