How to Celebrate a 21st Birthday

Four Methods:Enjoying Your First Drinks SafelyGoing OutStaying InHaving a Dry Party

Ah, adulthood. You only turn 21 once, so learning how to plan for an epic evening of legal drinking and fun requires a bit of planning. You can learn to enjoy those first drinks and stay safe, whether you're going out or staying in to party. You can also plan a super-fun dry party for yourself if you're not interested or able to imbibe. It's your birthday! Plan it like you want. See Step 1 for a variety of options and ways to stay safe on your birthday.

Method 1
Enjoying Your First Drinks Safely

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    Take it slow. You're 21! You should be excited, and probably anxious to get your first legal taste of alcohol in public. But try to remember that you'll be of legal drinking age for the rest of your life. You don't have to drink all the drinks at once. Starting the rest of that life with a two day hangover isn't probably the best idea. Prepare for a long night of fun and don't rush into things, especially when it comes to alcohol.
    • A good rule of thumb is that you should have no more than one drink per hour to keep a handle on your sobriety, although alcohol affects everyone differently. Different strengths of alcohol can sneak up on you more quickly, while some take a while to show effects. Keeping it to around one and no more than two drinks per hour will help keep most people in control of their faculties.
    • One drink in an evening can be enough to register above limit on a breathalyzer test, and one drink is often enough to get one person tipsy. Always use extreme caution any time you're drinking alcohol, and never drive under any circumstances after consuming.
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    Learn about what you're drinking. Different drinks work in different ways, so it's important to get informed about the differences in the types of alcohol you'll find at a bar or a liquor store, if you're not familiar already.
    • A shot is usually about 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, and the average liquor is about 40% alcohol by volume, or 80 proof.
    • A beer is usually about 12 ounces, although beer is often served in pint glasses, which are slightly larger. Regular beers and light beers like Budweiser, Coors, or other beers are usually between 2 and 5% alcohol by volume, while certain microbrews can be much higher, 6-8% in some cases. Drinking a single heavy Indiana Pale Ale, for example, will have about as much alcohol as two Bud Lites.
    • A glass of wine is about 4 ounces, usually, and is usually between 12 and 18% alcohol by volume, depending on the variety.
    • Cocktails are mixtures of different hard liquors, flavored liqueurs, sodas, fruit juices, and other liquids, depending on the cocktail itself. Most cocktails contain one or two shots worth of hard liquor, however. Ask the bartender for more specific information.
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    Eat something first and drink plenty of water. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Before you decide to have your first drinks, get something substantial to eat first and try to stay hydrated throughout the evening, if you're planning on having a couple. Going out for a meal at a restaurant that serves alcohol can be a great way of doing both things at once.
    • Eggs are an excellent precursor to a night of drinking because they contain cysteine, which helps to break down alcohol in your system. Pickles are also an excellent choice, which contain salts and electrolytes, which alcohol depletes in your body.
    • Drink at least one glass of water for every drink of alcohol you have. Hangovers are primarily the result of dehydration, and it's possible to head a troubling morning-after off at the pass by drinking enough water throughout the night.
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    Celebrate with friends you can trust. If you're going out and planning on drinking, it's especially important that you're going out with a trusted group of friends who you're confident won't take advantage of you in an inebriated state. Don't celebrate with people who will test your limits or push you into doing things you don't want to do. Bring a supportive and trustworthy group along for the fun, who'll be able to take care of you if necessary.
    • If you're in a large group, at least one person should be sober, or in the neighborhood of sober, if everyone else is getting out of control. It's important that there be at least one voice of reason, or one good candidate to talk to the cops when the show up at the house.
    • If you're going anywhere, you must designate a driver to remain sober and act as the chauffeur. Even one or two drinks can be enough to register on a breathalyzer test, leading to a bummer of a birthday night. The cops don't care that it's your special night.
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    Never leave a drink unattended. Especially true at bars, but equally true at house parties, it's important that you keep your drink with you at all times. Go up to the bar to get your own drinks, never accept drinks offered by strangers, and abandon drinks that you're unsure about.
    • Tainted drinks or drinks spiked with sedatives and other drugs are an unfortunately common occurrence at bars, and inexperienced 21-year-olds make an easy target. Have fun, but keep your friends close and stay safe.
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    Don't mix different kinds of alcohol together. Everyone reacts differently to different types of alcohol, especially depending on your body type and your sex: men process alcohol much differently than women do. When you're first learning about your tolerance, it's best to not jump around doing a couple beers, a shot, then a glass of wine, then a cocktail. It makes it harder to keep track of what you've already had to drink and control your sobriety.
    • A classic drinkers' slogan goes "Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, no fear." The order of drinks being consumed has no effect, however, on your inebriation, compared to the amount of liquor consumed. It's perfectly possible to get a nasty hangover by taking a shot before a beer.
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    Prepare for recovery. Before you go out, stock up for the possibility of a rough morning, even if you're planning on taking it easy. After a night of drinking, it's common that you might experience some nausea, headache, and sensitivity to sound and light, the result of dehydration and a lowered electrolyte count. By preparing correctly, though, you can get on top of your hangover quickly and salvage the day.
    • Drink a sports drink in the morning, if you're feeling dehydrated, cut with water to make it more palatable, if necessary. The sugar and the electrolytes will help to replenish what the alcohol sapped from your body.[1]
    • try to get something on your stomach the next morning, even if it's just some dry toast. Kickstarting your metabolism is essential to starting recovery. If you need to take an ibuprofen, also, you'll need to have something on your stomach. Mixing ibuprofen with alcohol can irritate the stomach lining.

Method 2
Going Out

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    Stay safe. If you're going to welcome yourself to adulthood by having an all-out crazy celebration of your self and your ability to consume the boozes legally, you have to do it with a plan for staying safe and for being a little responsible. If you're going to party, you might as well party right.
    • Bring a go-bag with you. Have some emergency supplies on hand in a backpack, purse, or other carrying case: energy drink, sports drink, prophylactic, extra keys, extra cash, cellphone charger, toothbrush, and list of emergency numbers. Never a bad idea.
    • Let several people know your plans for the night in case things go awry. Let a neighbor, a parent, a housemate, or someone else you trust know where you'll be, what you're planning on doing, and what to do in an emergency. It's not lame to take care of yourself.
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    Designate a driver. If you're going to celebrate your 21st with a night on the town and you're planning on having a couple drinks, make a designated driver the first priority. Elect a friend to stay sober and chauffeur you around, in exchange for a free dinner, if necessary. If you live in the city, walk around, take public transportation, or use taxi cabs to travel. If you've got the funds, a limo is always a great party option. Don't drive after drinking, under any circumstances.
    • Before you go out, program the number of late-night taxi services into your phone. That way, if you end up unsure about how to get around, you can call quickly and easily and make sure that you'll be safe.
    • If you're walking home late at night, always walk in a group and make sure that everyone gets home safely. Make sure that everyone in your group has already exchanged numbers before setting out for the night, in case you get separated.
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    Pick a place, or hop around. Depending on your plants, it might be fun to hit up a bunch of different places in a small area, head to a few special locations, or pick the perfect spot and hole up there for the evening. All approaches can be fun ways to party.
    • If you want to bar-crawl, find an area that's densely packed with cool bars, so you won't have to worry about transporting yourself in between them, and can walk. Start by eating dinner at the brew-pup and trying a flight of the house made beers to see what you like. Then have an after-dinner cocktail at the fancy bar across the street, and finish off the night with cheap drinks and pool at the dive a few blocks away.
    • Alternatively, find one place and warn them you're coming. If you've got a favorite restaurant, pick somewhere you'll be able to have a good meal, accommodate a large group, and hang out afterward for drinks, if necessary. A super-trendy or popular restaurant might not want a huge table taking up space for an entire evening. You'll probably want to call ahead to make a reservation and let them know how many people will be attending.
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    Travel somewhere. No place close by where you want to party? Go where the party is. If you plan it out far enough ahead of time and have the funds to pay for lodging, heading somewhere exotic for a birthday celebration will make sure you kick off your drinking years in style.
    • In America, Las Vegas and New Orleans are great towns in which to turn 21, with a big party-culture, plenty to do for leisure, and friendly open-container laws.
    • If you head to Europe or elsewhere, know that turning 21 carries less of a cultural significance than in the United States, since the drinking age is usually different. It'll still be a blast for you, but shouting that you're 21 and waving your ID in peoples' faces will probably just earn some confused looks.[2]
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    Decide how much money you're willing to spend. It's your birthday, so you're the one who gets to decide how classy, trashy, or somewhere in between your birthday is going to be. Your sister might be after you to eat raw oysters at some fancy seaside resort, when all you want to do is hang out with your friends. Consider the guests, the venues, and the type of partying you're after when considering the cost.
    • Classy option: Plan an exclusive wine tasting with a few close friends and get dressed up in fancy clothes for your 21st. Then score reservations at a trendy small-plate restaurant back in town and sample deserts with after-dinner cocktails somewhere else. Make like you're in Sex and the City, and live it up right. Make it less about "getting drunk" and more about "becoming an adult." If you happen to get a little tipsy in the process, all the better.[3]
    • Budget option: It's always a popular option to throw a campy bar-crawl, frat-style. Hit up the rankest dive bars in your town with 20 friends, throw darts and dance wearing plastic leis, and end the night with some late night Taco Bell. It's about memories, not spending a ton of money. Cut loose and have a blast on the cheap.
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    Keep your plans loose. It's good to make plans, but no night on the town should feel like a forced march. If you make reservations at too many different places and have a really specific list of cocktails, appetizers, and different things you want to try before a certain hour, it can seem less like a party and more like work. Remember that you're supposed to have fun and try to allow some time to fly by the seat of your pants.
    • If you have to make reservations, make one for dinner, and go there first before you do anything else. Afterwards, leave some of your plans up in the air. Make sure at least one person has a smart phone and can look things up on the fly.
    • One fun way of celebrating can be to turn over the decision making process to someone else and let them plan everything. That way you can be free to sit back and party. Where you're going next? Who cares! Let someone else lead the way.
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    Have fun, but don't be obnoxious. Turning 21 might seem like the biggest deal in the world to you right now, but the guy trying to get a quick bite and a beer after work probably doesn't want to be hassled by 20 drunk college kids, and the wait staff is probably just trying to get through their shift as quickly as possible. Don't make a scene and try to be as considerate as possible with others.
    • Leave a big tip if you've got a big party. If you've got a big group of drunk people making lots of noise, mess, and drawing lots of attention to itself, you need to compensate your servers with a generous tip. If the party is big enough, an automatic tip may be included, but consider going above in some cases, if you can afford it.
    • If you've got a large, unwieldy party that's hopping between bars, try a helpful friend-making trick: buy drinks for strangers. A table trying to have a quiet dinner keeps making annoyed faces at your table? Don't make a big deal out of it, or complain. Send them another round on your tab and show a little class.
    • Pay the fun forward. If it's your 21st, fill a bag with 21 beers and give them out to people at the bar you're worried you might have annoyed, like souvenirs for your party. They'll chill out. Be the beer fairy.
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    Try the midnight-to-midnight. Some people like to start partying at the first possible minute. Make your 21st birthday start the last night of your 20th by waiting until the very moment the clock strikes midnight to show your ID to the bouncer at a bar. Walk in a liberated 21 year old.
    • If you want to get especially ambitious, some people try to keep the party going for all 24 hours of your actual birthday. That means you've got to keep partying until the following midnight. If you do this, the name of the game is hydration. Schedule some down time to drink a couple Gatorades, catch up on some bad TV, and chill out. No one can survive 24 hours of straight drinking.
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    Know when to pack it in. Eventually, your birthday's going to have to end, and it's better that it ends safely and probably sooner rather than later. Some bars can get a little hairy in the after-hours, and it's not usually a good idea to get caught out too late. Make sure you stay in a group and head home at a reasonable hour.
    • Before you go out, give yourself a loose curfew, so you won't have to worry about decided when to go home later. Call a cab ahead of time and arrange for it to arrive when you'd like to leave. Then you can enjoy your night worry free.

Method 3
Staying In

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    Stock up and batten down the hatches. If you're finally 21, a house party can be a great way to ring in the year. Head to the liquor store and stock up on a variety of booze, invite enough friends to tear the place down, and get a DJ. Party time.
    • You only get so many opportunities in life to throw a kegger. Your 21st is the most obvious. Invite lots of people, make sure they're all over 21, and drink a giant keg of beer together.
    • Clear everything out of the living room to make a party space, hiding anything breakable, or anything your roommates don't want stolen.
    • If you're going to throw a loud party with music, warn your neighbors and get on their good side to avoid an uncomfortable house call from the police late at night. try to be considerate of your neighbors, and let them know what you're planning, and try to cut it off at an appropriate hour.
    • try to resist the urge to supply your underage friends will alcohol. If you're the first of your crew to turn 21, maybe having a house party isn't the best idea.
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    Throw a themed costume party. If you decide to throw yourself a 21st bash at home, you can afford to get a whole lot weirder than if you go out. That means costumes, games, maybe even feats of strength. Who knows. You only turn 21 once. Some great time-tested theme parties include:
    • Dork Party. Tell everyone to dress up as their favorite video game character, super-hero, or other nerd-related theme. Wait for hilarity to ensue.
    • Throwback Party. Make like it's 1984 and make everyone wear washed-out jeans, ugly sweaters, and big perm-style hair. Listen to Flock of Seagulls and discuss Reaganomics over wine coolers. Good times.
    • Toga Party. A time-tested classic, probably just as popular when your parents turned 21. At a toga party, everyone wraps themselves in a sheet as if they were at the Roman coliseum. Drink ambrosia (coconut rum, orange juice, pineapple juice) and carry on regally.
    • Heaven and Hell Party. This only works if you've got three floors. Put champagne and wine on the top floor, beer on the ground level, and liquor in the basement. If it's your party, you play god, and send people to respective places.
    • Box Party. Separate everyone into different groups, preferably into small groups with strangers they won't know. Everyone has to go into a different room. In that room is a box. In that box is a kind of alcohol. The group cannot leave the room until the alcohol is gone. The alcohol, it should be noted, should be something gross, like Smirnoff Ice or blue raspberry jello shots.
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    Do a time-lapse photo project. While you're partying on your 21st, take a picture of yourself every hour on the hour with a disposable camera. When you get the pictures developed later, it'll be a hilarious documentary of the night, and may even jog loose some almost-forgotten memories. Who's that wearing a hockey mask and wiping bean dip all over their face? Oh…it's you.
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    Play a drinking game. A great way to liven up a 21st house party is to play a drinking game. You can make one up as you go along, or you can play a classic. If you're just recently turned 21, you should never play a drinking game with hard alcohol. Stick to beer and take a tiny sip when a drink gets doled out, otherwise drinking games can quickly overwhelm your tolerance, making them dangerous. Played safely, drinking games can be a lot of fun, though. Some of the time-tested and party-approved include:
    • King's Cup. In this game, you'll need a deck of cards and a big communal mug. Each card represents a different action, and the players go around the circle drawing cards. Sometimes you'll have to drink, sometimes you'll have to pour some of whatever you're drinking into the mug, and sometimes you'll have to freestyle rap. Whoever draws the last King from the deck chucks the mug. You can also make up rules as you go along. Good times.
    • Play Quarters. This simple game involves trying to land quarters into drinks and doling out drinks to the other participants accordingly. It's like an adult version of tiddlywinks.
    • Play a movie-themed drinking game. Watch Star Wars and take a sip every time Luke complains about something, or watch an episode of Seinfeld and take a drink every time Kramer says something that doesn't make sense. Watch the local news and take a drink every time someone says the name of your town.
    • Use Edward 40-Hands with caution. In this game, two 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor are taped into the players' hands, and the bottles cannot be removed until both are gone. It can be a hilarious house-party game, and it can also end with someone smashing a bottle on the bathroom floor and crying. Probably not best for a 21st.
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    Build a beer mountain. A house party is a great opportunity to make booze art. Before everyone gets there, spend some time with your roommates building an elaborate robot out of the beer cans that everyone will drink, or make a "birthday cake" that is made of beers. Instead of cutting the cake, everyone should have a beer.
    • As you start to accumulate empties, use them to make wizard staffs, taping the cans together. Make the two people with the longest staffs fight each other in a wizard's duel, or use all the empties to make a big tower of cans and act out scenes from Lord of the Rings. Have fun with garbage!
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    Keep food on hand. You don't have to have a fancy charcuterie plate ready to hand out to guests, but a couple of bags of Doritos might come in hand when the drinking munchies come on in a few hours. You don't want people to be coming and going from the party looking for snacks, so it's important to stock up for when the time is right.
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    Kick people out when the time comes. If you've got some stragglers, don't be afraid to ask everyone to leave. It's your party. Especially if the noise level is getting too high and you're getting worried about the party getting cracked up, call a cab and kick them out when it arrives.
    • Don't make a big deal of it, just say, "Cool, this has been fun, but the party's over. I called y'all a cab. I'm going to sleep. See you guys later."
    • As the host, you need to take some responsibility for the sobriety of your guests. Make all the keys go into a jar when everyone gets to the party, and let a sober person control the jar. Don't let anyone leave with keys who has been drinking. If you're concerned about the drunkenness of anyone leaving the party, have a guest room prepared so they can sleep it off safely.

Method 4
Having a Dry Party

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    Party like Taylor Swift. Just because you can drink now doesn't mean you have to. Celebrate with your family or some close friends, have a good meal, and a quiet night at home with your pets. That's what Taylor Swift did for her 21st.
    • Sometimes the pressure of having a big "blowout" can be a little much. It's not for everyone. It can be a whole lot more enjoyable and relaxing to stay in, rent a movie, and be with the people you love. Treat it like any other old birthday.
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    Indulge in other ways. If you're not going to drink, splurge in some other way. Make 21 cupcakes from an amazing recipe you found on Pinterest and eat more of them than you're willing to admit online. Make your most favorite rich meal and enjoy it with your family.
    • Splurge for your birthday. Instead of wasting money on drinks, buy a new dress or a new suit and get a table at a fancy restaurant you've always wanted to try. Have a romantic dinner with your partner. Have an extra piece of cake.
    • Do 21 shots of something else. Do a mock version of the unfortunately common drink challenge. Pour yourself 21 shots of root beer, OJ, or protein shake, and play a drinking game. It'll be tougher than you think.
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    Plan an elaborate cooking project. Turning 21 is about more than turning the legal drinking age. It's about becoming an adult. Being an adult for you might mean taking on new challenges, projects, or crossing something off your bucket list. Maybe accomplishing a semi-complicaged cooking project might be a fun way to spend your 21st. Eat a cake that you baked from scratch, or try the perfectly cooked steak. Here are some helpful links to common cooking projects, that'll be easier than you think they are:
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    Head to a concert or show. A great way to spend your birthday is scoring tickets to a big show you've always wanted to see. Get front row seats to your favorite band, or go check out a play or a musical, if you're more interested in the stage. Pick something that you'll enjoy and head out with a few close friends for a night you'll be sure to enjoy.
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    Go to a different kind of bar. Milk bars, oxygen bars, oyster bars, cereal bars, even chocolate bars can all simulate the bar experience without having to worry about negotiating the alcohol. If you know about a hip place that caters to a singular item, check it out and enjoy sampling the fancy items like adults.


  • Try to limit your guest list to under 25 people. After this amount, the party may actually seem like too much pressure to handle and may prevent you from having a great time.
  • After the party construct a thank-you letter to the manager or whoever helped you set your party up. They gave a significant amount of their time so you could have a great 21st birthday!
  • If you're having children, make sure there's NO alcohol within their reach!
  • Do not feel you MUST have alcohol at your 21st birthday. As a young adult it's your choice to drink, or not.


  • If you plan to drink more than 1 or 2 glasses of wine, more than one or two shots; then please play it safe and designate a driver. This is someone who will commit to not drink at the party. DUI and DWI's carry major consequences that will forever follow you; it's just not worth the risk.

Things You'll Need

  • Guest list
  • Party invitations
  • Friends and family
  • A location to hold the party

Article Info

Categories: Birthdays