Based in the Bay Area, WLK is Mikee and Jo — working parents of two loving and kind kids. They love sharing stories and tips at the intersection of work, life and kids.

Kid's Birthday Party at the South Bay Railroad Society

Kid's Birthday Party at the South Bay Railroad Society

The challenge

My two kids, 4 and 6, have their birthdays in the end of December. We also have two family birthdays during that period which makes for a very busy December. I also made a decision to do a combined birthday party so I didn’t have to plan two birthdays. Our house isn’t large enough and given time of year, weather is a huge factor. We could host our party at say a “Pump it up” but the costs get exponentially high with each additional headcount. We could keep the party very small but given it’s our daughter’s first year in kindy, it made more sense to invite the whole class.

The solution

I had a bit of a lightbulb moment about the South Bay Historical Society. It’s a free to public museum that is run by volunteers right next to the Santa Clara Caltrain station. My son (not so much my daughter) LOVES going there. I shot them an email to find out if they rented the space out for private events. Turns out they do! Here’s what I found out:

  1. The main “engine room” can hosts up to 50-60 people seated! They even set up the table/chairs for us!

  2. Volunteer Engineers can run the H/NO scale layout trains during our event.(HUGE draw for the grown-ups!)

  3. There’s a mini kitchen with a fridge and microwave that we’re allowed to use.

  4. For a 2-hour event, the cost was $100 + event insurance. We got event insurance through our home insurance for only $50! They also allowed us to show up 30 minutes before hand to set up.

  5. Take note: Museum is open to public Saturday mornings so double check on availability.

  6. Since the cost was generally low, we also hired a local magician/balloon artist, Isaac Wong, recommended by another friend. For an hour, his cost was very reasonable (under $200) but pricing will vary depending on what you need. His skills were also legit. I.e. grown-ups were impressed.

The outcome

Everyone ended up having a great time and in general it felt very low key. I was able to enjoy the activities with the kids but also had to play time-keeper to move the schedule along. If you don’t like doing event coordination, this approach is probably not right for you. Key pictures in the gallery below.

Activities/Entertainment: My son and his friends (the grown-ups too) were completely enthralled by the model trains. My daughter had a great time decorating wizard hats with her friends in preparation for the magic show. For detailed instructions on how to set up the wizard hat decorating activity, read this post.

Activity for grown-ups: On hand-sight, I totally should have done an “I- SPY” game for adults. One parent came up to me and said “Did you see the murder scene in the model town??” That would have been fun and challenging for everyone!

Bonus activity: You can also choose to RIDE the Caltrain straight to Santa Clara station, which is right next to the museum. We decided to ride in with one of our friend’s family and it was quite a load of fun! (Caltrain weekend schedule)

Food: I made some buns for the kids but mostly furnished the food from Costco and my good friend/trader, Joe. Kids chose their cakes from Nob Hill Bakery and I would highly recommend the “fresh banana filling” with white cake and chocolate frosting. Only $24.99!

Favors/Gifts: I asked each kid to bring a new/gently used wrapped book for gift exchange. To make sure every kid walked away with a book, we did buy a few extra to throw into the book exchange.

The schedule

1030-1115am Free play: Decorate wizard hats, check out model trains, balloon art, eat snacks

1115-1145am Sit-down Magic show by Isaac Wong

1145-1215pm Lunch and cake-cutting

1215-1230pm Book exchange

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