So, you've waited your entire life for this moment: You're about to turn 21. So excited for you, bestie! But I know there can also be a lot of pressure that comes with the milestone. I mean, you only turn 21 once, right? Between picking out the perfect birthday outfit and figuring out which cute cocktail you're going to ~legally~ consume first, the pressure of doing something memorable can be beyond stressful. And if you need a little help planning something extra special, don't worry, because I've compiled a handy list of 21st-birthday party ideas that'll make you feel like absolute royalty.
Now look, I get that it can be tricky to figure out exactly how to ring in your 21st. You wanna be creative and different! And you want your guests to enjoy themselves. (Most importantly though, you want your birthday to be very Instagrammable.) I get it! Which is I made sure that there's something for everybody on this list. Want to get wine drunk and flash your license at every bartender? Gotchu. Is your birthday tomorrow and you're stressed and have zero ideas how to celebrate? Also gotchu. Want to do something actually unique and not at all boring and cliché? GOT. CHU. Did I mention I gotchu?
If you're ready to do something completely and utterly epic (yes, I'm unironically using the word "epic" like it's 2012, don't @ me), I’ve corralled 50 of the best, most photo-op-worthy 21st birthday ideas that'll have you coming of age in style. Because really, at the end of the day, we’re all just tryna make ’em ask, “Who is SHE?” And She. Is. You.
1. Host a themed costume party
Who doesn't love a good excuse to play dress-up? Pick a fun theme (your fave TV show, a cool decade, the book series you loved as a kid, etc.) and go alllll the way out.
2. Plan a cute picnic
Now, this has got to be the most wholesome way to ring in your 21st year. Secure yourself an adorable picnic blanket and have your guests wear their best florals. Make sure everyone brings fancy baked goods for the full experience.
3. Sing your heart out at karaoke
There's nothing that brings people together quite like a good karaoke sesh. I mean, just watch the first 10 minutes of High School Musical for further evidence.
4. Book a hotel room or two
Fun fact: Some hotels require you to be 21 to book a room with them. Treat yourself to this ~novelty~ and then order a boozy room service experience to imbibe in while surrounded by lots of decorations. Bar downstairs? Take all of your GFs later in the evening and make a night of it.
5. Host a tarot-reading event
Let's get all the crystals, b*tch! You could be meditating, gifting each other customized gemstones, getting tarot readings, or a combo of all of the above. Just make sure they're speaking amaaaazing intentions to you, the birthday queen.
6. Channel the year you were born with a Y2K Party
Hello, early '00s! We missed you! (Well, we missed your fashion.) Having a Y2K party would be so trendy, since the fashions have been back for a bit, and you can always go out afterward looking and speaking like Paris Hilton.
7. Splurge on concert tix
Maybe it's been a while since you went to an event with thousands of people! Maybe your very fave artist is about to come to town! Maybe you just wanna drink and listen to some live music (how chill). If you time it right, you can also bring all your BFFs and make a whole night out of it. Backstage passes anyone?
8. Dress up for no reason
This could be in combination with a bunch of other events on this list, but giving each other makeovers and/or breaking out your best evening gown can either be an amazing precursor to a fancy night out, or just a fun at-home activity while making each other cocktails. Don't wanna blow all your birthday $$$ on a dress you'll never wear again because you broke the internet in it already? Rent something spectacular from a company like Nuuly or Fashionpass. (News flash: they both have lots of options from Selkie...and now's the perfect time to rock one.)
9. Go sky-diving
Hey, all you adrenaline lovers out there! First off, let's be friends. Secondly, find something that you and your (similarly minded) buddies would love to do and just absolutely go all in on the experience. Like skydiving. You only turn 21 once, after all.
10. Rent a party bus
Parties are somehow 1000% more fun on wheels. Don’t ask me why. It’s just science.
11. Hit up a casino
A very classic 21st birthday party romp: casino night. Find a joint in your area (or hit up Vegas if you’re going all out), squeeze into an aughts-era bandage dress, and try your gambling luck.
12. Host a slumber party
Granted, this will depend on the size of your place (so you might need to convince a bud with a big apartment to host this), but channel your inner middle school kid—minus braces—and have a fun night painting nails and watching rom-coms.
13. Share a big 'ole meal
And yes I mean this in a literal sense: Fondue or shabu-shabu places let you sit over a big pot of warm delicious liquid and dip lil morsels of food in it (also, it's not hard to replicate the same experience at home).
14. Pretend you're on vacay
Vacations are expensive AF and sometimes more exhausting than enjoyable, so replicate the very same experience with a staycation. You know the drill: a day off work, hotel, spa day, touristy things, dinner at a place you've never been. Go all-in, bbs.
15. Seek out a view
What's the tallest, most impressive building with a roof deck or bar in your area? Go there. While you're at it, take the most Insta-worthy photos/videos possible so that everyone knows you had the coolest 21st birthday. Level-up alternative: Go sky-diving (as mentioned above) or bungee jumping. A view's a view, after all.
16. Buy gifts for everyone
Okay, yes, it is basically all about you, but how fun would it be if all your friends swapped silly gifts, white elephant style! That way everyone can participate in the fun...with you getting the final say as the bday queen, ofc. We've got a whole list of 21st bday gift ideas if you're totally stumped about gifting (for you or anyone else)!
17. Host the biggest 21-themed party ever
Yes, yes, this is cliché, but how about some custom decorations that really push it over the top? Or a ridiculous, OTT, *Roaring 20s* theme? Like, really lean in on the ridiculousness and fun so it's still unforgettable.
18. Ride some horses
All my horse girls, raise your hand. This is maybe an activity you haven't done since you were 10, but rockin' a scenic trail or relearning old skills could be a fun time (so long as everyone's up for it). Alternatives: petting zoo, volunteering at a shelter, or just somehow getting your hands on some fluffy cuties.
19. Take a road trip
Are there any landmarks, restaurants, or hot spots that you've been dying to visit? Get a car (or RV if you're feeling frisky) with your friends and just drive! Don't forget the bomb birthday playlist, though.
20. Do a scavenger hunt
I can see it now: A boozy "you-themed" scavenger hunt at home. Challenge your friends to find specific items at your place, like your fave snack or your go-to comfort outfit. Winner gets the last slice of pizza.
21. Get thrifting
Shopping sprees are cool, but have you ever found the most luxe handbag at your local secondhand place and snagged it for a (relative) steal? Or the chicest jacket you're absolutely gonna wear on your next night out? Feel good about not contributing to the fast fashion problem while treating yourself to a well-deserved gift.
22. ...or design your own clothes
If you wanna tie-dye, really go for it with a sewing machine, or just chop your jeans into shorts, this is the moment. Ooh! Or! You can also do a clothing swap, where you and your pals trade items you don't need in your wardrobe anymore. (Beg your friend to bring that oversized blazer you keep stealing. Just this once? For your bday?)
23. Just have a girls’ day/night out
Wait, you really thought this wouldn't be on the list? I'm never above a classic, bbs. But you can always spice it up with themed outfits, drinking games, or ~extra-special~ dinner and dessert options.
24. Two words: spa day
If you’re looking for indulgence in the name of self-care, a spa day is ideal. Line up all the services you’ve been craving: facial, steam room, mud bath, whatever—sorry, boss, you’re OOO!
25. Throw a paint ’n’ sip party
A paint 'n' sip class is an easy way to get wasted under the guise of art and friendship. So round up your typical Wine Down Wednesday crew and hit the studio.
26. Take a pole dancing class
So, you got super inspired by Lil Nas X's skills in the "MONTERO" music video (same). Why not try a beginner’s pole dancing class? Bring some friends and get ready to test your core strength.
27. Hit up an escape room
All those in favor of banning corporate-bonding escape room events, say, “Aye.” All those in favor of reclaiming escape room events for fun 21st birthday parties, say, “Aye!”
28. Go to a burlesque show
If you’re here for high drama and high glamour, check out a burlesque show. Tamer than a strip club but way more riveting than most acts on a stage.
29. Party at a hotel pool
Book a cabana at your fave hotel pool and take in all the gorgeous views, beautiful people, and delicious small-batch cocktails. In a word: lux-ur-y.
30. Book a bottomless brunch
Okay, we couldn’t not include boozy brunch on this list—frankly, it’s a rite of passage. Hunt around for the best deal, make that reservation, and hydrate.
31. Go on a booze cruise
Ask your pals to reserve tickets beforehand, then spend an afternoon watching sunsets, taking in the waves, and sipping cute cocktails while looking even cuter.
32. Make all the Jell-O shots
It's not the whole party, but it's a start. And they’re so freakin’ easy and always a crowd-pleaser.
33. Take so many Polaroid pics
Ditto above, because nothing says “I’m young and fun!” like snapping a bunch of photos with a nostalgia-inducing real-life camera. The morning after, arrange all the shots on a cute surface so you can share ’em on the gram.
34. Visit wine country
Grab your crew and plan a visit to a vineyard. Who doesn’t want to frolic in fields of grapes?
35. Get that fancy wine pairing
Book a table at that fancy restaurant you’ve been dying to go to, and when they ask if you want the chef’s wine pairing, say hell yeah, because you’re 21 and that’s what adults do.
36. Go on a brewery tour
You’ve def never had a drink before tonight, so why not make your first one at a brewery with some friends? Many places offer small-group tours, so the party can double as a learning opportunity. The more you know, y'know?
37. Take a mixology class
Think of it as a debutante ball for your now-of-legal-drinking-age self.
38. Go to a roller disco
It's returned to public consciousness in recent years. Think: Beyoncé’s “Blow” music video and Maddy’s backstory montage in Euphoria. Why not make it real life?
39. Host an adult tea party
Whether you are a die-hard fan of The Crown, are obsessed with Meghan Markle, or just...love tea, this might be the cute bday outing you’ve been looking for. Many hotels hold high tea or you can stage the whole thing at home.
40. Create a 21st birthday bucket list
Have your friends drum up some zany dares, write ’em on a poster, and bam! You’ve got your activity list set for the whole damn night. (Make sure one of them says “raid the buffet.”)
41. Go bowling
Reserve some lanes at your local bowling alley and have a ball. It's wholesome! It's fun! And it's super easy to plan.
42. Hire a private chef
Dealing with restaurant reservations can be a pain in the butt—especially if you're planning on celebrating with a big group. Instead, opt for hiring a private chef. It's not only way cooler and fancier (it's giving Kardashian family energy!), but you also don't have to leave the comfort of your home. And you still get the dinner experience you imagined without leaving your house! You and your friends will be feeling like A+ celebs after this one!
43. Visit a theme park
Rollercoasters and your besties? A guaranteed good time.
44. Throw a DIY personality cocktail party
Gather your pals and have them create one-of-a-kind cocktails based on your personality traits. For example, are you energetic? Perhaps someone can whip a mixture with an energy drink. Or if you're sweet, one of your BFFs can make a fruity concoction. The more creative everyone is with their drinks, the more fun it'll be!
45. Host a roast
Because there's nothing more entertaining than your loved ones all in one room, teasing you about the silliest things. There's no doubt people will be screaming and crying on the floor laughing during this!
46. Have a trivia night
Put your friends to the test and see who knows you the best with a game of trivia all about you. Warning: It will get competitive!
47. Put on a murder mystery dinner
Why have a regular ol' dinner when you can have a ~murder mystery~ dinner!! Here's what you gotta do: plan a faux murder (a trip through Google Search can help you with that), assemble your suspects, and form witty, tricky clues. On the day of, you can decorate with spooky decor to really set the scene. BTW: Don't forget to inform your suspects before the dinner happens!
48. Celebrate at an arcade
Pac-Man, Dance Dance Revolution, and some pitchers of beer will 10,000 percent get the party started. Promise.
49. Organize a bar crawl
Draw out a map of local bars and order them based on where you want to go first and so on. Add some spice to it by assigning certain shots you have to take at a particular bar.
50. Have a taco and tequila fiesta
Set up a taco station with ingredients like tortillas, meat, cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, and more so that people can just make their own buffet-style. And another station with tequila-based bevs. Then voilà! (A piñata would make a fun addition too, IMO!)
Megan Uy is the assistant shopping editor at Cosmopolitan, where she searches for the best products in all things fashion, home, beauty, sex, gifts, and more, so you don’t have to. When she’s not writing for the site, she’s whipping up some cool and trendy content for the fashion section of the print magazine. She’s been with the brand since 2019 (when she was an itty-bitty editorial fellow), and she's also written for Delish, House Beautiful, and People. Follow her on Instagram to get some BTS of the editor life and chaotic NYC content. Also, feel free to hit her up if you ever wanna discuss the madness that is TikTok.
Hannah Chubb is the associate lifestyle editor at Cosmopolitan, covering all things home, travel, food, health, career, and more. She spends pretty much every hour of every day curating the internet for the best new products, trends, and travel destinations. You can typically find her looking for houses she can’t afford on Zillow or Airbnb, planning her next meal before she gets to the restaurant, or taking all of the Justin Bieber classes over and over and over again on Peloton. Follow her on Instagram.