I really loved the small family parties that we hosted for my daughter before she began preschool. Order some bagels or pizza, serve grown-up drinks, watch the little one devour her first cupcake, and everyone is happy.
Fast forward to the preschool years and all of a sudden you are knee deep in the debate over whether or not to do goody bags, puzzling over whether you should request that guests do a book exchange instead of gifts, wondering if you need a theme, are required to invite the whole preschool class or just all the children of your child’s gender and (if you live in Old Town) looking around your house with the realization that you do not have room to comfortably host a half dozen of your child’s friends (and their parents if it’s a preschool party). Never mind the grandparents and neighbors.
I adore outdoor children’s parties, but most of us in Old Town do not have backyards. There are loads of neighborhood parks but that probably means the rain site is your house, and if your party is anytime in the late fall, winter, or early spring, you obviously have to plan something inside anyway. And so, the first order of business is a venue. Fortunately there are plenty of indoor options in or near the 22314 ZIP code.
Chinquapin Recreation Center – 3210 King Street, Alexandria VA
Host an indoor swim party (ages 5-12) or let little ones romp around in the soft playroom (ages 5 and under). Minimum of 10 children for either party, maximum of 19 or 20 depending on the kind of party you host. Cost begins at about $100, and the kids will have about an hour of swimming or playing and an hour for refreshments in a separate party room.
Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department – 555 N. Washington Street, Falls Church VA
If your child wants a party at an actual firehouse, it can be difficult to find in our area. This location in Falls Church hosts parties, but I understand they book up months in advance. The party includes a tour of the facility (and the truck!), a demonstration, and the kids get to try on the equipment. $20 per child.
Friendship Firehouse Museum – 107 South Alfred Street, Alexandria VA
This charming space is available for parties of up to 10 children (ages 4 and up). The kids will love looking at all of the old fashioned firefighting equipment and you only need to bring the cake. Games, crafts, and a fireman’s hat and badge are included. The fee is $250.
Gadby’s Tavern Museum – 134 North Royal Street, Alexandria VA
For children ages 6 and up (20 children maximum), this charming historic space offers a choice of two themes. You child can host an afternoon tea party or entertain friends with tavern games. 18th century dancing lessons can be added to either package for an additional fee. $250 and up.
Gymboree - 318 South Pickett Street, Alexandria VA
Prices vary, depending on the kind of party.
Historic Fairfax Train Museum - 11200 Fairfax Station, Fairfax Station VA
My friend hosted her son’s 5th birthday party here and it was fantastic. It’s a bit of a drive from Old Town but worth it if your child loves trains. There's an outdoor caboose kids can climb on, and a good-size party room with a train table, as well as some electric trains they can watch. There is indoor and outdoor space if the weather is nice, but plenty of room inside if the weather does not cooperate. $200 and up for a weekend party.
Jermone “Buddie” Ford Nature Center – 5750 Sanger Avenue, Alexandria VA
A wide variety of ages (4-12) can enjoy a party here. For $165 (for up to 12 children) your guests will take part in a “nature oriented” activity and have a chance to see live animals.
Mount Vernon Recreation Center – 2017 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria VA
I’ve written up Sophia’s ice skating lessons here, and the skating parties always looked like a lot of fun. There’s a private room for cake and then the kids are off to the rink during the public free skate time. Price depends on the number of guests.
JW Tumbles - 3223 Duke Street, Alexandria VA
The kids love these parties and the wonderful staff here does all the work. $290 and up.
Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream - 109 King Street, Alexandria VA
Who doesn’t love the idea of an old fashioned ice cream party?
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum – 105-107 South Fairfax Street, Alexandria VA
If your child loves science (and really, what child doesn’t like mixing potions?), they can learn about making medicine as they learn about being an apothecary. For kids age 7 and up, maximum of 15. $250 and up.
Tiny Dancers - 621 South Washington Street, Alexandria VA
Fairytale birthday party themed parties for your little dancer. The package features a 90-minute themed party with costumes, props, and crafts. $375 and up for up to 10 children.
zpizza - 6328-C Richmond Highway, Alexandria VA or 3217 Duke Street, Alexandria VA
Bring in your birthday party or any group of kids to learn how to make their own pizzas and become certified "junior pizza chefs."
This is the first in a series of columns about party planning. Check back for columns on lovely outdoor venues when the weather warms up and resources for finding a face painter, moon bounce, Star Wars themed cake, or special guests of honor like Snow White or Elmo. If there are other party related resources you would like to see covered, let me know.