Día de los Muertos is a Latin American holiday that's also a huge part of SoCal's cultural heritage.
Dating back to pre-Columbian Aztec culture, the Day of the Dead is a celebratory way to honor the departed, and officially takes place on Nov. 2. But here in L.A. where people pretty much wear costumes year-round, it's a good a reason as any to stretch the dates around Halloween as wide as possible. The trademark components of Día de los Muertos are the elaborate altars constructed in honor of departed loved ones, with ofrendas (“offerings”) that recall the dead's favorite things in life, from flowers and incense to alcohol and tobacco. (You get the idea.)
It used to be that the only L.A. celebrations for Día de los Muertos were the ones organized by Self Help Graphics & Art and Hollywood Forever Cemetery — and maybe a few others. Times have changed, and now there's no shortage of Day of the Dead parties across various neighborhoods in L.A. We combed through as many as we could in order to compile a modest guide; while it's by no means exhaustive, it should at least give you an indication of the scope of the celebrations, and the variety of ways to honor the dead here in the City of Angels.
Día de los Muertos on Olvera Street
Olvera Street, aka El Pueblo Historical Monument (aka Calle Olvera, aka La Placita Olvera), is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. With many of its vendors related to the area's original merchants, it's an ideal place to become immersed in Mexican culture — especially this time of year. Come dressed to impress, or just relax and watch the traditional Novenario procession with a margarita in hand. Olvera Street, downtown; Oct. 25-Nov. 2, hours vary. olveraevents.com/day-of-the-dead-olvera-street
Old Pasadena Day of the Dead Weekend
While Pasadena is better known for its flea markets and Rose Parade, it has started to celebrate Día de los Muertos, too. Now in its third year, the extended celebration includes self-guided tours of expansive altars in the neighborhood, along with other Day of the Dead staples such as calavera face-painting and more. Come check out the festivities while you can, before Santa comes and steals the spotlight in a few weeks. Old Pasadena, Pasadena; Fri.-Sun., Oct. 27-29, noon-9 p.m. oldpasadena.org/visit/events/signature-events/day-of-the-dead.
Día de los Muertos: The Legacy of Posada
A lot of the imagery associated with contemporary Day of the Dead events can be traced back to Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) and his iconic, politically charged prints and engravings. This year, pay tribute to Posada’s contributions at the 18th annual Day of the Dead at L.A.’s own cemetery to the stars; this event attracts more than 30,000 people each year. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., Oct. 28, noon-mid. ladayofthedead.com
Día de los Muertos Family Festival
The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) hosts a daylong, family-friendly series of festivities including a mask-making workshop, arts and crafts vendors, a performance by L.A. Opera and a guided tour of the museum's Día de los Muertos: Altar Display and Art Exhibition (on view through Nov. 19). MOLAA, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; Sun., Oct. 29, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. molaa.org/events/Día-de-los-muertos-family-festival.
Día de los Muertos: Los Angeles Master Chorale
The world-renowned Los Angeles Master Chorale delivers a spine-tingling program of music inspired by Día de los Muertos, led by guest conductor and Venezuela native María Guinand. From doleful laments to
uplifting arrangements, the music encompasses the joyful complexity of the Day of the Dead. Sign up for a free walking tour of the nearby altars at Grand Park beforehand, in order to help put the evening's music in context.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown; Sun., Oct. 29, 7-9 p.m. lamasterchorale.org/Día-de-los-muertos
Noche de Ofrenda
A big part of Día de los Muertos is the Noche de Ofrenda, which involves the ritual collecting and placing of objects on altars as “offerings.” This particular iteration features indigenous ceremonies, along with poetry and music by L.A.-based artists. The night kicks off the Downtown Día de los Muertos: Altars + Art exhibition (Oct. 29-Nov. 5, 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m.), which includes a community altar curated by Mujeres de Maiz and Ni Santas, along with altars curated by Boyle Heights' Self Help Graphics & Art. Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Oct. 28, 7-9 p.m. grandparkla.org/event/noche-de-ofrenda/
Watts Día de los Muertos
Follow the Day of the Dead procession from Watts Civic Center to Watts Towers, a National Historic Landmark and monument by outsider artist Simon Rodía, who toiled on the towers over the course of 33 years. The event includes a community altar along with free food, arts and crafts and Aztec dance performances, all part of a beloved annual neighborhood tradition for the whole family. Watts Towers, 1727 E. 107th St., Watts; Sat., Nov. 4, 4-8 p.m. facebook.com/events/122077941835707.
Self Help Graphics & Art's 44th annual Día de los Muertos Celebration
Self Help Graphics & Art first organized the East Los Angeles Día de los Muertos back in 1972, putting the little-known holiday on the global map. Día de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present, and Future (on view through Jan. 20) chronicles the changing attributes of the Day of the Dead celebration. With co-hosts the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, SHG also is holding its one-night-only annual celebration in conjunction with the gallery exhibition, continuing and successfully building upon its 44-year-old tradition of the Day of the Dead. Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School, 1200 Plaza del Sol E., Boyle Heights; Sat., Nov. 4, 5-10 p.m. selfhelpgraphics.com.