Though the name Dia de Los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") may sound grim, there’s really nothing scary about the holiday. Rather, it’s a celebration of those who have passed. Across Los Angeles there's a wide range of family friendly celebrations, most with free admission. So this year, along with the annual door-to-door trek for treats, you can start a new fall tradition by checking out one of these Day of the Dead events and experience some culture with that candy.
It seems especially fitting to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos on Olvera Street. After all, the thoroughfare is part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the oldest part of Los Angeles, and the city center when it was under Mexican rule in the 19th century.
Dia de los Muertos Festival Days will take place Oct. 28-29 from 10am-8pm, and Nov. 1-2 from 4-8pm, featuring live entertainment, traditional dancers, face painting and family activities. The nightly Novenario Procession will be held on Olvera Street from Oct. 25- Nov. 2 beginning at 7 p.m. The colorful community altars will be on display in the Plaza Oct. 28 - Nov. 2.
Young children will appreciate the classic carnival type games at the Dia de los Muertos themed Festival de Otoño (Fall Festival) at Edison Language Academy, a dual immersion elementary school in Santa Monica. There will also be altars created by each classroom, performances by the student choir, and a colorful sawdust alfombra (rug) akin to those created this time of year in Oaxaca, Mexico. The festival takes place 1-5 p.m. and admission is free.
Every year, the small but magical Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, located at the foot of Santa Monica Pier, hosts a “Frightfully Fintastic Fishy Fest” with a joint Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos theme. The aquarium will be haunted, but still G-rated. Visit the glow-in-the-dark deep-sea laboratory, tiptoe through the marine animal artifact lab and create colorful Dia de los Muertos crafts and masks. Face painting and spooky story times are scheduled throughout the weekend as well. The Fishy Fest takes place 12:30-5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28-29. A costume parade and shark feeding are scheduled for Sunday.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, the landmark Central Library in Downtown L.A. presents a Dia de los Muertos celebration for kids from 2-4 p.m. The entire family is invited to enjoy an afternoon of face painting, piñata making, and storytelling that will reveal the rich history of Dia de los Muertos.
The live entertainment might be a little late for the kiddos, but there's plenty to see, do, and eat earlier in the day at the sixth annual San Pedro Dia de los Muertos Festival. Taking place 3-9 p.m. on a stretch of West 6th between Centre and Pacific Streets, the festival includes an altar competition, food court, and two stages that showcase a mix of dance and music performances. There will also be a Kids Corner with a bounce house and other inflatables. Free admission, however there is a charge for some attractions.
The 12th annual Dia de los Muertos Festival at 24th Street Theatre takes over the entire block beginning at 5:45 p.m. with a procession led by colorfully clad Chinelos dancers, like those you might see in Morelos, Mexico. Performances by a variety of acts, including mariachi and folklorico dancers, continue through the night. Kids can craft their own pieces to add to the community altar or get their faces painted. There will be plenty of food and artisan goods available for purchase. Free admission. Donations that support the non-profit art organization are welcome.
This marks the 44th year that neighborhood arts group Self Help Graphics & Art has held their Dia de los Muertos Celebration. According to the organization’s associate director, Betty Avila, that makes it the oldest in Los Angeles and possibly the longest running in the country. Taking place on Saturday, Nov. 4 from 5-10 p.m., the all-ages party attracts thousands of people, so consider taking the Metro Gold Line to the Pico/Aliso Station, which is a short walk from the event site, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School. Though the event officially begins at 5 p.m., a procession led by Aztec dancers and enormous papier mache skeletons will start at Mariachi Plaza around 4:30 and head west down 1st Street to the school. Free admission.
Each year, thousands of people attend the outdoor mass that kicks off the Dia de los Muertos celebration at the historic Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. Taking place on Nov. 4 from noon to 5 p.m., the 4th annual event features traditional dancers, mariachi, and a live performance by Helen Ochoa. There will be crafts for kids and face painting. One of the highlights of the event is the massive marigold covered altar constructed by members of the local Oaxacan community. Admission is free.
The City of Santa Monica’s sixth annual Dia de los Muertos celebration is taking place noon-3 p.m. at Woodlawn Cemetery, where luminaries such as Leo Carillo and Abbot Kinney are buried. The event will feature a memory wall where attendees can leave notes to loved ones. Kids can decorate ceramic skulls or take a photo with the elegantly dressed skeletons, known as El Catrin and La Catrina Calavera. Tacos, tamales, churros, and agua frescas will be available for purchase. Everything else, including parking and bike valet, is free.