Past a certain age, it becomes standard practice to bemoan birthdays. Another year older and closer to death — one day you're partying into the night, the next you're peeing a little when you sneeze and getting AARP Magazine in the mail. But whether or not birthdays represent a slow crawl toward the grave, they're also really good excuses to clean up on free stuff. Here are 10 L.A. ways to remind yourself that getting older is actually sort of cool.
1. Ride the Catalina Express.
Wanna re-create your very own Catalina Wine Mixer? Your ride to the island is free (though your friends have to pay). The one-way trip is ordinarily $36 ($72 for a round-trip ticket), but you get the ride on the house, and you can book your birthday ticket in advance. If you’re planning to camp overnight, don’t worry — your round-trip ticket is still free, even though you’re technically returning on the day after your birthday when you're no longer special. Departs from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. catalinaexpress.com/birthday_promo.html.
2. Get a free birthday lift ticket at Big Bear (and ski during the winter or just ride around aimlessly on a chairlift during the summer).
You can cash in on this birthday freebie whether or not there’s snow on the ground. Your free lift ticket gets you a full day of skiing in the winter or just unlimited chairlift rides in the summer, which is still fun, but is more of a dizzying 15-minute experience and less of a full-day activity. While obviously Big Bear is not in L.A., it’s not too much of a trek for Angelenos, especially because this birthday deal is a $45-$59 value. snowsummit.com/winter/plan-a-trip/plan-a-trip/deals-discounts.
3. Get a free candle at Diptyque in Larchmont.
For those of you who skirt around Diptyque every time you walk through Larchmont because you’re scared of accidentally spending $60 on a jar filled with scented wax, let your birthday be the one day of the year that you venture into the dimly lit boutique. On your birthday, if you show your ID, you can get a mini-candle for free. It's small, but it still smells expensive. 202 N. Larchmont Blvd., Windsor Square. (323) 962-3622, diptyqueparis.com.
4. Get a free birthday meal at Sugarfish.
Free birthday food options tend to be either cheap or limited to after-entree dishes. I would’ve expected Sushi Stop to offer a complimentary $4 roll, but it’s rare that a relatively high-priced restaurant would offer a full meal on the house. Yet Sugarfish will comp your whole meal on your birthday, if you sign up for their birthday club. (Pause to giggle at the fact that Chef Nozawa’s restaurant has a birthday club, which it refers to as a “birthday celebration program” so that it sounds more elevated than going to BJ’s for a free birthday Pizookie.) You have to jump through a few hoops to qualify, but you can follow the instructions here. Various locations, sugarfish.com.
5. Get a free birthday cupcake at SusieCakes.
I lived a red velvet cake–free life before I encountered SusieCakes. Now I'm a believer. Its cupcakes really are melt-in-your-mouth-and-die-a-little-inside good. SusieCakes has expanded quickly in L.A., with locations in Brentwood, Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Studio City, Mid-City and Woodland Hills, so getting your birthday cupcake will be fairly convenient, as long as you sign up for the email list (see the bottom righthand corner of the page) first. I firmly believe this cupcake is valuable enough to risk the additional emails in your inbox. Various locations, susiecakes.com.
6. Watch a tournament at Medieval Times.
Medieval Times' “birthday fellowship” programs gets you “one free admission for each full-priced adult admission during the month of their birthday.” Eating with your hands while watching a bunch of long-haired men knock each other off of horses is a fine way to spend your actual birthday, but it's also nice to be able to pick whichever day works best for you and your noble brethren. A great game to play at Medieval Times: guessing which of the knights also plays in a metal band. 7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. (888) 935-6878, medievaltimes.com.
7. Get your car washed.
Red Carpet USA, which has locations in Manhattan Beach, Canoga Park and Thousand Oaks, offers you a free car wash if you can prove it’s your birthday. Sure, you might spend the cost of your car wash just getting down to Manhattan Beach, but you can make a day of it, and hit MB Post, Manhattan Beach Creamery, go to the beach and get your free car wash. Sign up as a member of the “In Crowd” to qualify for the birthday car wash. Multiple locations. redcarpetcarwashes.com.
8. Have a drum banged in your honor.
Salsa & Beer, a Mexican joint with locations in North Hollywood and Van Nuys, is maybe best known for trotting out free flan for your birthday and celebrating the occasion by (unenthusiastically) banging a big drum. It is kitschy, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less essential to your birthday celebration. 11669 Sherman Way, North Hollywood; 6740 White Oak Ave., Lake Balboa. salsaandbeernorthhollywood.com.
9. See a free movie at a ridiculously comfortable movie theater.
iPic Theaters, located in both Pasadena and Westwood, is one of the chic movie theater chains that has cushy, leather reclining chairs, tables and lots of legroom. They offer a wine-and-dine options, so you can get boozy — even while watching Spotlight. They also offer a free birthday ticket, the one catch being that you need to become a “sapphire member,” which costs money but comes with other benefits, like a points program for tickets and food, a free anniversary dessert and priority seating. 10840 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena. ipictheaters.com.
10. Go to the Valley and hit every chain that gives away free food to customers celebrating their birthdays. Spend the day after your birthday moaning in bed — a small price to pay for fast-food glory.
I have this mapped out for you from breakfast until dinner. You’ll want to hit Krispy Kreme (Burbank) for a free donut, and Starbucks (anywhere) for your free birthday rewards coffee. For lunch, grab a free birthday sandwich at Which Wich (Sherman Oaks). Dinner is five free wings at WingStop (dip down to Hollywood for that deal) and, for dessert, two stops: the Melting Pot (Thousand Oaks) for a free chocolate fondue for two, and BJ’s (Burbank) for a free mini-Pizookie. You’re welcome.