Días de muertos around the bay A Voices guide

By Kathryn McKenzie

It’s official — Día de los Muertos is now a fully North American celebration, and this year promises an explosion of parades, music, craft-making activities, food and fiestas all around the Monterey Bay.
Now, even CVS and Walgreen’s are carrying the colorful skulls and catrinas (stylishly dressed skeletons) associated with the festivities that originated in Mexico and have spread into the United States during recent years. This year, interest has been heightened further by the popularity of the Disney Pixar film “Coco,” in which a young boy explores his family tree during Day of the Dead.

Those who want to celebrate Día de los Muertos (or several Días de Muertos) will find plenty of ways in the Monterey Bay area, starting this weekend and continuing on to next, highlighted by All Souls’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Saints’ Day on Nov. 2. It’s a time to remember loved ones who have passed on, with altars (ofrendas) decorated with photos, marigolds and the favorite food and drink of the deceased. Music, dance and poetry are typically part of the celebrations.

Here’s a look at Días de Muertos activities in this area, with major events happening in Salinas and Santa Cruz.

Cal State University-Monterey Bay 

The university’s Visual & Public Art department will host several free events at its main campus, including professor Dionicio Mendoza’s annual Sugar Skull Workshop this Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at VPA Building 72, and the annual Day of the Dead Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 1, which includes face painting, a processional, large-scale altar, Aztec dancers, traditional Mexican refreshments, student artwork and more, from 5-8 p.m. at the VPA Complex, Building 70. All events are free and open to the public. Information can be found on the CSUMB website.


Get in the mood for the celebration this Saturday, Oct. 27, with a sugar skull decorating class by Blue Aces Bakeshop at the Saturday Farmers Market in Oldtown. The decorating area will be right outside the bakery’s door under the big tent. Skulls are $5 or $10, depending on size, and all decorating essentials will be provided, as well as tips and tutorials from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Register at Eventbrite.

Also on Saturday, Alisal Rotary Club will host its 5th Annual Día de los Muertos Celebration, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Salinas Sports Complex. Tequila tasting, appetizers, dinner, music by Noel @DJ Booth. There will also be performances by Tonatiuh, Danzantes del Quinto Sol, and Mariachi Juvenil Alisal. $60 individual, $400 a table for 8. Alisal Rotary raises funds mostly to benefit students of Alisal. For more information or tickets, contact Elias Nunez, elias@spectrumautocollision.com, Alex Reynoso, Alex@isarch.net, or Ralph Martinez, ralphmartinez8@gmail.com.

Want to be a zombie for Halloween, or apply skull makeup for Día de los Muertos? Learn how at a free workshop this Saturday, 12-4 p.m. at the Breadbox, 745 N. Sanborn The workshop is free and sponsored by the city of Salinas, CSUMB Center for the Arts and Culture, and Hijos Del Sol Arts.

Downtown Salinas will be full of events and processions on Friday, Nov. 2, with numerous organizations planning Días los Muertos festivities. CSUMB Center for Arts and Culture at 1 Main St. kicks it off with workshops from 3-5 p.m. to make marigolds, papel picado and face painting. Processions from Epicenter with CRLA and Hartnell College Art Gallery to 1 Main St. take place starting at 5, where everyone will be treated to Aztec and folkloric dance, music, calaveras literarias (humorous epitaph poetry), and at 8 p.m., Artistas, Catrinas y Adelitas, also known as Night of the Fridas, where people show off their best impersonation of the iconic Mexican artist. A presentation by Artist Ink and a performance by Baktun 12 will finish up the evening

CSUMB Center for Arts & Culture in Salinas will also show the films “Coco,” “Macario,” and “Bury Me in Red,” and opens a new exhibit, “Días de Muertos — Separation and Refuge,”  which will be on view through Jan. 16. See Facebook for details and a schedule.

The 18th annual “Bailando con la Muerte” on Friday, Nov. 2, begins at Salinas’ Hartnell College Art Gallery, but doesn’t end there. The annual celebration features a community art exhibition, live music, dance, poetry and more, beginning at 5 p.m. at the gallery at West Alisal Street and San Vincente, with a procession from Hartnell College to the CSUMB Center for Arts and Culture at 1 Main St. All are welcome, and admission is free. Details can be found on Facebook or by calling (831) 594-1799.

Another part of this year’s celebrations in Oldtown Salinas will be the first-ever Días de Muertos Food Crawl from 3-8 p.m. on Nov. 2, an opportunity to try great food and drink from downtown restaurants while raising money for student and community projects. Those who want to get in on the food crawl can buy a dining “passport” for $50, which allows them to sample one selection per participating restaurants, and discounted beer and wine are also available. Pre-order your passport through Eventbrite.

San Juan Bautista

Jardines de San Juan will host its annual Día de los Muertos celebration this Friday from 5-10 p.m. with live music in the back garden by Grupo Macabra, a Day of the Dead costume contest, and in the theater, a $20 per person mezcal and tequila tasting for 21 and older. There will be an altar exhibit from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Santana Gallery in front of the restaurant. Details: www.jardinesdesanjuan.com.

Arts and culture are alive next weekend at the historic El Teatro Campesino Playhouse, with performances Nov. 2-4 by folkloric dance group Esperanza del Valle and altar exhibits. On Saturday, Nov. 3, free activities will be hosted in the playhouse parking lot from 3-8 p.m. People can enjoy live music, dancing calaveras, raffles, a Teatro performance, children’s activities and tacos for sale in the parking lot; tickets are required for admission to see Esperanza del Valle and the exhibits. Esperanza del Valle presents two dance dramas – “El Corrido de Rosita Alvirez” and “El Corrido de los Dos Hermanos” with music by Cuatro con Tres. Tickets and information at elteatrocampesino.com.

Santa Cruz

Several Días de Muertos events are planned by the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, culminating in an all-ages celebration on Nov. 3. It starts Thursday, Nov. 1, 7-8:30 p.m. with a “crash course” in Días de los Muertos featuring dancers from Santa Cruz Senderos, plus an opportunity to learn about its with the founder of Senderos, Fe Silva-Robles. The program will be presented in Spanish with translators available.

The next night, Nov. 2, part of the Free First Friday series at MAH, features exhibit openings and a sugar skull decorating and tissue paper flower workshop starting at 5 p.m. Visitors will be able to explore three floors of exhibitions for free from 5-9 p.m., including the newest exhibition “Lay of the Land: Rodrigo Valenzuela,” featuring works by the Los Angeles photographer and painter.

On Nov. 3, a Day of the Dead celebration at downtown’s Abbott Square from 6:30-9 p.m. features vibrant dance performances, live music, face painting, food for sale and a procession to more dance, music and outdoor altars at Evergreen Cemetery. The events are presented in partnership with Senderos, Arts Council Santa Cruz County, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and California State Parks, and MAH Members. Details: www.abbottsquare.org.


Family-friendly workshops celebrating culture and tradition are inviting residents to decorate sugar skulls and make paper flowers at two locations in Watsonville. This Thursday, the craft workshop will be from 6-8 p.m. at the Civic Plaza Community Room, 275 Main Street, 4th Floor. Another workshop will be held Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Freedom Branch Library. Both are free. For information, see cityofwatsonville.org.

On Nov. 2, the Watsonville Film Festival, in collaboration with other community organizations, will present music and dance and the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” at the Watsonville Plaza starting at 4 p.m. In addition to altars and hands-on activities, “Coco” will be shown at sunset with audio in Spanish. The event is free and for all ages. Bundle up and bring your chairs and blankets. For information, visit: http://watsonvillefilmfest.org.

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites. She and husband Glenn Church are the co-authors of "Humbled: How California's Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin" (Vista Verde Publishing, 2020).