Here’s where to celebrate Día de los Muertos in San Diego

A woman gets her face painted at Old Town's Dia de los Muertos celebration.
(Jared Gase)

It’s time for Día de los Muertos!

Also called Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday honors loved ones who have died, with a focus on creating ofrendas (home altars) full of photos, keepsakes, marigolds, food and other gifts. Though the subject matter implies a somber affair, it is often a lively event full of music and dance performances, calavera catrina (skull) face painting and much more.

With COVID-19 taking the lives of thousands of San Diegans in the last year and a half — as well as many Dia de los Muertos events forced to cancel or go virtual in 2020 — this year’s local festivities will likely draw a large crowd. And while the official holiday is Nov. 1 and 2, celebrations in San Diego kick off this weekend.

Here’s where to celebrate Día de los Muertos 2021:

Sherman Heights Community Center Día de los Muertos

Starting Oct. 22 the public is invited to view the center’s collection of in-person altars, which will be on display through Nov. 2. On Oct. 23, the center will host the kid-friendly event ¡Jovenes! which offers activities like playing lotería, arts and crafts, and a piñata. Additional craft workshops — such as face painting, flower crowns, and creating Latino folk art like alebrijes (sculptures) and nicho boxes — for all-ages are also scheduled throughout the week.The center’s celebrations commence on Nov. 2 with Procesión de Muertos, a candlelight walk through the decorated neighborhood. (Masks required for all guests.)

Price: Free. Tickets are required for select workshops.
When: Various times Oct. 23-28. Procesión de Muertos will be held 4:30 to 10 p.m. on Nov. 2.
Where: Sherman Heights Community Center, 2258 Island Ave., Sherman Heights

Dia de los Muertos Festival in Oceanside

Friends of Oceanside’s annual Dia de los Muertos returns to its original location of downtown Oceanside. Celebrating 20 years, the event features a wide range of ofrendas — including vehicle altars featured in the Por Siempre Car Club Show — an interactive chalk cemetery, live performances, and kids activities like the Adelante Bookmobile. And put on your best skull makeup to compete in the long-running Catrina Contest, happening on the Main Stage at 2 p.m.

Price: Free
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: 300 North Coast Highway, Oceanside

Dia de los Muertos in Solana Beach

Experience live entertainment, browse altars and play games at Solana Beach’s Day of the Dead celebration, with also marks the 100th anniversary of event’s neighborhood, La Colonia de Eden Gardens. The day’s stacked lineup kicks off with a Blessing of the Altars, followed by a demonstration by The Skatepark Project, music and dance performances, Los Viejitos Classic Car Show, contests (including a dog costume contest) and more. Face masks are recommended.

Price: Free
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: La Colonia Park, 715 Valley Ave., Solana Beach

Día de los Muertos Dinner with 818 Tequila

Enjoy a three-course dinner at Pendry San Diego’s restaurant, Provisional Kitchen, which pairs dishes with 818 Tequila cocktails. Menu items include charred octopus, cochinita pibil (barbecued pork), bacon fat tortillas, and chocolate tamales, horchata rice pudding, and more. Plus, there will be entertainment like live music and face painting.

Price: $120
When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27
Where: Provisional Kitchen, 425 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp

Día de los Muertos Celebration at Third Avenue Village

Third Avenue Village’s inaugural Día de los Muertos community celebration can be experienced in two different ways. Those who are 21-and-up can enjoy La Ofrenda, a ticketed option that includes beer and food samples from local businesses. Or opt for Treats & Sweets, a family-oriented alternative that invites kids to stop by participating businesses to gather treats. Both options include entertainment like live music and an a photo op with a 12-foot Catrina. (And guests who bring a photo of a loved one can pin it on the Catrina’s shawl.)

Price: La Ofrenda is $25; Treats & Sweets is free.
When: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Various Chula Vista businesses. Check in at Third Avenue Village Association Office, 353 Third Ave.

City Heights Dia de los Muertos Celebration

Head to Officer Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park for City Height’s 14th annual event featuring community altars, entertainment, face painting and raffles. Watch performances from Mariachi Victoria de San Diego, Fern Street Circus, Grupo Colibrí and more. There will also be a tribute to COVID-19 victims at 7 p.m. and a walk-up vaccination site starting at 10 a.m. Guests are encouraged to wear a Catrina outfit!

Price: Free
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 30
Where: 4455 Wightman St., City Heights

Encinitas Dia de los Muertos Celebration

Now in its eighth year, this family-friendly event in Encinitas will have lots of art — including artist demonstrations, art-making workshops and an art exhibit — as well as face-painting contests, food trucks, and the Callejeros de Encinitas Car Club. And don’t miss out on mariachi performances and dancing by Ballet Folklórico de San Dieguito. Guests are also encouraged to bring an item to the Community Ofrenda at Encinitas Library, open Oct. 28 to Nov. 4.

Price: Free
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 30
Where: Encinitas Community and Senior Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive, Encinitas

Ofrenda: A Dia de los Muertos Celebration

Enjoy a celebration of Mexican culture with “Ofrenda,” an outdoor show at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Billed as a “visual and musical experience,” the evening spotlights Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles and Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar. Get ready for traditional music and dances, with some modern touches (like songs from the Disney movie “Coco”) as well as tributes to various Mexican artists.

Price: $25 to $95
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 31
Where: The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 222 Marina Park Way, Embarcadero Marina Park South

Dia de los Muertos at the Center for the Arts (Escondido)

California Center for the Arts, Escondido (CCAE) hosts its 26th event in person this year, both at the museum and its courtyard. Outside, there will be community participatory altars, as well as a craft market, DJ, and performances by Aztec dance group Xinachtli and Tierra Caliente Academy of Arts. Step inside the museum for two exhibitions that celebrate Mexican culture: “José Guadalupe Posada: Legendary Printmaker of Mexico” and “Muerte y Monstruos.” Masks are required both indoors and outdoors.

Price: Free (Museum entry fee waived for event)
When: 3 to 7 p.m. Nov. 1
Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Old Town: Procesión to the Cemetery

Old Town San Diego’s traditional candlelight procession will start at sunset, starting at Immaculate Conception Church, then make its way down San Diego Avenue to El Campo Santo Cemetery. Guests are welcome to contribute personal items to the public ofrenda, located in the cemetery. Many restaurants, businesses and storefronts will also present their own altars, as well as offer drink specials, live music, kid-friendly activities and more.

Price: Free
When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2
Where: Procession starts at Immaculate Conception Church, 2540 San Diego Ave., Old Town