Día de los Muertos Celebrations in San Diego 2023

Attending one of San Diego’s Día de los Muertos events is a great way to either celebrate your own heritage or learn about this time-honored Mexican holiday.
Todd Sarouhan
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Ofrenda During Dia De Los Muertos Celebration in Old Town San DiegoTraditional Face Painting for Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town

The traditional Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos is celebrated each year on and around All Souls Day of November 2nd. On that day, the legend says that loved ones will return, for just a single night each year!

The tradition goes on to say that our ancestors die in three parts; once when they pass, once when their body is buried and a third time when they are forgotten. The Día de los Muertos celebrations, also known as the Day of the Dead in English, are all about making sure that those passed on never make it to their third death, and instead are remembered and celebrated!

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Old Town A Must
For an authentic Dia de los Muertos celebration in San Diego, California, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Old Town, where traditional altars, adorned with marigolds and sugar skulls, line the streets.

Given its close proximity to the Mexican border and large population of residents of Mexican descent, it’s no surprise then that the city of San Diego has a great deal of cultural crossover. It’s easy to take a day trip to Tijuana or spot Mexico from Point Loma’s Cabrillo National Monument or from the pier at Imperial Beach. It’s also easy to have an authentic Mexican culture experience by attending one of San Diego’s yearly Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Many of San Diego’s neighborhood’s come alive with marigolds, colorful decorated ofrendas, patrons dawning la Catrina face paint, parades, live performances and so much more, all in remembrance of ancestors and loved ones that have passed on.

Few US cities celebrate Día de los Muertos quite like San Diego. On November 2nd, parties and other events can be found in multiple locations throughout the county, plus you’ll also find a range of events during the run-up to the holiday, usually starting around October 28th.

All the celebrations in San Diego are family-friendly with food, games, entertainment and more. As a longtime resident of San Diego, I can say that my family very much looks forward to the Día de los Muertos celebrations each year. I hope if you’re lucky enough to be in San Diego on this day that you’ll have the opportunity to be part of this incredible cultural experience!

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

My 6 Favorite San Diego Locations to Celebrate Día de los Muertos

Though Día de los Muertos is a holiday about remembering loved ones who have passed on, it’s far from a solemn affair!

If you’re in San Diego at the end of October or on the first few days of November, consider checking out one of its many Día de los Muertos festivals. Each location on our list offers a slightly different style. Some are multi-day affairs like the festivities in Old Town San Diego, while others like the events at the Old Globe in Balboa Park are just a single day event.

If you’ve got a few minutes, read on to decide for yourself which celebration sounds best for you and your family! But if you’re short on time, know that the Old Town San Diego Día de los Muertos celebrations are my family’s go-to favorite!

Dia de Los Muertos in Old Town
Dia de Los Muertos in Old Town

1) Old Town Día de los Muertos Celebration, 2023

Holidays in San Diego: Día de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego 2023
Address:
Throughout Old Town with Procession along San Diego Ave.
From Oct 28th - Nov 2nd, 2023

As a neighborhood with large Mexican traditions, I love Old Town San Diego; it is one of the best places to learn about San Diego’s culture and heritage, especially during the holiday! As the largest festival in San Diego county, the multi-day Día de los Muertos celebrations in Old Town are by far my favorite.

In 2023, the Old Town festivities began on October 28th and continued through November 2nd. But many businesses got into the spirit even earlier, decorating storefronts with skeletons and the traditional marigold flowers. Just walking down the street, it was easy and free to check out the altars (known as ofrendas) seemingly everywhere!

Old Town’s Día de los Muertos celebrations spanned nearly the entire neighborhood, with the main event taking place at the State Historic Park’s Fiesta de Reyes. When you attend, you will be treated to live music and traditional Mexican dances. I also always love how many booths there are for getting your face painted!

On November 2nd at 6:00 pm, there was a candlelit procession from the Immaculate Conception Church to El Campo Santo Cemetery. In the years to come, visit Old Town’s community altar and join the parade to the cemetery to take part in this truly authentic holiday celebration.

Entrance to the Old Globe Theater
Entrance to the Old Globe Theater

2) The Old Globe Día de los Muertos Celebration

Neighborhood: Balboa Park
Address:
At Outdoor Copley Plaza
Sunday 30th, October,2023
11 am to 1:30 pm

If a festival full of live music and dance sounds like your style, I recommend stopping by the Copley Plaza in Balboa Park for a Día de los Muertos celebration that will have everyone in high spirits - even the spirits themselves!

The Old Globe Theatre is the ideal place to watch a live performance throughout the year and one of our favorite places in San Diego to take out-of-town visitors. While many plays bring the classics to life, others are written and performed from a multicultural perspective, offering insight into the lives and cultures of people from different backgrounds. The Día de los Muertos celebration is no different, inviting attendees to either celebrate their own Mexican heritage or learn about the holiday and how their neighbors commemorate it.

Last year, the celebration was held on Sunday the 30th of October, 2023, from 11:00 am-1:30 pm.

If you were lucky enough to attend in 2023, you were treated to stunning performances by artists and groups including Danza Azteca Kuauhkoalt (DAK), an Aztec dance troupe; a staging of the play “Al Sonar las Doce”; a serenade from local musicians, and the Felix Drums Workshop drumline.

Dia de los Muerto Face Painting
Dia de los Muerto Face Painting

3) 8th Annual Encinitas Día de los Muertos Celebration

Neighborhood: Encinitas
October 29th, 2023
12 pm to 4 pm

Old Town San Diego may lay claim to the biggest Día de los Muertos celebration in San Diego, but it’s hardly the only one in the area! I’ve also enjoyed attending the festivities held in Encinitas. This event began as a community outreach program in partnership with the Encinitas Library, so it has an educational focus that makes it ideal for families with younger kids.

Encinitas sets aside space at the library for the creation of altars a week prior to the event. These altars are the soul of the holiday, so stopping by to see them - or making one of your own - is highly encouraged.

Activities like the altar making workshop and sugar skull decorating station are excellent ways to learn about the holiday in a hands-on way. Other workshops that have made an appearance in past years include themed printmaking and a poetry station. Live performances from Mariachi Chula Vista and Ballet Folklórico de San Dieguito have brought these lessons to life in a series of festive songs and dances.

2023 marked Encinitas’ 8th annual Día de los Muertos event, which ran on October 29th from 12:00-4:00 pm.

Barrio Logan Dia de los Muertos Celebration
Barrio Logan Dia de los Muertos Celebration

4) Barrio Logan Dia de los Muertos - Espiritu de Xochimilco 2023

Neighborhood: Barrio Logan
Address:
At Logan Ave & St. Evans Street
Oct 29th, 2023
From 12 pm to 7 pm

Espíritu de Xochimilco is an annual Día de los Muertos celebration held in the cultural district of Barrio Logan each year, where Logan Ave meets St. Evans Street. In 2023, it took place on October 19th, 12:00-7:00 pm.

The event gets its name from Xochimilco in modern-day Mexico City, which is right where the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan once stood. The Día de los Muertos celebration is intended to call back to the “spirit of Xochimilco,” creating a connection between today and the traditions and heritage of the past. This blend of history and the present makes it a favorite activity on our Complete Guide to All the Holidays in San Diego list.

Spread over two blocks in 2023, the Espíritu de Xochimilco celebration is a bit bigger than festivities in other parts of San Diego, like those held at Chula Vista. This is in part thanks to many of the vendors selling food and merchandise. While not all stands are directly related to the holiday, the street fair feel of this celebration ensures it’s still well worth a visit.

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, it’s a great idea to head over to the mainstage, which hosts local musicians, DJs, and other performers. I love Barrio Logan’s for grabbing some of the best tacos in San Diego. The yearly Día de los Muertos celebration is just another reason to get your family and friends together to enjoy the area and festivities!

Art Outside the California Center for the Arts Escondido
Art Outside the California Center for the Arts Escondido

5) 28th Annual Dia de los Muertos in Escondido

Neighborhood: Escondido
Address:
California Center for the Arts, Escondido
340 N Escondido Blvd, Escondido, CA 92025
Nov 1st, 2023
From 4 pm to 9 pm

You can be part of a traditional gathering that’s as much about having fun as it is about honoring tradition when you attend the Día de los Muertos event in Escondido.

Like many Día de los Muertos celebrations, this party is filled with live music and dance performances. In previous years, Aztec Dance and Ballet Folklorico put on stunning performances that entertained while also paying homage to the musicians’ roots. Space is set aside for community altars so visitors can embrace the true meaning of the holiday and remember their loved ones.

Other popular activities like face painting, family-friendly crafts, and a Catrina contest are offered, plus plenty of food trucks and vendor stalls. Unique touches such as a car show and a Frida Kahlo museum exhibition make this event truly unique!

2023 marked the 28th Annual Día de los Muertos celebration on Escondido Boulevard. It was held on November 1st from 4:00-9:00 pm.

Ofrendas at Dia de los Muertos Celebration in San Diego
Ofrendas at Dia de los Muertos Celebration in San Diego

6) 3rd Annual Día de los Muertos Celebration in Downtown Chula Vista

Neighborhood: Chula Vista
Address:
Downtown Chula Vista
Saturday Oct 28th, 2023
From 3 pm to 8 pm

Our Complete Guide to All the Holidays in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Downtown Chula Vista’s unforgettable Day of the Dead. Heavily decorated with marigolds, skulls, and dozens of photo op spots, the area is transformed into a center for cultural education, remembrance, and family fun!

Chula Vista held their third annual Día de los Muertos celebration in 2023. It took place on Saturday, October 28th, from 3:00-8:00 pm.

What I always love most about this festival is that it’s completely free to attend, so families on a budget can enjoy the events stress-free. Live music and dance troupe performances are all free to watch, as is taking in the lively atmosphere and admiring the Davidson community altar.

Food options and getting the traditional face painting of la Catrina are two parts of the festivities that do come at a cost. Chula Vista had numerous onsite food vendors in 2023 sponsored by Las Jefas Market, but it was also possible to pass on these and spend next to nothing while attending.

The Chula Vista celebration always invites families of all backgrounds to learn about the history and importance of the Día de los Muertos. Last year’s celebrations included an altar decoration competition complete with prizes, a free screening of the family-friendly movie Book of Life by Guillermo del Toro, and many guided children’s crafts which are sure to make a return in the years to come!

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Expert Tips for Navigating the Día de los Muertos Festivities in San Diego

Which Celebrations are Best for Families?

Most Día de los Muertos events are family-friendly with plenty of kids’ crafts, games, and entertainment options.

The Old Town celebration is especially popular among families, and the Encinitas event has educational resources that make it an excellent choice for encouraging kids to learn about Mexican culture.

How Similar Is Day of the Dead to Halloween?

Though Día de los Muertos and Halloween take place just a few days apart, they’re celebrated very differently, with unique traditions for each holiday.

Halloween centers around ghosts and goblins and is the perfect opportunity to check out one of the Best Haunted Tours in San Diego. Día de los Muertos is more about celebrating, honoring and remembering your ancestors that have passed on.

What are More Tips for Visiting San Diego in the Fall

If you’re looking for pumpkin carving and corn mazes, read our Best Pumpkin Patches in San Diego list. If you’re traveling with kids and enjoy saving money, checkout the list of free activities for kids in San Diego during the month of October.

If you’ll be in town into November, our San Diego Thanksgiving Traditions & Things to Do article could be helpful, or enjoy A Complete Guide to All the Holidays in San Diego for information about an array of holidays celebrated yearly throughout town.

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