Celebrating Evie’s 4th Birthday Without Breaking the Bank

How can I incorporate my family’s love for the outdoors and a preschooler’s active and inquisitive nature into a birthday celebration without spending too much?

As a kid, my parents really didn’t throw any of us birthday parties.  I mean, there were 5 of us kids, and birthday parties get expensive.  Most times, our birthdays were just celebrated at home where my mom cooked up some Filipino noodles, called pancit, and we had a homemade birthday cake.  She believed in most Filipino superstition, and eating long noodles were a sign of long life.  Unfortunately, I never learned how to cook pancit as well as mom does, so I haven’t really continued that tradition.

Last year, when Evie turned 3, we decided to throw her first co-ed friends and family birthday party.  It was her first year in preschool and she was pretty close to all of her buddies, so we wanted her to share the celebration with them.  We thought long and hard about how to do this without spending too much for a birthday party.  The confirmed guest list ended up being close to 90 people in the end, and that could get pretty pricey.  I started looking at things she was really into, and one of her favorite activities was getting in costume.  So that’s what we did, we had a costume party in February with a rack of costumes (some she had and some I found at thrift stores) some snacks, and set up a tent at the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland.  The open park was a great way for all the kids to run around while the parents can chill but still have eyes on their child.  Evie loved it and it ended up being a really fun time for the kids who both came in their old Halloween costumes (parents were really excited that they get to more use out of them) and also were free to grab a costume on the rack and change into something else.  It ended up being a super cute afternoon of kids running around with their creativity on display.

This year we were looking at the same number of guests but wanted to come up with something different.  Again, I started looking to the things that she’s been into recently, and luckily, being outdoors was a big one for her.  This was a huge cost saver in comparison to having at a zoo or theme park or even a Chuck E. Cheese.  California’s park systems are awesome at having things available for events as well, but they do charge so that could add up too.  I searched all the nearby parks for spaces that were available, and found the perfect idea on an island just off of Oakland, called Alameda.  They had a nature center, called Crab Cove, dedicated to fish life in the bay.  Crab Cove had tanks of sea life and they did free feeding demos on the weekends where people can come in and learn about the species and what they ate.  The center had craft stations and microscope discovery stations, and even seasonal activities for all to enjoy.  They did birthday parties for a price, which we considered, but really it consisted of a faculty-led art project and an official goodie bag from the center.  It was also something they only do once a week, and at a specific time in the morning.  The scheduled activity in February was a low tide exploration, where you can walk out on the beach that was just outside the center and look for some of the bay life that live there.  Some faculty walk the beach to assist with questions, but you can also borrow their nature bag full of helpful learning tools like identifying flashcards and magnifying glass.  Both the scheduled feeding and low tide exploration are things that happen in the afternoon, so we opted out of the morning party option.  We were already on our way to saving more money on the whole thing.  We didn’t need to splurge for activities, because the center took care of that and we didn’t need to rent an event space either because there were picnic benches just outside the center.  Totally a lesson in doing some research to find options available to you that you may not know about, then utilizing your own creativity to make it work for you.

We mentioned in the invite we sent out from Paperless Post (which we love more than Evite because there is a little more flexibility to do custom designs), that kids should bring some mud boots for low tide exploration.  Also, after teaching Evie about the kids in Flint, Michigan, we decided to make it a fundraiser and instead of gifts we were collecting donations for FlintKids.org.  (To host an event/fundraiser with proceeds supporting Flint Kids, please contact Sandra Murphy at 810-767-3653)  My family got there early to save the picnic tables.  The night before, I made cupcakes in ice cream cones for little hands to be able to eat cake without getting messy.  Throw some pizzas and snacks on the table, and we had a party!  Wine is not allowed on site, but if you were to try to bring some, bring boxed wine in a shopping bag with a hole cut out at the bottom for the spout, and place said bag at the end of the table for incognito drinking… I’m just saying ;P

As soon as guests arrived, we ate some food and did the cake, so the rest of the time the kids can burn off all that sugar doing whatever activity they wanted whether it was watching a fish feeding, coloring, climbing trees, finding lady bugs, playing in the wet sand, or combing the beach for small hermit crabs.  It was a great party and Evie had so much fun celebrating her birthday with everyone.

TIP: these cone racks made life a little easier:

Also, the goodie bags had a couple various sea shells (I scored a giant bag of them at a thrift store), a sea life coloring book and set of crayons, a package of Goldfish, and two tiny sea animal toys.

For more information on Crab Cove, please visit:

East Bay Parks Official Webpage for Crab Cove



Last year’s costume birthday party. She had a couple outfit changes that day.

DSC08579Getting there early to set up. Some of my family was in town from Chicago to celebrate and helped with the whole event.  The cupcake cones were set on a small kid-sized table and the banner was made by her class that week.


The collection box for FlintKids.Org, a cupcake cone cake, and her 4 year old photo.


Kids climbing the tree close by the picnic tables.

low tide

View to the beach from low tide, kids and parents all exploring to find something special.


Little crab find at Crab Cove.

FEATURED IMAGE: On her actual birthday, it was more low key and just celebrated with close friends at our favorite pizza place, Leaning Tower of Pizza.  She is still into wearing costumes, and decided to be Totoro that day.

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