Originating thousands of years ago among the Aztecs in Mexico, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is hardly a somber event. It’s more a celebration of departed friends, family members, ancestors, and sometimes even legends and heroes. Traditionally celebrated November 1, here in the United States, events may span several days and feature altars, processionals, and other activities to honor the dead.
Hollywood Forever, Los Angeles
More than 100 altars honoring ancestors, heroes, and loved ones set a colorful backdrop for the day-long L.A. Día de los Muertos procession at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. This celebration features traditional Aztec ritual dancers, art exhibits, and four stages with live music. While you're there, keep an eye out for the decorated graves of celebrities such as Rudolph Valentino and Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone.
The All Souls Procession weekend has artistic roots—local artist Susan Johnson started the event to honor her late father in 1990—but has now expanded to welcome more than 150,000 participants, many of them costumed. A two-mile walk among papier-mâché puppets, altars, and art installations follows a large ceremonial urn carrying messages, prayers, and the names of loved ones through downtown Tucson.
Mission District, San Francisco
You can build your own altar for display in San Francisco’s Garfield Square, or bring flowers, candles, and mementos of loved ones to place on public altars. Every year, a boisterous Day of the Dead procession with art, music, and live performances makes its way through the streets of the Mission District.
Old Town San Diego
There are plenty of ways to celebrate Day of the Dead in Old Town San Diego, from sugar skull crafts and folklorico dancing to face painting, art exhibits, and seasonal menus. Life-size Catrina skeleton dolls dress up the Fiesta de Reyes courtyard, and 45 altars—including one for the public to add personal photos and mementos—pay tribute to the spirits of loved ones. The celebration culminates with a festive candlelight procession.