I still remember the activity surrounding my mom's 40th birthday party. My dad had spent most of the day preparing our home for the event, in which he moved the dining table and most of its surrounding chairs outside, and then strung up the light fixture so that it was no longer dangling from its cord. The whole day seemed like a big departure from all of our standard routines and rules—which was exciting for my childhood self, of course—and it all came together when my mom took to the dining-area-turned-dance-floor to do the electric slide with family and friends. I still remember her big smile and the fact that it was past my bedtime.
Fortieth birthdays should be as exuberant as that night was. It's a decade of increased confidence and wisdom, where all of the hard work and initial decisions of youth seem to hit their stride. If you're coming up on this milestone birthday and you're unsure of how to celebrate it, we gathered 15 ideas to choose from whether you're looking to mark the occasion with a small, medium, or large group.
You could sit at the chef's table of a buzzed-about restaurant or do all of the tourist-type amusements in your town. And if you really want to, you can do like my mom and have a dance party in your own home. No matter what you choose to do on your big day, throw caution to the wind. Given that this is an important birthday, it's worth it to make a lasting memory.
For a Small Group:
Charter a boat. Sure, this sounds extravagant. But think about it like this: You're with your closest loved ones, with the fresh air on your face and the gorgeous coastline in the distance. Sounds pretty nice, right? Now just imagine when someone pops a bottle of champagne in your honor.
Book a first-class seat. Plan a vacation where the one rule is that you have to get to the destination using a first-class ticket. Whether it's a short trip from New York to Miami or a longer jaunt between Los Angeles and Charleston, sipping complimentary champagne in A1 will start it off in style.
Request the chef's table. If there's a buzzed-about restaurant in town and you want to treat yourself to a new menu, then make a reservation at the chef's table for a fresh vantage point, too. This is an especially good idea for someone who just wants to celebrate as a party of two.
See a theater show. If you've been waiting and waiting to see Hamilton, or there's another playbill that has caught your eye, now is the time to treat yourself. Splurge for the closest possible seats, and go for cake after the final curtain.
Do a dare that you've never been brave enough to do. What if you've always wanted to go bungee jumping, or swimming with sharks? Whatever you've debated doing for fun over the years, but ended up talking yourself out of, now is the time to go for it. Just make sure one of your friends is ready with a camera.
For a Medium-Sized Group:
Act like a tourist for a day. Tourists have notoriously bad reputations, but really, sometimes they see the best a place has to offer. Instead of balking at the bus tours, or waving off certain crowded landmarks, join in. See the view from the top of the Empire State Building in the morning before the lines are long, go white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon, or rent a convertible to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. It's worth it.
Book a spa getaway. A spa is always an escape from the hectic pace of life, and that's why it can be particularly rewarding as a birthday present. Research spas that have the best massages, or soaking pools, or even views, and head there for a weekend.
Ask if your favorite restaurant can create a personalized prix-fixe menu. If you've been going to the same restaurant for years, ask if you can create a menu of your favorite things to enjoy with a small group. It'll be even better if they have a private room to dine in.
Get box seats at a concert. Again, this sounds incredibly extravagant. But if you're able to see a beloved band or performer—cough, Beyoncé, cough—then make it 40th birthday-worthy and splurge for the box seats. As you eat and dance in the privacy of your own space, you'll be glad you did.
Host a casino night. It's possible to rent classic casino tables alongside professional dealers who will set everything up in your home. Invite friends and family to dress up, and then play to win.
Rent an Airbnb in a new city. Gather your closest friends and take a trip to a new city of your choice, whether that's lively Austin, Texas or more relaxed Napa, California. Make sure the master suite is all yours, and then go explore.
For a Large Group:
Host a buffet luncheon at your home. This might sound like it could be a lot of work, but not if you designate a few close friends and family as organizers and cleaners. When the big day comes, you can simply head from your bedroom to the party.
Turn your dining room into a dance floor. It's clear where this idea came from, but it still works. Use your dining table to display food and drinks elsewhere, and even exchange your everyday lighting fixture for a disco ball. It'll truly be a night to remember!
Project a movie in your backyard. Think of a movie that always brings a smile to your face. Now imagine watching it from your decked-out backyard, which can be decorated with string lights, cozy blankets, and plenty of lawn chairs. Also make sure that there's enough popcorn and snacks for everyone, too.
Go bowling. This idea might just turn into a weekly event after your friends enjoy the throwback fun of this competitive game. Bonus points if everyone has a bowling shirt to wear as they play, too.