Don’t let the name scare you away from celebrating this joyous holiday; Dia de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that honors and remembers those that have passed in a celebration of life through art, music and food. With LA’s vibrant Mexican culture, many of the nation’s biggest celebrations happen right here. Read on for our picks of the best Day of the Dead festivals in town.
photo: Robert H. via Yelp
Eye Popping Decorations & Dress at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
There’s no better place to celebrate the dead than one of Los Angeles’ most iconic cemeteries. In fact, this is the closest you’ll get to a taste of the experience at one of Mexico’s biggest celebrations. But if you’re thinking this event is too spooky for tots, it’s not. Through dance, art, crafts, music and food, you’ll learn how life is celebrated after death. This year’s highlights include four stages featuring live music and theatrical performances, hundred of beautifully decorated altars, children’s arts and crafts, a costume contest and more. Cost is $20 per person, and people under 8 and over 64 and are free until 4 p.m. It is a one-day event held on Saturday, October 29 from noon to midnight, though you can also go on Friday evening (for free) to watch the altars being set up. Event details.
Good to know: Gravesites of the famous (like rocker Johnny Ramone and the voice of Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc) are usually the most decorated. Don’t worry about finding those sites, you’ll definitely see them!
photo: Richard Cawood via Flickr
Altars and Mariachis at Olvera Street
If this is your first time celebrating Dia de Los Muertos with the familia, our favorite place is Olvera Street. Not only is this is one of the best and biggest celebrations in the city, the festivities happen over several days from October 25 to November 2, so there’s plenty of time to join in when it fits into your schedule. There are Aztec dancers and roving mariachi bands, traditional processions and delicious eats, and admission is always free. If you’ve ever wanted to turn yourself into one of those beautifully painted Calaveras (skulls), now is your chance. Kiddies and parents a like can get their faces painted by one of the many vendors available through out the festival. Each booth has their own unique style of painting, so if you’re worried the littler ones might not dig seeing you skeletoned, there are always less life-like options available. Event details.
Good to know: Free pan dulce (sweet bread) and champurrado (a hot, sweet Mexican drink) will be served to everyone who participates in the evening processions. It’s a great opportunity to see the beautifully decorated altars and try some traditional Mexican food.
photo: Self Help Graphics
Culture and Community from Self Help Graphics at Grand Park
Self Help Graphics knows a thing or two about putting on a dazzling Dia de Los Muertos display—they’ve been doing it for the past 43 years. Stroll through a collection of over forty traditional and contemporary altars at Grand Park in Downtown LA, while taking in live music and munching on traditional eats. Learn about Los Angeles’ Oaxacan community, and their part in some of the most recognizable Day of the Dead themes from sugar skulls to altar displays. The big event happens on October 30 featuring traditional dance and prayer lead by our city’s indigenous community and the unveiling of a community altar where all are welcomed to place pictures of loved ones. The altars will be on display all week and the park will offer free lunchtime tours to learn more about the holiday. Event details.
Streets Come to Life in San Pedro
On Sunday October 30th from 3-9 p.m., the streets of San Pedro will come alive with art, culture, music and food all in celebration of the Dia de Los Muertos holiday. The Kid’s Corner features several craft projects and other kid friendly activities like face painting and story readings. Walk through an impressive display of altars that will be judged in competition at the end of the night. Bring your dancing shoes; there will be many live musical performances that will have the little ones jumping and jiving in no time. Event details.
photo: Pretend City
Hands on Learning at Pretend City
Sometimes the best way to learn about something is through hands on activities, and we expect nothing less from the folks at Pretend City. Try your hand at crafting colorful papel picado or sit down for a story followed by skull arts and crafts. The event takes place on November 1 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and is included in the price of museum admission. And yes, we know it’s in Irvine but this is one kid friendly celebration that’s worth the drive. Event details.
Live Music and Performances 24th Street Theater
Attend the annual 24th Street Theater Day of the Dead celebration and take part in a full day of family friendly activities on November 2. The event’s real draw is the fantastic line up of live music and stage performancesl. In between dancing and viewings, be sure to hit up the arts and craft booths as well as get a bite to eat from the food trucks. Event details.
photo: Larry A. via Yelp
Costume Contests and Art Gazing at the Museum of Latin American Art
On October 30, enjoy free admission to the Long Beach museum to see Dia de Los Muertos inspired artwork from all over Latin America. The day’s event begins with a traditional procession followed by kid friendly art workshops, readings, crafts, sugar skull decorating, and more. Stay for the calavera fashion show—everyone is encouraged to participate. Event details.
photo: Yesica via Flickr
Story Telling and Face Painting in Pasadena
It’s a whole afternoon and evening of fun, with something for every age group. Plus, it’s free! Pasadena is hosting a Family Fiesta in honor of Day of the Dead featuring face painting, story telling, arts and crafts, music, food and more on October 30 from 2-6 p.m. Dozens of community made altars will also be on display. The day ends with a screening of the charming holiday-themed The Book of Life at 7 p.m., so don’t forget your lawn chairs and blankets and sugar skulls for snacking. Event details.
Our city has such a rich Mexican heritage, there are lots of Day of the Dead celebrations. Share your favorite event or family traditions in the comments below.
—Christina Montoya Fiedler