A 21st Birthday Without Alcohol?


Zoe Wong

It’s your 21st birthday. How are you planning to celebrate? Does it involve alcohol? Somehow, it has become such a normal thing to celebrate a “drinking debut” on one’s 21st birthday. Whenever someone talks about turning 21, I expect to hear about their drinking plans for that night. But what about the often forgotten minority of people that choose not to drink? Surely, they exist? What would they do for fun?

I was lucky enough to celebrate my 21st birthday on a weekend, which meant that I had the whole day to celebrate. Accordingly, I started my day with brunch at a semi-fancy restaurant called the Provisional Kitchen in the Gaslamp Quarter. While they did offer posh wine and dining, I chose not to have alcohol. Afterward, I ended my cat deprivation and coddled many cats at The Cat Cafe for several hours. Next thing I knew, it was already night time — my favorite time of day. I spent the whole evening in bed watching my favorite shows. 

After I turned 21, multiple people asked me whether I went drinking for my birthday. For many, the events of my 21st birthday lacked in excitement. As they put it, it “was chill.” A few people even expressed disappointment that I did not drink. Although I provided that it was a choice that I made for myself, some individuals promised that they would personally take me, as if it was a mistake that had to be righted. They assumed that I didn’t have fun because alcohol wasn’t involved. But for me, the events on my 21st were more than I could have ever wanted. It’s an unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe that alcohol must be involved to have fun. There are so many other activities out there that can be just as fun, if not more.

So, to those that are interested in celebrating their 21st birthday sans alcohol, I’ve done my best to compile a list of activities that can be done in San Diego.

Face your fears and soar through the air. Skydiving, ziplining, and paragliding are all activities that are worth considering, especially in San Diego because the weather is usually very nice. Plus, the fact that the ocean is so close makes the view from above more scenic. Although these activities may seem like a splurge, there are always sweet deals offered on Groupon. 

Ready, aim, and fire; paintball, laser tag, and ax throwing are all great stress relievers if your birthday takes place around midterms. 

Maybe your 21st can be the day that you encounter a new passion! Try something new by taking a class: cooking, painting, salsa dancing, archery, meditation, or glassblowing. I would personally recommend checking out salsa dancing at Tango Del Ray.

Perhaps a delicious activity is more your style? It is for me. Picnics and barbecues are great for a more budget-friendly celebration. Alternatively, enjoying a three-course fondue meal or an elegant afternoon tea could also be an interesting experience if you’re willing to splurge on food. I mentioned this experience already since it’s what I did on my birthday, but I would also recommend the Cat Cafe in downtown if you love cats.

If you prefer to stay indoors or if you have the misfortune of running into bad weather, try building a blanket fort and having a movie marathon, complete with lots of yummy food and some board games. Alternatively, host a painting night with friends and try your hand at painting with a Bob Ross tutorial

To capture a unique photo, I propose checking out pop-ups around San Diego. My favorites are the pop-up museums that change frequently from summer to fall, for instance, the Museum Of What: Love Tour this past March or The Cado museum that celebrates all things avocado.

I’m not a fan of horror, but I had the opportunity to check out one of San Diego’s scariest escape rooms by the name of The Harvest Motel. I was thoroughly spooked and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys horror. However, if you don’t like horror but are still interested in challenging your brain, check out The Great Room.

My last suggestions are inspired by the fact that sometimes, we just gotta go fast; rollerblading, ice skating, and go-kart racing are activities that attempt to go the speed at which the years pass us by.

Regardless of what you or your friends choose to do for a 21st birthday, I sincerely hope that your choice grants you true happiness. On our birthdays, we are made aware that we are one year older, but in reality, we are constantly aging. We should cherish every moment and every choice we make because every day is the youngest we’ll ever be, but also the oldest we’ve been at that moment. I wish you the courage to follow the choices you make for yourself because that will be the greatest gift you can give yourself.