7 ways to transform a 21st birthday party into a blowout bash

Turning 21 is that final leap into adulthood. At long last, 21 is the age when young adults become *real adults*, and they can access all of the privileges that come along with that new ID card—legal casino visits, no-problem hotel reservations, and of course, celebrating with a round of alcoholic drinks. Now’s the time to finally realize some long-held party-planning fantasies for you or your soon-to-be 21-year-old. 

That said, figuring out how to celebrate past that first bottle of champagne (or ID check at the bar) can be a head-scratcher. If you’re planning a 21st birthday party for your newly minted adult son or daughter, your sweetheart, your BFF, or yourself, we’ve got 7 amazing ideas to get celebrating in no time.

 

Birthday ideas for ringing in the Big 2-1

From crafting a 21-year time capsule to heralding this new chapter with a beachside bonfire, there are so many possibilities for the best 21st birthday parties. Here are 7 of our absolute favorites.

 

Left: A 21st birthday invitation featuring a black champaign bottle on a gold and black card. Right: A nighttime close-up of two women’s hands holding cocktails.“Grand Cru” by Paperless Post; Image by Michael Discenza. 

#1. Hit the town

It’s a 21st birthday classic: letting the world know they’re officially “adulting” by getting all gussied up and painting the town red.

Whether you’re in a major U.S. city or a rural town, set your sights on the hottest neighborhood or cultural hubs and make a night of it. Just follow these phases for a night to remember:

 

Cocktails: Drumroll, please! Every newly-minted 21-year-old should start their celebrations with their first legal libation. Make it a special one by selecting your city or town’s swankiest bar, ideally, one known for its specialty cocktails.

 

Dinner: Where drinks are in order, food should never be far behind. Base your restaurant choice on the guest of honor’s favorite cuisines, or select an establishment that specializes in small plates and cocktails.

Dancing: End the night at a club, dance hall, or bar that lets patrons twirl away long into the night. Just remember: When there are cocktails in the mix, make sure you have a plan in place so every guest gets home safe and sound. Elect a designated driver (DD) to shuttle guests home, or confirm that you’ll have access (and fare) to use a rideshare app when it’s time to head home.

 

Left: An overhead shot of a boho-chic tabelsetting featuring white plates, rattan chargers, pillows, and pampas grass; Right: A 21st birthday invitation with tiny gold stars.Image by My AZ Picnic; “Starry-eyed” by Sugar Paper for Paperless Post.

#2. Host an intimate celebration

If your guest of honor falls comfortably on the introverted side of the themed party spectrum, plan a cushy night in to revel on their milestone birthday in the company of close friends. Here’s how to make a smaller-scale gathering memorable:

 

Curate their favorite cuisine – Order in from their go-to restaurant or assemble a buffet of their favorite nibbles to nosh on all night. For a special twist, curate an array of 21 snack obsessions they’ve adored at each stage of their life (Cheez-Its for age 5, Oreos for age 10, avocado mini-toasts for age 20, etc.).

 

Cultivate an intimate ambiance: Cozy nights in summon us to indulge all our senses: light plenty of candles, load up the couch and floors with pillows and faux fur throws, and put on a playlist of their favorite mellow tunes for an ultra-chill vibe.

 

Create a 21-year time capsule: Before the evening winds down, be sure to include an activity that commemorates what the celebrant means to each guest. You might even make a time capsule: have guests bring photos of the celebrant and jot their favorite memories on a crisp sheet of paper. Then, date and stow them in a special box and seal it shut. In 21 years (or on a rainy day), the guest of honor can open it and feel as showered in love as they were on this special 21st-birthday occasion.

 

Left: A 21st birthday celebration featuring a small, centered text box and a large photo border featuring black and white balloons; Right: A young man doing a flip into water.“Center Cut Out” by Paperless Post; Image by Oliver Sjöström.

#3. Schedule a whirlwind getaway

When we’re closing one chapter and opening the next, travel can be an excellent way to memorialize a momentous transition. 

You don’t have to book a trip to Fiji to indulge the guest of honor’s wanderlust (unless it’s in your event budget!)—a day away or a weekend road trip can provide a celebratory change of scenery just as well as an international excursion. 

Here’s how to make any 21st-birthday expedition one in a million:

 

Have at least one surprise in mind: Everyone’s travel style is different—while some prefer to plan their trips to a T, others are most gratified by embracing the spirit of spontaneity. Wherever you’re going, make sure to have at least one item on your agenda to orient your trip and surprise your guest of honor. It can be a physical place (like a top-tier art museum) or an activity (like seeing a night sky full of stars). Just be sure to plan one surprise destination ahead of time to make the expedition special.

 

Budget for hospitality: If there’s one factor where a little spending is in order, it’s where you’ll be crashing. Vetting (and booking) hotels or home rentals ahead ensure the guest of honor will be comfortable where they stay. If you’d prefer to cut costs, make your excursion a day trip and close out the evening with a celebratory nightcap at home.

 

Bring home a souvenir: Heading to an orchard upstate? Fill up the car with a baleful of apples. Visiting a nearby town? Go antiquing and select a small memento to remember it by. Off to the beach? Go shell-hunting and bring your loveliest finds back home. Wherever you go, taking a unique memento from your trip will seal in the memory for years to come.

 

Left: A dark close-up of empty cocktail glasses on a tray surrounded by fairy lights; Right: A 21st birthday invitation featuring a black-and-gold malachite pattern.Image by Jianxiang Wu; “Malachite” by Jonathan Adler for Paperless Post.

#4. Plan a surprise party

If you plan to celebrate 21 with a group of friends, turn up the dial by throwing a surprise affair. 

You can find everything you need to know about throwing a surprise party in our surprise birthday party guide, but where 21st birthdays are concerned be sure to put the following gears in motion:

 

Keep it hush-hush: Because turning 21 brings momentous expectations, your best bet is to rally a brigade of besties to lead the new adult into the larger affair. One factor is a non-negotiable for pulling off a surprise birthday—stealthy invitations—so opt for digital surprise party invites to loop in guests without leaving a paper trail.

 

Have a set-up strategy in place: While the guest of honor is being lovingly distracted by a handful of pals, choose a location for the rest of the guests to congregate: a park, a restaurant, or a swanky hotel bar. Be sure to confirm with the others where the guest of honor will be entering so you can greet them properly when they finally make landing.

 

Create a birthday spectacle: Choose at least one decorative or entertainment accent to rally around and congratulate the guest of honor. This can be a lavish birthday cake, a DJ and dancefloor, or recruiting a guest to be the photographer at that moment of truth where the crowd shouts “SURPRISE!”

 

Left: A bright floral 21st birthday invitation; Right: An overhead shot of breakfast and brunch items like eggs, lattes, and avocado toast.“Tresco” by Liberty Fabrics for Paperless Post; Image by Colin Michel.

#5. Host a boozy brunch

Brunch has become a bonafide American tradition, and it’s a perfect semi-casual way to toast to many more years of, you guessed it, bottomless mimosas.

Here’s how to deck out a brunch celebration for a 21st birthday twist:

 

Skip the cake, but don’t skip the candles: There are plenty of brunch delicacies to indulge the guest of honor’s sweet tooth if birthday cake isn’t on the brunch menu! Bring along some festive candles that match your theme and coordinate with the waitstaff to ensure your table gets an incandescent order of pancakes, waffles, or pastry that lets the guest of honor have their birthday wish.

 

Map a post-brunch bar crawl: Post-brunch, plan a pub crawl to keep the celebrations going. Send guests a map of the territory you plan to cover beforehand so that those who can’t join up for your meal can stop by to deliver their congratulations along your route.

 

Pick a landing spot: After a day of bar-hopping, choose your final destination wisely. If the celebrant loves to be pampered, why not follow brunch with a trip to the nail salon or spa? Or, have guests toast the occasion with a quaint sunset picnic in the park. To keep plans no-fuss, head home, break out the chips and guac, and kick back to watch their favorite team win big before turning in.

 

Left: A bonfire on a beach; Right: A 21st birthday invitation with illustrated bottle caps.Image via Vadim Sodovski; “Tops Popped” by Cheree Berry Paper & Design.

#6. Throw a beach soiree

If your guest of honor is celebrating 21 in fine weather, there’s no better way to boogie down than hosting an outdoor affair by the sand and surf. When planning a beach bash, consider:

 

Hosting a bonfire: For slightly more rugged affairs, organize a beach bonfire and gather around for barbecue, s’mores, and memories made under a sky full of stars. 

 

Hiring a DJ: If your guest of honor loves to dance, what better way to ring in their newest lap around the sun than hiring a pro to set the tone for 21? Just be sure to check your local beach’s noise regulations to ensure your celebrations won’t be a disturbance when you’re partying in the wee hours.

Heading to a hotel: Beachside hotels can be a phenomenal location for 21st birthdays, as they have all the amenities close at hand: impeccable cocktails, delicious seafood, and, our favorite, a beachside pool (preferably with a swim-up bar). Lounge by the pool, take advantage of the hot tubs, and maybe even book a suite for when the celebrations come to a close.

 

Left: A 21st birthday invitation with midcentury style font and sparkles; Right: An A-Frame cabin in the woods.“Sparkling and Swinging” by Paperless Post; Image by David Kovalenko.

#7. Pair up with a friend

Doubling up your celebrations by co-hosting with a friend is an excellent way to celebrate if you’re throwing your 21st birthday for yourself but don’t necessarily want all eyes on you.

Here are three tips for splitting your and a pal’s 21st birthdays right down the middle:

 

Make it a weekend-long event: Gather your friend groups and schedule a weekend getaway at a lakehouse, beach condo, or ski lodge. Not only is the more always the merrier, but lengthy shindigs can be vastly more affordable when everyone pitches in for the lodging. What’s more, communal meals will not only add to the spirit of camaraderie—they’re much more wallet-friendly than holding a decadent dinner at a ritzy restaurant!

 

Embrace double-centric 21 birthday party themes: If you’re a fan of a theme party, embrace one that highlights the spirit of your joint event. “Double Or Nothing” casino soirees, an “Evil Twin” costume party, or even encouraging guests to bring +1s on your invitation will add liveliness (and volume) to your guest list for a night to remember.

 

Hold an elevated dinner party: At times, bringing two friend groups together calls for more intimate festivities. Instead of a blowout, consider hosting a wine-and-cheese, cocktail hour, or an upscale banquet where guests can mingle and get to know one another. When you’re on the cusp of your 20s, few affairs feel more grown-up than keeping things civil with an upscale dinner party!

 

3 impeccable invites to tease a knockout 21st birthday party

However you celebrate, be sure to kick off your  21st birthday celebration with some visually impeccable and fool-proof digital invitations. 

These styles fit the bill for whatever festivities you’re cooking up.

 

Get your shine on: If you’re aiming for a party style that turns up the dial on shenanigans, go for a glam invitation inspired by personalized balloons to build anticipation for the evening. We love this witty phrasing for its Marie Antoinette-inspired flair:

 

Sally Bowles

Is Having Her Cake

And Eating It, Too

November 20th

At 6PM

Kit Kat Klub

 

Keep it classic: For elegant affairs you’re throwing with a few close friends, keep graphics minimal to spotlight the occasion’s sentimental value:

 

Join Tracy Lord For Confetti

And Cocktails In Honor Of Her

21st birthday

Friday, December 27th At 8PM

The Hepburn Hotel

Philadelphia

 

Feature a photo (or several): If your guest list includes family, friends, and invitees from different domains of your life, aim for an invitation that highlights the guest of honor to lock in universal appeal. Highlight your party with wording like so:

 

Bessie Is

Turning 21

Join Les In Toasting

Her Grand Achievement

Saturday, July 10th

At 1PM

9 Story Avenue

 

An animated invitation featuring a palm tree background and the words “Aging & Raging.”“Aging and Raging” Flyer by Paperless Post.

Get primed for your party with Paperless Post

Setting the stage for the best 21st birthday party? Imbue your shindig with some magic while simplifying the party-planning process when you team up with Paperless Post to deliver your invitation experience.

 

Shop digital invites, party supplies, and fine more party-planning inspiration all at Paperless Post!

 

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