5 Bay Area Fiestas for Día de los Muertos
(Courtesy of Kiselev Andrey Valerevich)

5 Bay Area Fiestas for Día de los Muertos


Not to be confused with hard-partying Halloween, this Mexican holiday honors death as a necessary element of life.

A combination of Christian beliefs and native traditions, Día de Los Muertos celebrates those who have passed by welcoming them back to earth for one night each November. Look beyond tacos and tequila and check out one of these Bay Area celebrations instead.

Mexican Museum's Día de Los Muertos Family Fiesta

The Smithsonian Institute dedicated to Mexican history and culture, located at Fort Mason Center, kicks off the celebration this weekend with a kid-friendly fiesta, complete with face painting, snacks from Papalote Mexican Grill and, pours by Tommy's Margaritas. Oaxacan artist Jesus Sosa Calvo will also be doing a live demonstration of his hand-carved alebrijes, colorful and intricate sculptures of folkloric creatures initially inspired by a fever dream and iconic to Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico. // 6-8 pm, Oct 27, 2 Marina Blvd. Building D (Fort Mason Center), mexicanmuseum.org.

The San Francisco Symphony's Día de Los Muertos Community Concerts and Celebration

This annual celebration goes far beyond an average night at the symphony. The show melds traditional native dance with Mexican orchestral classics led by conductor Alondra de la Parra, and performances by Grammy-winning Mexican vocalist Eugenia Leon. Both matinee and evening showings begin with a welcome party in the lobby, featuring elaborate art installations by Bay Area artists, Aztec dance performances, and family-friendly crafts including sugar skulls, paper flowers and tortilla art. Expect to be greeted by Catrinas and Catrines, the holiday's iconic mascots, the skeleton-faced aristocrats, and pay a visit to the community altar dedicated to victims of this year's deadly hurricanes. // 2pm & 8pm, Nov 4th, 201 Van Ness Avenue (Davies Symphony Hall), purchase tickets at sfsymphony.org.

SOMArts Cultural Center's Remembrance and Resistance: Día de los Muertos 2017

In its 18th year of Day of the Dead exhibitions, SOMArts' 2017 theme puts a political emphasis on loss and the need for collective mourning, exploring such subjects as police brutality, gentrification and displacement, discrimination and environmental destruction. With installations ranging from silkscreen prints to a barbie-doll tableau to an interactive digital mosaic, the exhibit is anything but traditional. // Oct 6–Nov 9, 934 Brannan St. (SoMa), somarts.org.

Oakland Ballet's Luna Mexicana

Oakland Ballet celebrates the holiday with this captivating performance in which a young woman dreams of resurrecting her deceased friends and family in a colorful parade of twirling skirts, suave skeletons, and a corpse bride and groom. Go early for the chance to glimpse the ofrendas (altars) set up by the Oakland Museum of California and enjoy delicious Mexican snacks such as hot chocolate and pan de muerto (a sweet bread typically eaten at gravesites). For an elevated experience, VIP gold tickets will get you an authentic Oaxacan dinner at nearby Agave Uptown and a chance to meet the dancers after the show. // 7pm, Nov 3; 2025 Broadway (Oakland), oaklandballet.org.

Calavera's Día de Los Muertos Festival

Calavera brings a multi-day celebration to Uptown Oakland, transforming its interior with marigolds, candles and altars, in attention to their inventive cocktails and creative takes on regional dishes. This year's altars will honor 1940s Mexican film icon Cantinflas, and his films will be screened throughout the course of the week. Each day will also offer something different, with highlights that include a DJ-hosted Halloween party, live music performances, calavera (decorative skull) face painting, floral-headdress making, and mezcal tastings. With a rotating menu featuring vegetarian tamales, Mexican short ribs, and shrimp pozole, plus cocktails such as prickly-pear daquiris, you may be tempted to visit more than once. // Open for lunch & dinner, Oct 26—Nov 1, 2337 Broadway (Oakland), calaveraoakland.com, more information on Facebook.

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