While various cultures around the world have different thoughts about death and dying and honoring the dead, none are more interesting than the colorful celebrations that unfold during Dia de Muertos (the “Day of the Dead”). Festivities that commemorate the lives of those who have passed on exist through much of Latin America (in countries such as Guatemala, Bolivia, and Ecuador, to name just a few), but observances in Mexico, where the feast first originated, are unsurpassed. Interestingly, the special day, which is celebrated from October 31 to November 2 every year, blends rituals from Mexico’s early Aztec culture with All Saints Day observations from Catholicism brought over by Spanish colonialists. The event focuses on activities the dead enjoyed in life and centers around family get-togethers and parties with lot of great food and drink.

But even in the United States, particularly places with communities that are part of the Mexican diaspora, you can partake in the festivities as well. Just follow this list of the best places to celebrate the Day of the Dead in the U,S., so you can experience a cultural eye-opener that will change your perception of life…and death.

San Diego, California

The Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead in the US: Day of the dead procession

With its proximity to Mexico (Tijuana is just about 20 miles away), “America’s Finest City” plays host to a two-day Dia de los Muertos celebration that’s authentic as those observed in Mexico, and is well worth booking cheap flights to San Diego to witness yourself. The city’s Old Town comes alive at the start of the month of November for the Old Town Festival, and the Day of the Dead celebrations are part of the proceedings. The historic marketplace transforms into a massive altar that holds activities that include face painting, public memorials, giant skeleton puppets, Aztec and folkórico dancing, and live music…not to mention some mouth-watering food options. The candlelight procession, which is usually held on November 2, is free to attend for those interested.

Tucson, Arizona

 

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Billed as “an event that was created to serve the public need to mourn, reflect, and celebrate the universal experience of Death, through their ancestors, loved ones, and the living,” Tucson’s All Souls Procession is one of North America’s largest processions dedicated to commemorating the dead. The event, which first began in 1990, is diverse and not only borrows heavily from the strong Hispanic rituals of mourning the dead, but also acts as an artistic platform where installations, music, and dance all come together to celebrate the lives of loved ones from all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. The two-mile long procession that now welcomes over 150,000 marchers culminates in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with letters, offerings, and the wishes people direct toward their departed loved ones. The procession has been hailed as not only a beautiful and poignant celebration of life, but also a cathartic and healing experience for those dealing with loss.

 

image of la catrina
Did you know?: The famous skeletal face of a lady “La Catrina” that’s often seen painted on the faces of Dia de los Muertos participants is inspired by La Calavera Catrina, an early 1900s zinc etching by Mexican illustrator Jose Posada. The image did not blow up to be iconic until it was incorporated in another mural by famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, who’s 1947 completed work titled Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Alameda) portrayed the character standing alongside other important figures in Mexican history. 

 

Los Angeles, California

 

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The Hispanic-heritage-rich marketplace of Los Angeles really comes alive for Dia de Muertos. The annual Olvera Street Día de los Muertos celebration is a nine-day event that draws inspiration from the traditional pre-Columbian roots and rituals surrounding life and death. Each night, you can be a part of an amazing procession that starts and ends with a traditional Mayan cleansing ceremony and includes Aztec dancers. Plus, you can also enjoy the free sweet bread and champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate made with corn flour) handed out to attendees. There are also community altars on display, calavera (decorative skull) face painting stalls, and dance performances.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead in the US: Participants of the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday in death masks.

Fort Lauderdale may not be the first city that comes to mind when thinking about Day of the Dead celebrations, but the city’s Florida Day of the Dead Celebration is one of the largest Día de los Muertos celebrations in the country. The free event has a variety of related exhibits and art spread throughout the city that leads up to the main procession on November 2. This important day kicks off with a Meso-American indigenous welcome that ushers visitors to different stages that showcase traditional dance, music, and handicrafts, along with stalls selling skeleton costumes and mask vendors for the procession. There’s also plenty of beautiful ofrendas, incredible giant skeleton puppets, sugar skull face painting, and folkórico musical performances.

San Francisco, California

The Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead in the US: Mexican Day of the dead altar

San Francisco’s Mission District has seen decades of activities centered around Dia de Los Muertos. The annual Festival of Altars takes place on November 2 in Potrero Del Sol Park (La Raza Park). The event is a meaningful and somber artistic expression of life and death, and participants are encouraged to come see the traditional, contemporary, and experimental community altars on display. People can bring flowers, candles, and mementos of loved ones to contribute to these altars. Following the Festival of Altars, a Dia de Los Muertos procession is held, where attendees can dress up in colorful Day of the Dead outfits and bring flowers, candles, and other memorable items from the lives of their deceased loved ones that they can then place on altars.

San Antonio, Texas

 

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With a population that proudly identifies as being 64% Hispanic or Latino, you can bet that San Antonio’s Day of the Dead celebrations are both vibrant and deeply significant. There are major celebrations planned throughout the city with notable processions in the downtown La Villita Historic Arts Village, as well as the massive Dia de Los Muertos festival (AKA “Muertofest”) to be held at the end of October. Muertofest usually offers an impressive musical lineup (from traditional to alt-Latino acts) and includes an altar exhibition and contest, food and art vendors, puppet parades, live poetry performances, and much more.

Have we missed out any other cities with great Dia de Los Muertos celebrations? Share them with us in the comments section!

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About The Author

Dhinesh Manuel

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by night...no wait...that's Batman...my bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!