In the city by the Bay, tourists celebrate Halloween; locals turn out for Dia de los Muertos.

By Jenna Scatena
October 29, 2015
GPS via Flickr

In San Francisco, tourists celebrate Halloween; locals celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Mexico’s “Day of the Dead.” The holiday dedicated to honoring the departed traditionally takes place the day after Halloween, November 1 and ends the next day. While you can find people in skimpy or ironic Halloween costumes just about anywhere, searching out the best Dia de los Muertos events require a little more research. Here are the best ones going down this holiday.

Calavera, Oakland

The team behind Oakland’s lauded new Oaxacan restaurant, Calavera, transformed the space into a veritable Dia de los Muertos altar this month, and it will remain until November 4. Strands of marigold flowers designed by Oakland florist Ash+OAK mixed with traditional candles honor the spirits, while a special mole menu features five special dishes a night, including mole de pepitas (venison heart tartare with pickled cactus and pasilla de Oaxaca pumpkin seed), mole verde de quelites y acelgas (grilled white onion with mole verde and sautéed chapulines), and mole de calabaza y piloncillo (pan de muerto bread pudding, candied nuts, and spiced piloncillo-pumpkin mole).

The moles will be balanced with what Calavera dubs “ancestral cocktails,” like horchata with chamomile mezcal, black mission fig jam, and lemon. From October 31 through November 2, a local face-painter will be on-hand to paint traditional sugar skull faces on willing guests.

Copita Taquileria y Comida, Sausalito

On November 1, Sausalito restaurant Copita Taquileria y Comida will bring its sidewalk to life with chalk drawings of sugar skulls and other holidays symbols. Its interior will be filled with symbolic marigolds, as well as tributary photos and mementos brought by the staff and dining patrons to honor the departed. A celebratory menu will include roasted yellow beet soup with crema, toasted cumin seeds, and a kombucha and butternut squash taco with carrot and Serrano chile puree, tomatillo salsa and toasted pepitas. Pair it with the Espíritu cocktail: tequila blanco, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Campari, and fresh guava juice.

San Francisco Symphony

Mexican-American singer-songwriter Lila Downs performs a symphonic tribute to Dia de los Muertos at the San Francisco Symphony. Latino families, as well as families and individuals from various backgrounds, come early for a mini-festival, which takes place at Symphony Hall and features live cultural music and dancing, colorful altars, Mexican crafts, and face painting. There are two showings on November 7.

SF Day of the Dead Procession

On November 2, San Francisco’s Day of the Dead Procession and Festival of Alters converges in the Mission district at Garfield Park from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. People from across the city craft ancestral altars typical of the holiday, and at 7 p.m., there’s a procession through the Mission. One of the city’s most unique festivals, with 15,000 people donning skull face paint, veils, black lace sombreros, and floral headbands, it’s put on by the local nonprofit, the Marigold Project.

SOMArts Exhibit

SOMArts blends traditional Mexican altars with contemporary art installations at their annual Dia de los Muertos exhibit “Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow,” showing now through November 7 at their SoMa gallery. See differing interpretations of this holiday through the eyes of locals, with more than 25 altars by 80 artists that evaluate life and the afterlife. Installations like the work created by The Idriss Stelley Foundation will touch on contentious issues with their display that honors families who have lost loved ones to police violence.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.