No More Group Dinners: 11 SF Party Ideas That Are Way Better

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Originally published on The Bold Italic. (RIP) 

So we’ve already established that group birthday dinners are the worst. The worst! Not convinced? Read this on-point manifesto. We’re here to help – not just rant – so we’ve come up with a list of alternative ways to celebrate that won’t make your guests secretly resent you. I mean, it’s your party, and you can force people to tediously split a bill if you want to. Or you could start taking advantage of the wisdom that supposedly comes with age and upgrade your party-planning abilities. Here are 11 great places to start:

Church of 8 Wheels

It’s a church that’s been converted into a roller rink, complete with a DJ spinning the best in funk and soul. Groovy, right?! Entry is $10, and skate rentals are $5, so you can even invite friends who don’t have a tech-job salary.

Photo by Texas.713.

Ampersand Flower Shop

For people who don’t have a big-enough apartment in which to host their friends but want to do something cooler than visit a bar, this place is perfect and incredibly reasonably priced compared to almost all the other space-rental options in SF. Ampersand is the straight-up cutest little flower shop (seriously, it’s such an awesome spot), conveniently located on a side street off 16th Street and Guerrero. There are sofas and chairs and perfectly-lit standing room that can accommodate 50 guests comfortably – up to 80 if you want to open up the huge teal barn doors and spill out onto the sidewalk. You bring your own booze, food, and playlist, which you can hook up to their speaker system and use the place like it’s the gorgeous, flower-filled living room you never had. Really, it’s one of the best little semi-secrets in San Francisco. Rates depend on the date and time, so email owners Benjamin and Emerson at to work out the deets.


The birthday party of your youth gets the hipster upgrade with craft cocktails and delicious bar bites at Mission Bowling Club, which gives you the combination of a casual bar setting with a fun activity. Other options include Presidio Bowling Center, which has more than 50 beers and 19 wines to choose from and plays amazing old music videos after 10 pm; Yerba Buena Bowling, which has less frills but cheaper beers and games; and Lucky Strike, which is the Vegas of bowling alleys with a huge full-service bar and restaurant.

Hotel Pool Party

For about the same price as most group dinners, take yourself and a few friends on a little staycation. It’s guaranteed to be far more memorable than the chicken on most prix fixe menus. The Phoenix Hotel, for instance, has a chic Andy Warhol–inspired outdoor pool and adjoining retro rock-and-roll themed bar. It’s a little slice of Hollywood smack dab in the Tenderloin. One of our editors had a blast with a more tourist-y combo last year. She went to the Starlight Room (weird and cheesy, but totally fun) for drinks and then splurged on a room at the W for an after-hours pool party.

Photo by DavityDave.

House of Air

We don’t care how old you are; jumping on trampolines is always fun. Especially when those trampolines cover an entire historic airplane hangar. Rent trampoline space for your group (they have over 8,000 square feet), or choose from one of the party packages on the site.

St. George Spirits Tours and Tastings

Wine tasting has become almost as ubiquitous and loathed as the birthday dinner. For a boozier twist that your guests likely haven’t done to death, head to St. George Spirits in Alameda, where your group will be guided through the seriously cool distillery and learn a bunch of interesting facts about Prohibition and absinthe. After the tour, enjoy a guided tasting that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for craft spirits (and likely pretty tipsy).

Photo by Brook Peterson.

The Mexican Bus Tours

This isn’t your average party bus or cheesy limo experience. Instead the Mexican Bus is a tricked-out, decorated vintage 1965 GMC that’ll take you and up to 44 friends (plus all the alcohol you want to bring) anywhere in the Bay Area. Charter a bus, and plan your own route or choose from the tours (like to all the best Latin dance floors in the city) they’ve already planned for you.

Photo by Todd Lappin.

Indoor Sky Diving

Adrenaline seekers needn’t get in a plane to experience the rush of free-falling. Available to host groups of 5 to 35 fliers, iFly has an on-site party coordinator to help you find the right package for your group.

Photo by Arnold de Leon.

Aunt Charlie’s Lounge Drag Show

For a seriously cheap, seriously rowdy experience, tell your friends to bring some one-dollar bills and meet you at Aunt Charlie’s. At first glance, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge is just your run-of-the-mill Tenderloin dive bar, featuring cheap, stiff drinks and a varied clientele. That is until the ridiculously fun entertainment joins the party and turns the space into an underground cabaret and one of the best drag shows in the city. While there are a few shows every week, Friday and Saturday nights are where it’s at, when the Hot Boxxx Girls perform, and cover is a mere $5. Reservations are suggested, as the space is pretty tiny.

Photo by James Hosking.

Forbes Island 

Renting out a bar? Snooze fest. Renting the world’s only floating island? Now that’s a birthday of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 proportions and the perfect way to ring in a milestone year.  Forbes Island, the wharf’s best-kept secret, is home to a ship-themed fine-dining restaurant, bar, lighthouse, and awesome dance space, all floating off Pier 39 among views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the famous seals. It’s surprisingly affordable (as far as island rentals go) too. Secure the Tahiti banquet room for a $1,000 minimum spend on food and beverages (what most non-floating bars require anyway). Getting the entire island to yourself (and up to 100 guests) will run you between $3,500 and 5,500 in food and libations.

Photo by Mel.

Private Skee-Ball Tournament

Sure, you could go to Buckshot and try to bogart the games for your group. Or you could visit the National Skee-Ball Champion Joey the Cat’s personal warehouse (at a secret location in the Mission) and have free reign of his classic arcade games. Think skee ball, basketball, and air hockey. Joey is super-friendly and accommodating and will work with you to pull off the event you envision, whether you want to pull out all the stops with full-service catering, a tournament production, a sound system, and a photo booth or take a DIY route in which you provide the food and drink. Just drop Joey the Cat ( a line to get things started.

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