Best Sweet 16 Party Ideas – Lists & Tips

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Do you have a daughter who is approaching her 16th birthday and are about to celebrate the sixteen years of life, love, and fun that your daughter has brought to your life? Are you looking for ideas that will bring a smile to your daughter’s face but will also stay within your budget? Do you need ideas for games, favor ideas, supplies, decorations and themes? If you have answered “yes!” to any (or all) of these questions, then read on to get our tips, ideas and advice for planning a fabulous DIY sweet 16 birthday party for your teenager. We’ve got the best advice on invitations for girls, creative food, music, a color palette, decorations, and even gift ideas! There is a lot of planning to do, so get started with our handy guide/checklist/list of ideas that will help you plan your daughter’s sweet sixteen birthday party in a way that will impress her and save you money.

sweet 16 blowing candles

It’s a Big Deal

When a girl turns 16, it is a big deal. In U.S. (and Canadian) culture, sixteen is a milestone and rite of passage for a girl because it is old enough to get a license and drive a car. This is why a car is often stated as being the ultimate gift (for those who can afford it). The party represents crossing over into adulthood, and it is a celebrated moment for any teen. Sweet sixteens come in all shapes and sizes. They can be formal, semi-formal or completely casual. They range from parties at home with a few close friends to big events with hired entertainment, catering and a professional photographer. Before you start planning your daughter’s Sweet 16, make sure you set a budget. This is the best way you can ensure that you don’t spend money frivolously since it will be tempting to buy things you don’t need during the planning stage. Spending more money won’t make the night more special. The thought, time and effort you put into the party should mean much more to your daughter than the level of extravagance.

Here are a few tips to help you cut costs:

  • Negotiation plays a big role any time you are hiring vendors.
  • If you are holding a smaller sized party (between 30 and 50 guests) then you might save money by making the food yourself.
  • Rent plates, glasses, and tablecloths instead of purchasing mass paper products.
  • Set up the party in your backyard instead of renting a venue.
  • Offer a wide selection of snacks and appetizers instead of a full lunch or dinner
  • Taking a few close friends on a hotel, restaurant and shopping trip is usually more affordable than feeding and entertaining 50+ people.

Do your best to tailor the night to your daughter’s personality and what she enjoys. Everything from the food to the theme should suit her and her group of friends. In some cases, this means keeping your plans secret and putting together a surprise party while some 16 year old girls want to help plan every detail of the party with you. If you’re not completely sure of your daughter’s likes and dislikes or what her expectations are for the party, ask her these questions well in advance (a couple months at least). It’s also a good idea to discuss ideas that are realistic and what their limits are.


There are a number of “traditional” ceremonies associated with sweet 16 parties that your daughter may or may not want to take part in. Feel free to put your own creative spin on any of the ideas in this list to make it more unique and special for your daughter.

Shoe ceremony: This ceremony symbolizes the transition from girl to woman. The birthday girl sits on a chair wearing flats or slippers and their parent, grandparent or godparent approaches her with a pair of high heels on a pillow and helps her into them.
Tiara ceremony: The tiara is very similar to the shoe ceremony as it symbolizes the same thing. Sometimes both are done to allow multiple parents/grandparents take part in the ceremony. Candle lighting ceremony: Sixteen (sometimes seventeen) candles are lit on the cake or separately over the course of the evening and each symbolizes something different. The first six are typically for the girl’s family members (grandparents, parents, siblings, etc.), candles 7 through 14 are for her friends, 15 is for her best friend(s) and 16 is for a boyfriend or good friend who is male. The seventeenth is sometimes for luck.
Video montage: With the help of someone familiar with Microsoft PowerPoint, a video projector and a white wall or screen, you can put together a collection of interesting/noteworthy pictures (set to music) of your daughter from when she was a baby to a picture of her in her sweet 16 dress. Try to get photos from multiple sources such as friends, family members or from your collection at home.
Father-daughter dance: The dance is similar to the one often performed at weddings. Father and daughter dance to a slow song while everyone else watches. It is typically the first dance of the night.

sweet 16 dance with father

Must Haves

There are a few “must haves” for a sweet 16 birthday party. Among them are a cute dress, great food and a photographer to capture memories of the party. You can cut costs in other areas, but you might want to focus the majority of your budget on these three key areas.

Dress You want your daughter to feel good about herself on her big day, and that’s why it is never too early to start looking for her dress. In the months leading up to the party date, shop for the perfect dress in stores and online. If possible, try to get the dress to match the formality of the party, her personality and style, her favorite colors and her preferred level of flashiness.

Food You will want to make or cater the food for your sweet sixteen, depending on the number of guests. Decide on your guest list first, and then set a budget for the money you are willing to spend on food. Consider finger foods to avoid having to serve guests a full lunch or dinner. Lots of appetizers followed by cake and ice cream is not only acceptable but expected at a sweet 16. This isn’t a wedding, after all. Try to make the food fit perfectly with the theme if you can. Here are some food ideas to go with some of the themes below:

  • Buy, rent or borrow a chocolate fountain and have bananas, strawberries and pretzels for dipping.
  • Have a bartender serve Shirley temples, sparkling cider in champagne glasses and other non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Make your own smoothie or ice cream sundae from a wide selection of ingredients.
  • Refreshment table with chips, dips, bowls of punch and fruit trays.

sweet 16 birthday cake

Many teenagers love photos, and no sweet sixteen is complete without a photographer. Shop around for good photographers in your area and get a few quotes. Select a photographer who is willing to take birthday party photos and who can set up a cute photo booth at the party so that guests can have fun taking their own goofy photos and can take home a memento of the party. If getting a professional photographer isn’t realistic, get a family friend or member to take pictures throughout the day/evening. At the very least, have a good quality camera on hand so you can take pictures yourself. The party will be a night to remember and all participants will want to look back and cherish the great memories in the months and years to come.

Entertainment Ideas (for larger Budgets)

  • Cover/Tribute band
  • Airbrush artist
  • Fortune teller
  • Juggler/Acrobat
  • Ventriloquist
  • Caricaturist
  • Singer
  • DJ
  • Hula dancers
  • Steel drum band
  • Hypnotist
  • Fire performer
  • Comedian
  • Magician
  • Impersonator

Game/Activity Ideas

A sweet sixteen party should include a couple of activities and a few games if your daughter is a games person. Some teens do not like games, and would prefer to have a party that just involves talking, eating, and dancing together. Here are a few great party games for the fun-loving birthday girl:

  • Costume Contest: Ask guests to dress up to fit the theme of the party, and then award a prize for the best costume. The birthday girl can determine the winner.
  • Karaoke: Karaoke is a party gem for teenagers who love to sing their favorite songs and get together with their friends to dance and sing.
  • Carnival Games: This is a perfect for a carnival-themed party. Set up a dunking booth, a lawn bowling alley, a ring toss, and other carnival games in your backyard. These serve as both props and as fun activities for your guests.
  • Charades: Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with this classic party game. One or more people act out a word or phrase without speaking for the rest of the participants. The first one to guess what it is wins. Make the game more personal by selecting topics that are favorites of the birthday girl and add incentive to the game by offering prizes.
  • Scavenger Hunt: The duration, scope and difficulty may vary, but everyone loves a good ol’ scavenger hunt. Try putting a creative twist on the game: a mall hunt, find the birthday girl, limo scavenger hunt, alphabet hunt (something from every letter of the alphabet) and award prizes to the winners!
  • Board Games: Board games are perfect for smaller, low key parties. Get the guests to play your daughter’s favorite card and board games. If it’s a larger party, why not hold a tournament or have guests rotate between games every 20 minutes?
  • Spa Time: Have the guests give each other manicures and/or pedicures or maybe even hire a manicurist to do everyone’s nails.
  • Guess Who/What Game: Each participant writes a person or thing on a piece of paper and passes it to one of the other participants. Without looking at their paper, each participant takes a turn asking a yes or no question to the rest of the group to try and figure out who or what they are.

25 Awesome Theme Ideas

Sweet sixteen birthday parties can have just about any theme that the birthday girl likes, so sit down with her and make a list of some of her favorite colors, movies, music, and interests (you should already know most of them). Then try to narrow down those interests and integrate them into a uniform theme. Some examples are as follows:

  • Starry, Starry Night
  • An Evening in Hollywood
  • The Walk of Stars
  • The Secret Garden
  • A Day at the Circus/Carnival
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  • Flower Power
  • Ivy League Soiree
  • Hawaiian Luau/Tropical
  • Pirate’s Paradise
  • High Rollers/Casino Party
  • Cocktail/Mocktail Party
  • Masquerade Ball
  • Disney Princesses/Fairy Tale
  • Dance Party
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Beach Party
  • The Oscars Party
  • A Particular Movie (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, etc.)
  • Toga/Roman
  • High Tea
  • Spa Party
  • Pajama/Slumber Party
  • A Specific Decade (60s, 70s, 80s, etc.)
  • Candyland

Favor Ideas

Party favors are those little gift bags or boxes given out at parties (weddings, birthdays and showers) that serve as a memento of the occasion or are a thank you to guests for attending. As with most of the aspects of a sweet 16, these can be as simple or expensive as you’d like them to be. Again, if it’s possible try to fit the favors in with the theme of the party. This can mean something as simple as giving out leis at a luau or Oscar-like awards at an Oscar party. Personalized or custom designed t-shirts, mugs and photo frames are always appreciated by guests as long as they are tastefully designed. Make it memorable by using a group photo of all the guests that attended. Bags consisting of a variety of beauty products (lip-balm, compact mirrors, bath and body works products, spa kits, hair accessories, gift certificates, etc.) are another common choice. A more creative option is to give out basic car accessories (key chains, car freshener, fuzzy dice, etc.) if all of your guests are 16 or about to turn 16. If you can’t think of favors that fit the theme, goodie bags filled with good quality chocolates and candy is always a good option.


Invitations should be unique and creative and inform your guests: how large the party will be, what the theme is, what games/activities there will be, the appropriate dress code in addition to the time, date and location. Make sure to ask your invitees to RSVP so you know how many people are coming! Also, tell them what they should bring with them (costume, pajamas, sleeping bag, food/snacks if it is a potluck, etc.) Here are some creative ideas for the design of the invitations:

  • Invitations made to look like driver’s licenses. Instead of the license number, put your phone number. Replace “Class” with “V.I.P.” and exchange “issued” or “expired” with the date and time of the party.
  • For tropical/beach parties, consider buying some glass bottles from the dollar store, hand writing the invitations on beige paper and singeing the edges of the invitations to create an authentic looking message in a bottle.
  • For spa/glamor parties, buy some mini purses or makeup bags and place the invitation inside.

Gift Ideas

Sometimes the dress is considered the gift, other times it is the party itself. Here are some other great gift ideas if you’re thinking of getting your child a separate, special present: Digital camera New cell phone Laptop/computer/tablet Gift certificate for Amazon, massage, manicure/pedicure, hairdresser, etc. Wallet or purse with $16 in it Gas card Money towards getting a car A watch Jewelry (charm, necklace, pendant, ring etc.) Manicure/Spa Kit Personalized picture frame Customized “sweet 16” t-shirt New/used car Concert tickets Gift basket of goodies Donation to an organization or cause they are passionate about Roadside emergency kit Follow this easy guide for great tips on planning your daughter’s sweet sixteen birthday! Set a budget, trim costs where you can, focus your budget on areas that your daughter values most, and be creative!