Día de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego 2023

Enjoy live performances, face painting, and themed local shopping during Old Town San Diego’s Día de los Muertos celebrations, an annual family friendly event.
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Día de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego
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The Complete Guide to the Día de los Muertos Celebration in Old Town San Diego 2023

Dia de Los Muertos in Old TownTraditional Face Painting for Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town

San Diego’s Cultural Infusion

San Diego’s historic roots and proximity to the Mexican border have resulted in the infusion of Mexican culture throughout the city. Nowhere is this crossing of cultures more apparent than during the Día de los Muertos celebrations in Old Town, San Diego.

About Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday during which loved ones who have passed away are said to return to the living world for a night of revelry. Not to be confused with Halloween, the holiday involves many celebrations and fun live events that are suitable for the whole family.

Old Town's Grand Celebration

Old Town hosts the largest Día de los Muertos celebration in San Diego, with many opportunities to shop, eat, drink, and learn about the holiday’s history. Each year, the celebration is localized around Fiesta de Reyes in the San Diego State Historic Park, where the largest collection of Día de los Muertos artwork is on display.

Season Duration and Highlights

The holiday season starts in late October on the 28th and continues until the actual Day of the Dead on November 2nd, which is marked by a parade through the neighborhood. Thankfully, San Diego’s year round warm weather means you can enjoy these outdoor activities even at the end of fall.

Local Tips
Driving to Día de los Muertos in Old Town?
Make sure to arrive early, especially the weekend before Nov 2nd and on Nov 2nd. Free parking is limited and fills up fast. Paid options are there, but planning ahead is key. Enjoy the vibrant festivities and remember your loved ones!

Join Todd as he tours one of his favorite restaurants in the historic district of Old Town, Cafe Coyote. This cantina serves up authentic Mexican dishes, delicious frozen drinks, and a lively atmosphere.

Go on the Tequila, Tacos & Tombstones Tour

The Best Events and Activities for Celebrating Día de los Muertos in Old Town

Old Town’s Día de los Muertos celebrations are the most robust in all of San Diego. Be sure to swing by the neighborhood for food, games, music, and more. Plus, check out a bonus celebration outside of Old Town at the end of the article!

Family of Catrinas During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town San Diego
Family of Catrinas During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town San Diego

1) Get Your Face Painted as a Catrina

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
Cafe Coyote: 2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Oct 28, 29 & Nov 2, 2023
Cost: $25 / person for a full face Catrina

During Día de los Muertos celebrations, Catrinas face paint is a tradition nearly as old as the holiday itself! Every year, my family and I get our faces painted as Catrinas to join in this beautiful tradition. Pay homage to its roots by turning your face into a decorative skull and celebrate the holiday in the authentic Mexican way.

The face paint derives from the character of La Catrina. In Mexican folklore, she is depicted as a skeleton wearing a feathered hat. The original satiric drawing by political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada has been embraced and turned into a beloved icon by renowned artists like Diego Rivera.

Today, statues and paintings of La Catrina can be found in many Mexican owned businesses throughout San Diego, especially near the end of October. Getting your face painted is a great opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Like many of the activities featured in the Complete Guide to All the Holidays in San Diego, Catrinas face paint is fun for kids and adults alike.

You can find face paint artists in front of Cafe Coyote in Old Town leading up to the holiday on Oct. 28 & 29, 2023, and also on Día de los Muertos itself, Nov. 2, 2023. The cost starts at $25 per person for a full face Catrina.

Dancers at the Dia De Los Muertos Procession in Old Town San Diego
Dancers at the Dia De Los Muertos Procession in Old Town San Diego

2) Participate in the Procession to the El Santos Campo Cemetery

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
Starts at the Immaculate Church on San Diego Ave. in Old Town
Nov 2, 2023 at Sunset, 6pm to 8pm
Cost: Free

Every year, I eagerly await the Día de los Muertos celebrations in Old Town San Diego, especially the procession to the El Santos Campo Cemetery. It's an event I absolutely love and never miss!

This huge parade begins on Nov. 2, 2023, after sunset at the Immaculate Church on San Diego Ave. in Old Town, and continues all the way to the El Santos Campo Cemetery. You can take part in this candlelight procession with the whole family, or simply watch from the sidelines and admire the intricate costumes of revelers.

The parade is accompanied by a traditional Mariachi band playing live music and culminates at a public altar in the El Santos Campo Cemetery. It’s one of the biggest events of Old Town’s Día de los Muertos festivities and a standout attraction in our Complete Guide to All the Holidays in San Diego, so you won’t want to miss it!

Ofrenda at El Campo Santo Cemetary in Old Town San Diego
Ofrenda at El Campo Santo Cemetary in Old Town San Diego

3) Find All the Ofrendas Around Old Town

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
All Around Old Town San Diego
Oct 28 to Nov 2, 2023
Cost: Free

Día de los Muertos is a holiday all about honoring the spirits of ancestors. Mexicans create altars, known as ofrendas, that are dedicated to their loved ones, who are believed to come back to walk among them on this night. Ofrendas usually feature pictures of loved ones and are lavishly decorated with Aztec marigolds known as cempazúchitl, as well as food and drinks the person enjoyed.

During Old Town’s Día de los Muertos celebrations, many local businesses put out their own ofrendas which you can visit. Though it’s an unofficial part of the town’s holiday festivities, dozens of stores, museums, and historic sites practice this tradition each year, so you’re guaranteed to see a few as you traverse the streets. It’s a fun, family activity to see if you can locate them all as you do some shopping and dine at authentic Mexican restaurants.

During the 2023 celebrations, ofrendas can be found along Taylor Street, Twiggs Street, Harney Street, and San Diego Avenue, plus the El Santos Campo Cemetery. Many are near historic points of interest such as Whaley House, the Immaculate Conception Church, State Historic Park, and the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Other notable locations include Fiesta de Reyes, Casa Guadalajara, the Cygnet Theater, and the Old Town Saloon.

Dia De Los Muertos Figurine at the Marketplace in Old Town San Diego
Dia De Los Muertos Figurine at the Marketplace in Old Town San Diego

4) Shop at the Mercado de Arte for the Día de los Muertos Celebration

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
4010 Twiggs St, San Diego, CA 92110
Oct 1 to Nov 2, 2023

San Diego’s Old Town Market is among the Best Farmers Markets in San Diego and a must-see stop for lovers of fresh food and handmade goods. During the lead up to Día de los Muertos, the space is transformed into an Art Market known as the Mercado de Arte. Walking through the market and shopping at the dozens of vendors here is a great way to celebrate the holiday while also picking up some souvenirs.

Vendors of all kinds set up shop, many of which sell goods tailored to Día de los Muertos. In between traditional taco trucks, try holiday favorites like decorated sugar skulls, pan de muerto, oaxaca hot chocolate, and chicken served with mole negro sauce. Purchase bouquets of Aztec marigolds and locally made tequila to decorate your own ofrenda, or shop for handcrafted decorative items that let you commemorate your trip and take home some of that Day of the Dead spirit.

In 2023, the Mercado de Arte will be held a few days before Día de los Muertos, on Oct. 28 & 29. Consider picking up some decorations, dresses, sugar skulls, and other local items for celebrating!

Decorations at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town
Decorations at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town

5) Día de los Muertos - La Experiencia at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town

Address:
Fiesta de Reyes: 2754 Calhoun Street, San Diego 92110
Oct 1 to Nov 2, 2023
Cost: Free

Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is set to host an unparalleled Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, building on the previous year's success. Named "Día de los Muertos – La Experiencia," this free, family-friendly event will run from October 1 to November 2, encapsulating the essence of the traditional annual Mexican and South American festivity for all San Diegans.

The celebration honors the history, Hispanic culture, and heritage of the region, commemorating the spirits of the departed believed to return during this period. Throughout October, the Fiesta de Reyes courtyard will showcase over 60 unique displays, including life-sized Catrina skeleton dolls, thousands of marigolds, and live entertainment.

Staff will don festive outfits, and local establishments will present both traditional and modern altars. The event aims to immerse visitors in the rich cultural history of San Diego.

This event is not to be missed, especially if you have kids!

People Love the Fiesta De Reyes During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town
People Love the Fiesta De Reyes During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town

6) Watch Live Music at Fiesta de Reyes Main Stage

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego
Address:
Fiesta de Reyes: 2754 Calhoun Street, San Diego 92110
Oct 28, Oct 29, Nov 1 & Nov 2, 2023
Cost: Free

The Fiesta de Reyes Main Stage is an arena for live performances located in Old Town San Diego. The venue hosts live musical entertainment on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Throughout the year, these performances are some of the Best Things to Do in Old Town San Diego for visitors and locals alike.

As Día de los Muertos draws near, the venue hosts themed music performed by top-notch Mexican bands. These shows are free to attend, so you can pop by and listen to the music at your leisure on Saturday Oct. 28, Sunday Oct 29, Wednesday Nov 1 and concluding on Thursday Nov 2, 2023.

The schedule is the following for each of the four days:

  • Folklórico Dancers 12pm to 3pm
  • Los Ríos Mariachi Fusión 3:30pm to 5:30pm
  • Luis Max & Blue Moon 6pm to 9pm

If you’re in the mood for some authentic Mexican food, be sure to dine at the nearby Casa De Reyes Mexican restaurant. You can see and hear the stage performances from your seat. Dig into traditional ceviche, tacos, guacamole, and fajitas as you enjoy the live music.

Around Fiesta de Reyes, you’ll also find shops selling a variety of goods, many of which are handmade and totally unique local items you won’t find anywhere else in San Diego. A good number of these businesses are themed for Día de los Muertos. Goods sold around the pavilion include kids toys and books, clothing, novelty items, wines, and artisan chocolates.

Love, Yes We Can Sign in Chicano Park
Love, Yes We Can Sign in Chicano Park

7) Bonus: Dia de los Muertos "Espiritu de Xochimilco" 2023 in Barrio Logan

Neighborhood: Barrio Logan
Address:
Barrio Logan Cultural District
Oct 29 2023
Hours: 12pm to 7pm
Cost: Free

Dia de los Muertos Espiritu de Xochimilco 2023 in Barrio Logan is not just a celebration, but a journey into the heart of our cultural roots. This year's theme, "Espiritu de Xochimilco", is a tribute to the resilience and spirit of communities that have thrived against the odds. Just like Xochimilco, a place that stands as a testament to the Aztec people's efforts to build a habitat amidst challenges, Barrio Logan too has its tales of perseverance and unity. This theme resonates deeply, reminding us of the parallels between these two places and the stories painted on the pillars of Chicano Park.

Kick off the day with an opening ceremony at "Lowrider Lane" at 12 noon, where the Danzantes de Calpulli will breathe life into the "Espiritu de Xochimilco". If cars are your passion, the lowrider showcase awaits. Families will love the "Zona del Axolotl" with its array of kids' activities.

For a cinematic treat, "El Teatro De Xochimilco" is screening of Disney’s COCO. Relish traditional foods at "Mercado Chantico" and immerse yourself in the vibrant art and culture at "El Barrio Magico". The ceremonial performances at "Plazita Capilco" are a must-see, embodying the spirit of our theme.

Hunting for keepsakes? "Mercado De Muertos" offers handcrafted goods and more. And for live tunes, head to the Stage of Tenochtitlan, featuring acts like Tropa Magica and Mariachi Internacional de San Diego.

Come celebrate the "Espiritu de Xochimilco", a symbol of strength, unity, and cultural pride!

Go Historic with Go Pass!
Whaley House
Historic Whaley House Museum
The Whaley House Museum is located in historic Old Town San Diego. With your Go Pass, take in one of the most visited attractions in the area. The complex is made up of multiple houses and museums that offer something fun for the whole family.
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Local Tips
What are the best Go City San Diego pass deals?

Some of the best deals with the Go City San Diego pass include access to San Diego’s most popular attractions.

Discount admission is offered to the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND California, USS Midway Museum, Belmont Park rides and more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

What to Know Before You Celebrate

Día de los Muertos is a very important and sacred holiday in Old Town’s Mexican community. Use these tips to ensure you get the most fun out of the festivities.

See Something New Each Year

Unique performers and events are offered each year that Old Town hosts a Día de los Muertos celebration, with the party getting bigger and better each year! Even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again to see what’s changed and experience the magic all over again.

Ring in Fall in San Diego

Looking for more fall fun you can enjoy with the whole family? Fall is one of the best times of year to visit San Diego as the skies are generally clear and temperatures are just right!

Check out our list of the best pumpkin patches in San Diego 2023, listen to spooky stories on the best ghost tours in San Diego, or try a premium San Diego activity such as a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND California. Many of the best things to do in San Diego have discounted ticket prices when you grab a Go City San Diego pass.

Use our discount code, GVSD5OFF, when buying your pass to save on family friendly activities in Old Town such as Old Town Trolley Tours and admission to the historic and haunted Whaley House!

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