Even for someone who has been paid to plan events large and small, when it comes to my own birthday, I get way too stressed.  The pressure that things might not go the way you planned feels weighted so much heavier when it’s all about YOU.

So I really wrestled with what to do for my 30th birthday.  I wanted to celebrate not only my life but also all of the people that have made it great.  I wanted something that was fun and kind of casual and silly, but also a bit over the top, since it WAS a huge milestone.

Eventually, I cooked up an idea I had been brewing for a few years.  It would be fun for everyone attending, and best of all, I wouldn’t need to make a reservation somewhere with a small group of friends that doesn’t reflect ALL the people in my life I would want to invite to share in the day with me.

Here’s how I had the most extra 30th birthday I could have imagined. 


Find The Perfect Spot (And Let it Do Most of the Work)

As I mentioned previously, I had been ruminating on planning a party at a specific location for years, and when I finally started diving into logistics, I realized it was the perfect place for my 30th birthday.

The Phoenix Hotel is a swanky venue in San Francisco that hosts unforgettable pool parties during the summer.  I’ve been to a few and always thought about how great it would be to have a room to retreat to during the madness.  A quick search revealed the Phoenix offered a gorgeous, two-bedroom suite with a balcony dubbed the Headliner Suite

I knew I had to have it.

I’ll pause here and note that this was NOT ever meant to be a cheap, budget-friendly party.  While I did get a lot of help (I requested friends Venmo me donations in lieu of presents, and asked my parents for some cash), I dug into my savings quite a bit—but it was 100% worth it. 

This was a perfect venue for my party not only because it represents pure San Francisco, a city I feel was absolutely pivotal in growing into the person I am today, but because I booked it on the day of an awesome pool party with music and dancing—built-in entertainment for all of my guests.  I knew I wouldn’t have to play host, I could just enjoy the party along with everyone else.


Feed (and Intoxify) Your Guests

This is an obvious one, but a good party will have at least some sort of snack or drink provided.  Not only because your guests need to eat and drink, but it also serves as an activity—I know I’ve been that person at a party who didn’t know many people and kind of loitered around the food table just so I had something to do with my hands. 

Ultimately, the main reason I knew I wanted to feed my guests is because the Phoenix did not allow ins and outs during the event, so if my friends got hungry (or needed something in their stomachs from drinking all day), they would have to leave and might not be able to get back in quickly.  I didn’t want my friends to leave—I wanted them there with me!


Anyone who knows me knows that I have a terrible addiction to cheese, and a birthday is the perfect excuse to give in to your vices.


I had a couple of food stations: charcuterie and cheese, fruit, chips, and veggies (although the latter did not last as they didn’t fit in the mini fridge—something to keep in mind if you host a party in a hotel room!).  I also picked up some bottles of alcohol and set up a mini bar in my room.

It ended up being the perfect spread that lasted the whole day!  I was glad to provide some minor amenities for my guests as they enjoyed the party outside.  I even ended up having to bounce some people who tried to sneak into our swanky festivity, which—while a bit annoying—truly made us feel like VIPs.


Make it Personal

This couldn’t just be a pool party at a cool hotel.  I needed something that screamed, I’M TURNING THIRTY, BITCHES. 

I decided to embark on a personal, soul-searching project that all of my friends could enjoy (and laugh at) with me.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I dug up pictures from throughout my life, and asked my parents to send me any gems they had as well. 



“The Life of Jess” became a one-day exhibition hosted exclusively in my hotel room.  Moments curated from throughout my life adorned its walls (with fake 2D frames printed on them) accompanied by a placard that described that particular phase of my life. 



It was so cathartic to go through my life from the past thirty years.  It truly reminded me where I came from and how I grew into the Jess I am today.



Just ask my roommates – I was CRACKING UP while I was creating these.  And while it may seem like a vain way to celebrate my life, it poked fun at all of my awkward, finding-myself moments that my friends got a complete kick out of.

Throughout this venture, I found so many pictures I wanted to use but knew I wouldn’t be able to fit.  I chose one of the rejects – an embarrassing, ridiculous glamour shot circa 1995 – as the image for my cake, which I ordered from The Cake Gallery.  It came out absolutely perfect and delicious, although it was a bit odd to eat my face.


Details, Details!

If you’ve read any other post on my blog about the events I’ve planned, you know I love putting together the small details.  Once I was done with the bulk planning of my party, I devoted some time to the minor things I knew would take my party from enjoyable to memorable.

I built a temporary tattoo station, which I later realized this was another “keeping it personal” aspect (as I have many tattoos).

I also borrowed an idea from another friend’s birthday I attended – a personalized Snapchat filter!  The app allows you to submit a design, or create one on their builder page.  I entered the parameters for the time frame and location, and it came out to only $20.  An easy, 15-minute task that made my party just a bit more personal, fun and interactive.

My final piece of advice for anyone planning a milestone birthday is to really think about what truly represents YOU.  This was the perfect birthday for me, because it allowed me to relive all of the important, life-changing moments that made me ME, and let me share it with those I love in a setting that was so San Francisco.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top this party, but I guess we’ll find out in another 30 years.