Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday in which family and friends come together to remember loved ones who have passed away, as well as guide them on their journey into the afterlife. It’s not about haunted spirits or prolonged mourning, but rather a celebration of life and the afterlife. Friends and family members visit graves and build altars, which often involve decorating with sugar skulls and marigolds, as well as the deceased’s favorite food, drinks, and possessions. Luckily, you don’t have to travel all the way to Mexico to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos. Join in on the fun at one of these 13 best Dia de los Muertos events across the United States. Most of these celebrations feature food and drinks, so stay at a vacation rental within walking distance, so you won’t have to worry about having a designated driver. That said, check out the top spots to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
1. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California
Every year, thousands of costumed attendees shuffle through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for its music-filled Day of the Dead celebration. You won’t just find colorful altars and Aztec dancers here. Last year, you could also find an Illegal Mezcal pop-up bar and pyramid-shaped mausoleum photobooth hosted by Netflix. It is Hollywood after all! Stay in a vacation rental near the Cemetery and you’ll be within walking distance of other Los Angeles attractions like Paramount Pictures Studio and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. Then, you can avoid all of that Los Angeles traffic!
2. Muertos Fest, San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is a major melting pot of cultures, but the Latin American influence surpasses them all, especially in the La Villita Historic Arts Village. This Day of the Dead celebration at La Villita is full of energy with drummers dressed as skeletons, traditional Aztec dancers, and puppeteers animating ornate skeleton puppets. While you’re in the area, walk about 10 miles to see San Antonio’s famous River Walk.
3. Day of the Dead Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Held at the National Museum of Mexican Art, this Day of the Dead celebration immerses guests in a full art experience. The Museum and surrounding area are turned into an elaborate work of art, featuring visual displays which reveal the story of the Day of the Dead. The Museum’s two-story entrance also features photos of lost loved ones that people submit, and families can create their own ofrendas (Day of the Dead altars) in Harrison Park.
4. Florida Day of the Dead, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Lauderdale’s Skeleton Processional is a huge parade that pays homage to the traditional cultural elements of the holiday while incorporating skeleton alligators, sea turtles, pirates, and mermaids. To get the community involved, the festival also offers workshops on traditional folklorico dance, giant puppet and mask making, and even how to make milagros, a sort of religious folk charm.
5. Day of the Dead San Diego, San Diego, California
San Diego is as close as you can get to Mexico without actually being in Mexico. It goes hand in hand that Latin American influences run deep. For Day of the Dead, San Diego’s Old Town comes alive with student mariachi bands and Aztec dancers. The festival also features a giant skeleton puppet and skeleton stilt walker as well as a team of family history specialists to help guests look up their ancestry.
6. Day of the Dead Festival, New York City, New York
This annual New York City Day of the Dead Festival is held in Staten Island. The festival begins with the construction of two ofrendas, or altars for the returning souls. There’s a communal ofrenda where visitors can place flowers and artifacts for their deceased loved ones and a second ofrenda constructed by a family in the community to show the traditions of the region of Mexico where they originate.
7. Muertos y Marigold Parade, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque has many Day of the Dead festivities, but none compare to the annual Marigold Parade. The Albuquerque Marigold Parade celebrates the dead by having the living gather for music, dance, food, and art. There are ofrendas built in memory of those who have passed away covered in flowers, often marigolds, and decorated with skulls and other calavera art. The parade starts at Centro Familiar and Isleta and ends at the Westside Community Center.
8. Day of the Dead Festival of Altars, San Francisco, California
The Dìa de los Muertos Festival of Altars isn’t just a one day event. Community members and organizations are invited to create their own large box altars to anchor the sacred space of the park. Festival sponsors, The Marigold Project, even provides one 3’x7′ cardboard box each for community member or organization. If you don’t make your own altar, you can bring flowers, candles, and remembrances of your loved ones for the community altar.
9. All Souls Procession, Tuscon, Arizona
This 2-mile procession involving up to 150,000 participants had humble beginnings. It started in 1990 as an artist’s tribute to her father and is now a citywide celebration. The procession ends in the ceremonial burning of a large Urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. If you’re still looking for something to do, head over the to Tuscon Museum of Art’s Picture This! Dia de los Muertos. This family event is full of pinatas, face painting, and craft stations against a backdrop of altars created by local schoolchildren.
10. Dia de los Muertos at Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles has a few worthwhile Day of the Dead celebrations, and this one is definitely one of them. Olvera Street, known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles,” is a Mexican Marketplace that recreates a romantic “Old Los Angeles.” It was created in 1930 “to preserve and present the customs and trades of early California.” Many of the merchants on Olvera Street today are descended from the original vendors, and they have celebrated Dia de los Muertos for over 30 years. This week-long festival has children’s craft workshops, candlelit processions, and altar displays with ceremonial cleansings and blessings, street theater, and musical and dance performances.
11. Dia de los Muertos, Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham has an ever-growing Mexican population, but this annual Day of the Dead celebration attracts a multicultural crowd to its multi-block street party. The streets are lined with homemade altars recognizing deceased friends, families, and community figures. There are also food trucks, performances, and a costumed parade to round out the evening.
12. Dia de los Muertos, Breckenridge, Colorado
This three-day commemoration of Day of the Dead features hands-on workshops, face painting, art installations and community-made altars on the Arts District campus. The opening party starts on Friday night, Saturday has face painting and a craft spirit festival, and Sunday features live music and Aztec dancing.
13. Day of the Dead 5k & Street Festival, Raleigh, North Carolina
How about a race to celebrate tradition, community, and diversity? Don’t worry, when the race is over, the fun isn’t over! There’s an art corner for kids, face painting, food, music, dancing, and local beers. There’s also a little incentive for anyone over the age of 21 to finish the race…a free margarita! Let the fun begin!
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