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Día de los Muertos 2023: 9 ways to celebrate in San Francisco, Oakland

Alan and Montse of Las Tres Brujas, who create and customize artesaías and flower crowns, pose on 24th Street in the Mission during Day of the Dead celebrations in 2021. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

If you’re an East Coaster missing the blazing colors of fall here in the Bay Area, look instead for the fiery marigolds and monarch butterflies that are all over the place this time of year, adorning ofrendas and graves for the Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

The Latin American holiday observed Nov. 2 fuses ancient indigenous and Catholic spiritual traditions to commemorate the cosmic connection between the living and the dead. The native Mexican marigold, or cempasúchil, acts as a calling card between the two worlds. 

If you’d like to honor a departed loved one or want to learn more about the meaning of this annual tradition, here are a few ways you can take part.  

READ MORE: The Mission District Celebrates Día De Los Muertos: Photos of the Festivities

Día de los Muertos Mission Lotería Tour

Oct. 27 & Nov. 2, 6-8 p.m. 
2751 Mission St. 

An artsy take on the Day of the Dead is this shop-local tour of the Mission District that’s themed after the popular Mexican version of bingo. Start the evening off making a clay calavera skull keepsake at Artillery Ceramics, then pop into artisanal gift shops to pick up marigolds or sugar skulls, (decorative folk art confections that are not meant to be eaten). Along the way, you’ll also have a chance to stop and admire local murals. 

Alan and Montse of Las Tres Brujas, who create and customize artesaías and flower crowns, hold the Mexican flag high during the procession down 24th Street in the Mission during Dia de los Muertos 2021. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Muerto City 

Oct. 28, 3-10 p.m.
428 11th St., SoMa 

Outdoor event space Monarch Gardens hosts a free, family-friendly event featuring live performances by Miss Nana, music by DJ Sektor, dancing, food trucks, face painting and activities for kids.

Día de los Muertos at Sunset Mercantile

Nov. 1, 6-9 p.m. 
37th Ave. and Ortega, Outer Sunset

This Outer Sunset farmers market comes to life at night for a special Día de los Muertos edition. Glittering lights and garlands will adorn the open-air market, which will feature live traditional folklorico dance performances, arts and crafts, face painting, Latin American food vendors, a photo booth, DJ music and a costume competition. Contestants are invited to suit up in the style of La Catrina, or dapperly dressed skeleton now synonymous with Day of the Dead, and compete for prizes at 7 p.m. Members of the public can also build an altar to a loved one at 5 p.m., prior to the event.

Celebrants join the procession for San Francisco's 2022 Día de los Muertos parade. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Day of the Dead Festival of the Altars 

Nov. 2, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Potrero Del Sol Park 

Potrero Del Sol Park turns into a colorful memorial to departed loved ones with altars scattered throughout the park’s lawns. You can lay flowers, glass prayer candles or mementos at one of five community altars or build a custom one to your ancestors by signing up ahead of time. The altar-building begins at 8 a.m. A ritual circle ceremony to honor the dead happens from 5 to 6 p.m. 

42nd Annual Day of the Dead Ritual Procession 

Nov. 2, 6 p.m. 
22nd and Bryant streets, Mission 

Led by Aztec dancers, this procession organized by El Colectivo del Rescate Cultural carries forward the spirit of its late founder Juan Pablo Guitierrez and honors the Mesoamerican roots of Día de los Muertos. Costumed processors dressed in traditional Aztec feathered regalia and skeleton Catrinas wind their way along Bryant, 24th, Mission and 22nd streets before concluding back at 22nd and Bryant streets. 

Mixcoatl dancers perform at the 2022 Festival of Altars in Potrero Del Sol Park. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

NightLife: Día de los Muertos

Nov. 2, 6 p.m. 
California Academy of Sciences 

The California Academy of Sciences dedicates its night at the museum-style event to the Day of the Dead. Living skeletons dressed in the style of Mexican catrines will roam the academy’s halls as Mariachi San Francisco keeps the evening moving with soul-stirring music and ballet folklorico performances swirl through the night. Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca kicks off the celebration with a traditional Aztec blessing at 5:45 p.m.   

SOMArts’ Día de los Muertos Exhibition: The Hummingbird’s Visit 

Through Nov. 3
934 Brannan St., SoMa

Nonprofit community space SOMArts’ annual display of Día de los Muertos ofrendas, or altars, designed by local artists returns—this time with a theme dedicated to the symbolism of hummingbirds. In Aztec culture, the sprightly bird represents a bridge between the living and the dead that carries messages from the afterlife. SOMArts’ closing reception on Nov. 3 is your last chance to see how the theme has taken flight.

David Tafolla’s SOMArts Retrospective is seen on display during the 2022 installation of the annual Día de los Muertos gallery show. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Día de los Muertos with SF Symphony 

Nov. 4, 2 p.m. 
Davies Symphony Hall

The creation myth of the Mayan people comes to life in this immersive concert experience featuring traditional Latin American music, vivid dancing and festive art activities.

Dancers from Casa Círculo Cultural kick the celebration off with a procession illustrating the creation of mankind chronicled in the Maya’s Popol Vuh and musical accompaniment form Canción de Obsidiana, which fuses electronic music with the acoustic sounds of traditional handmade Mexican and indigenous instruments. Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, making his San Francisco Symphony debut, leads the orchestra in a selection of songs by Clarice Assad, Arturo Márquez, Alfonso Leng, Silvestre Revueltas and Arturo Rodríguez. 

Guests are invited to arrive early, starting at 12:45 p.m., to listen to marimba, or xylophone, music by Guatemalan music troupe Voz de mi Pueblo or make kites, sugar skulls or screen prints with the help of local artists. 

Oakland Dia de los Muertos

Oct. 29, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
International Boulevard at Fruitvale Ave., Oakalnd

Inducted into the Library of Congress as a local legacy event, this vibrant cultural festival, now in its 28th year, attracts around 100,000 people every year to Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Admire stunning altars and artistic installations, watch lowriders bounce and Aztec dancers sway, listen to live music and peruse wares by local Latin American artisans. A youth soccer competition will also take place alongside this year’s festival, which is themed “Blooming Resilience.”