Incredible Día de los Muertos Celebrations Across the U.S.
These tributes to the dead are bursting with life.
Although images of skeletons, skulls, and coffins dominate the decorations for both Halloween and Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead celebrations favor honoring deceased loved ones over candy-fueled parties and kiddie costume parades. The tradition spans on two days of posthumous tributes including altars, gatherings, and loving offerings. Music, food, and festive processions all play a part in this annual ritual commemorating life and embracing death.
Originally an Aztec holiday dedicated to the immortal rulers of the underworld—Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacíhuatl—Día de los Muertos was later merged with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days upon the arrival of Spanish colonials. Today, many Latin American countries host a multi-day celebration that coincides with the yearly harvest: November 1 is Día de los Inocentes, marking the day that the spirits of children return to their grieving families; and the adult spirit-focused Día de los Muertos on November 2.
Family and friends decorate altars, or ofrendas, with special items favored by the deceased, including food, drinks, clothing, and photos. Candles and marigolds illuminate the sites along with tissue paper cutouts called papel picado. These days of remembrance take place in cemeteries, but processions and parties also happen at churches and in homes. And in the United States, the widespread Latinx diaspora also gets in on the action. Here are some of the best Día de los Muertos observances North of the border, open to all who’d like to raise a glass to their beloved lost loved ones.
The mural-lined streets of Pilsen, Chicago’s historic Mexican neighborhood, serve as the perfect canvas for the city’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration. Hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art, creativity, tradition, and community headline the long-running and broadly attended event.
In addition to live music and art, community members set up and decorate ofrendas in nearby Harrison Park. They can also submit photos of dearly departed loved ones and have them projected onto the museum’s exterior in a large-scale, illuminated memorial.
“We’re located in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago,” says Barbara Engelskirchen, the museum’s chief development officer. “It’s not just art, it’s social—it’s cathartic to talk about people who have passed away.”
Visitors will also have a chance to peruse 2023’s Día de los Muertos exhibit, which remembers those who died in this year’s earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, and Morocco, as well as women around the world who have been violated, disappeared, or murdered. For the showcase, 18 local artists created a large installation that offers a space for collective mourning. The exhibition runs through December 10.
San Diego, California
October 22–November 2
You can’t get any closer to Mexico without actually being in Mexico. The purported birthplace of California, San Diego’s Latin American influence runs deep, and the strong local Chicano culture honors both American and Mexican traditions. San Diego’s Old Town provides the backdrop for the Mercado del Arte on October 28 and 29, where businesses show off colorful ofrendas. November 2 marks the procession to the cemetery, where student mariachi bands perform and Aztec dancers keep attendees abuzz. Along with traditional costumes and face-painting, the festival also features a huge skeleton puppet and stilt walker towering over the crowd.
Elsewhere in San Diego, you’ll find the Oceanside Día de los Muertos Festival on October 22, featuring ofrendas, arts and crafts, and a car show. On October 28, Downtown Chula Vista’s Día de los Muertos Celebration hosts ofrendas, music, and food along Third Avenue. And on October 29, the Encinitas Día de los Muertos Celebration supplies mariachi bands, ballet folklorico dancers, art exhibits, and workshops along with food trucks and a communal alter.
Los Angeles, California
October 25–November 2
Considered the birthplace of Los Angeles, the historic, tree-lined Calle Olvera stands as Downtown LA’s oldest section. It was here in 1781 that travelers from what is now northern Mexico arrived and decided to put down roots. And the Olvera Street Día de los Muertos festivities live up to their neighborhood’s storied reputation. There are stalls selling tacos, fruit, and churros, as well as nightly Novenario processions, vibrant parades where attendees carry bowls of burning incense and huge photos of their loved ones.
After each parade, pan dulce is passed around to the crowd and photos of deceased loved ones are displayed on a community altar. There’s also the Carrera de los Muertos, a 5K fun run that’s rapido, divertido, y pintoresco—fast, fun, and scenic. Runners paint their faces like sugar skulls and pay their respects at a designated runner's altar.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is a major melting pot, with Native American, Spanish, French, and German influences leaving their mark on the city. But the Latin American culture here might just be the most prominent, especially in the La Villita Historic Arts Village, set just off the RiverWalk. This district’s Day of the Dead is loud, energetic, and totally infectious, highlighted by the River Parade’s more than 20 floats and barges, Calaveras skulls designed by local artists, giant puppets, skeleton drummers banging out dance beats, and participants sporting costumes like La Catrina, the iconic skeleton first drawn by illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada in Mexico around 1910. The smell of burning incense fills the air, and a beautiful fleet of stunning altars cast their glow as the festival marches on.
Cost: Free (seated tickets run $22 to $27)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 14–November 5
Albuquerque’s South Valley Día de los Muertos Celebration, commonly known as Muertos y Marigolds, adopts a grassroots approach to spotlighting the tradition’s cultural and community elements. Events leading up to November 5’s procession include paper mache workshops on October 14 and 21, plus an ofrenda-decorating and poetry workshop on October 28. The final procession will unfold at the historic Gutierrez-Hubbell House, while ofrendas created by South Valley community members—organized into an exhibit called Comunitarias: Muertos Y Marigolds—will be on display through November 11.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Local New Orleans culture is steeped in spiritual rituals that draw from both African-American hoodoo folk culture and Haitian voodoo, and both practices honor the dead with reverence and personalized altars. This year, New Orleans-based voodoo society La Source Ancienne Onufo is recognizing the Day of the Dead in conjunction with Fet Gede, a Haitian festival celebrating the patrons of the dead. Located on the island of Hispaniola, Haiti traditionally dedicates the month of November to honoring the Gede, and the group will celebrate both the Day of the Dead and Fet Gede with a community ceremony at the New Orleans Healing Center. Visitors are invited to bring offerings including rum, cigars, holiday figurines, crosses, and skeletons.
Austin celebrates Día de los Muertos in true Austin style, featuring a day-long festival filled with signature offerings like Calavera Central, Muertos Mercado, Fantastical Makers Plaza, and Lowrider Lane. Hosted by the Mexic-Arte Museum, the event kicks off at noon with a grand procession leaving from 4th Street and Congress. Traditional foods, artist demos, and live music are all a part of the fun, while an educational pavilion provides interactive activities. The museum’s current exhibit, “40 Years of Día de los Muertos,” includes pieces from the permanent collection inspired by the icons of Dias de los Muertos and runs through January 7, 2024.
San Francisco, California
Each year, hundreds of San Franciscans flock to the historic Mission District to participate in the annual Día de los Muertos procession and celebration. Presented by the Marigold Project, the event emphasizes community healing and cultural education. Altars set up in Potrero del Sol Park honor loved ones while a ritual circle commemorates humanity’s connection to the Earth and each other with music, dance, and poetry. Later, a procession featuring participants holding photos, flowers, and mementos makes its way through the Mission.