11 Fun and Simple Father’s Day Ideas (That Aren’t a Barbecue)

published Jun 12, 2024
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Teenage girl with her father cooking in kitchen together
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Every time a holiday rolls around, my sisters text our group chat with the same question: “What are you getting for Dad?” Panic ensues. A book he may already have read? Novelty socks? A … lawn mower? It’s not that we don’t want to get him a present he will love, it’s just that, historically, it’s so hard to know what that is. So when it comes to Father’s Day ideas, I’m usually racking my brain in the days leading up.

And yes, of course, I ask him what he would like. His answer? Just time with you. So this year, I’m listening. After talking with friends and colleagues about ways they would spend quality time with the father figures in their lives, here are some ways to spend Father’s Day with the father figures in your lives that will tick the “quality time” box — and probably make them very happy. Read on for 11 Father’s Day ideas to treat your dad to this year.

1. Have a tinned fish supper.

I hate to state the obvious, but girl dinner is not just for girls! Grazing on a snacky, salty spread is in fact a perfect way to spend Father’s Day, whether outside or inside. For years (decades!), my dad has loved sardines of all kinds, which I’ve lovingly thought of as his stinky fish obsession. But now, I also have an appetite for them, so this idea is a perfect way to bond and catch up over our shared affinity for fish. If you’re looking for a gift idea, you can even set your dad up with a strikingly adorable starter pack of Fishwife tinned tuna, salmon, trout, and more. 

2. Look through old photos. 

Maybe there’s a stack of old shoeboxes filled with photos in the basement or a row of neatly cataloged family photo albums in your living room — but when was the last time you opened any of them? Take this Sunday as a chance to crack open those time capsules and walk down memory lane. You can look at your baby photos and pictures of your dad as a kid, too. Then, choose some of your favorites and take some time to digitize those photos so you can look at them anytime you want.

Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

3. Play a cooperative board game.

If your dad loves a good game night, Father’s Day is a great excuse to go all in. Have a game day, bring some snacks to make it feel like a veritable board game cafe, and, if you’re playing with siblings or family members who may be prone to flip the board when they’re losing — opt for a fun cooperative game! An extra silver lining is that a chill activity like a jigsaw puzzle or Table Topics will leave plenty of time and space for conversation.

Credit: FG Trade / Getty images

4. Have a pizza-making (or tasting) competition.

Throw a Father’s Day pizza party by either gathering all the ingredients, each making your own small pizza, and taste testing them for lunch — or just order a few pies from a local spot or three and vote on your favorite. If pizza isn’t your thing and your dad likes to cook, ask him to show you how to make one of his tried-and-true dishes so you can re-create the recipe when you’re apart.

5. Let them teach you something.

There’s an unspoken checklist of things a dad could teach you: how to change a tire, how to tie a tie, or negotiate a salary. But dads are not a masculine monolith! They know lots of other things. My dad is an avid gardener and I once overwatered a cactus, so I’m hoping to book some time with him in the garden to learn his green-thumbed tips and tricks. (That being said, I do also need to learn how to change a tire.) 

6. Ask for an old tale. 

Dads and old tales may be kind of a meme, with a vague “don’t get him started” punch line, but dads really have excellent stories. Ever seen Big Fish? You may get the same story you’ve heard two dozen times, and even that is a chance to solidify it in your roster of family lore. But if you can, try asking for a tale you’ve never heard before — and then listen closely. 

Credit: asife/Shutterstock.com

7. Visit a familiar place. 

Without fail, every time we drive down a certain road in Massachusetts, my dad will point out a house he once lived in, which is now a Dunkin’. I’m not sure if he realizes he’s said it so many times, but I actually love it. Revisiting places your dad cares about is an endless fountain of possibility: The town where he grew up? His college campus? His old summer camp? His favorite bookstore? Pick a spot and ask him to show you around. 

8. Watch their favorite movie. 

My dad loves zombie movies. I hate body horror. I will not be traumatizing myself for the sake of a good Father’s Day idea! But he also loves long, old black-and-white films, niche documentaries, and slapstick comedies that I likely wouldn’t watch without him. Sharing a movie night is a simple, meaningful way to bond over something he loves, whether you go to the theater to see a movie he’s been talking about, hang out in the living room and give him free reign of the remote control, or watch the same film remotely from different places.

9. Go to work with them. 

Growing up, I relished bring-your-kid-to-work day because it meant a) taking the train into the city and b) getting to wear my new back-to-school wardrobe before classes had started back up. If your dad has a job or routine where you can tag along for the day, spend the day by his side and get to know what he does. I’m unfortunately past the point of busting out my best back-to-school outfit to join him in the office, but I really enjoy hearing my dad talk about what he does at work — and these days I can (kind of, almost) understand it. 

Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

10. Take a drive with tunes. 

Cars are often venues for the best conversations and comfortable silences. Whether you opt to take a long, cross-country road trip or simply a scenic drive across town, taking your dad for a drive is a simple way to spend some quality one-on-one time. Looking for a soundtrack? Try the Daily Dad Jokes podcast or turn on that beloved cassette that’s been stuck in the player for years anyway. My dad’s go-to knee-slapper is a CD called Townie Tunes, which currently has a glowing two-star review entitled “Funny if you are from Boston.”

11. Laugh at their dad jokes.

Last year for Father’s Day, my sister and I took my dad out for breakfast at a local diner. But the real present was: Beforehand, we agreed to laugh heartily at every joke he cracked. He is hilarious, but he has been working with the same audience of daughters for a few decades, so he may catch a few more groans than he used to. Folks, he ate it up! And we had a great time, too — something about laughing and endorphins and making someone you love happy. The omelet was subpar, but the breakfast was excellent.