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Day of the Dead in San Diego 2010

October 28, 2010
Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos (Photo Courtesy:

Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is the indigenous Mexican tradition of remembering the dead that occurs annually on November 1st and November 2nd.

This Mexican custom of celebrating the memories of the dearly departed has crossed over to the U.S. and abroad.

In this article, we describe Day of the Dead and we also list two events in San Diego that have been going on for years – one is located in San Diego and one in Oceanside. Both are free and open to the public. We have also included information on a particular type of sweet bread called pan de muerto that is sold in Mexican bakeries in San Diego during Day of the Dead.

The Tradition

This Mexican tradition is a combination of Catholic and indigenous religious beliefs that make Dia de los Muertos unique to Mexico. Other forms of honoring the dead go on around the world, especially for Catholics, during this time of the year. In fact, November 1st and 2nd are designated as All Saints Day and All Souls (All Hallows) Day in the Catholic calendar, thus the veneration of the deceased.

Whatever your religious beliefs or notions about death, the Day of the Dead tradition signals us that the deceased are alive in our thoughts and memories and most importantly, that we should not fear death as it is part of our life here on Earth. Day of the Dead also gives us the permission to remember our deceased in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

What Happens During Day of the Dead

One way to honor the dead is to go the grave sites of loved ones, clean off their tomb stones, decorate the tomb stones, and then ‘share’ a favorite meal or a drink with the deceased. Usually this reflects the favorite meal, food or drink of the deceased, not necessarily our own.

Mexican bakeries or panaderias make a special pan dulce (sweet bread) to honor the occasion called pan de muertos or Bread of the Dead. For more information on pan dulce, please scroll down to the bottom of this article.

Another way to celebrate Day of the Dead is to make a home altar (ofrenda) in honor of your loved one(s) that is decorated with their favorite things. For example, if your grandfather smoked cigars and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, you would place a cigar and a can of Pabst on your altar. Other standard elements of the altar include candles, a cross, a photograph of the deceased, and marigolds (the pungent odor of the marigold is thought to wake the dead). The use of sugar skulls and papel picado (paper cut-outs) as decoration adds a colorful and humorous flair to the celebration.

San Diego Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos Events in San Diego 2010

16th Annual Sherman Heights Day of the Dead 2010 – The Sherman Heights Community Center (2258 Island Avenue) is Day of the Dead “Central.” In fact, the whole community has embraced the concept of Day of the Dead as a great way to promote the tradition of their predominately Latino community. This year’s events will be held from October 30th to November 1, 2010. All activities begin at 9:00 a.m. and end in the evening. Please be sure to click on “Press Release” on the Sherman Heights Community Center’s website.

This community of the City of San Diego has many historic Victorian homes that seem to fit in with the spirit of the season. For 16 years, the Sherman Heights Community Center has spear-headed the exhibition of community-made altars displayed in their facility. In the last few years, the organizers of the event have expanded the displays to people’s porches and decks. This is a great way to tour Sherman Heights and get a feel for the personal and artistic nature of Day of the Dead altars.

As always, Sherman Heights puts out the welcome mat for everyone  to enjoy the  food, folk art and activities. If you have never explored the beautifully restored Victorian homes of Sherman Heights, this is a great time to go walk around. On Saturday & Sunday (October 30th & 31st), bus tours will transport riders around Sherman Heights to see the beautiful altars/ofrendas created in front of the community’s historic homes. Tour times are: 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. & 3:00 p.m. A donation of $5 or $3 for the guided tours is suggested to help the ongoing efforts of the Sherman Heights Neighborhood Cultural Council. Organizers ask that you RSVP online with a simple email to:

Don’t want to hop on the bus, Gus? If you would rather hoof it, you can pick up a FREE self guided tour in the Community Center.

Oceanside’s 10th Annual Dia De Los Muertos – This popular and well-attended FREE event will take place on Sunday, October 31st, 2010, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the grounds of the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey (4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside).

This North County event attracts thousands of people every year. Organizers promise that many of the traditions of the previous festivals will continue including:  75+ vendors, musical performances, a symbolic procession, beautifully decorated altars, a chalk cemetery memorial, and of course, food. And flowers. Lots of them! And, if you love marigolds, this is the festival you have been waiting for since tens of thousands of marigolds will be used for the altars and for decoration. All the marigolds are being donated once again by Mellano and Company.

This year, the annual Oceanside festival falls on Halloween so children are encouraged to dress in their best Day of the Dead costume of skeletons, spirits, etc. and retrieve treats from participating vendors. Something else new this year includes the participation of the Por Siempre Car Club (Forever Car Club) which will present a special showcase of classic cars for all to enjoy. Por Siempre Car Club will create a unique ofrenda within the car.

Parking: Because of the popularity of this event, parking will be available on-site but at a cost of $5. Considering the extensive grounds of Mission San Luis Rey, we would recommend that you pay the $5 and make life easy.

Pan Dulce

If you have never been to a panaderia, consider this your Pan Dulce 101. If you are familiar with pan dulce, just scroll down to get the details and skip the mini-lesson.

Pan dulce is one name that covers a variety of different types of tastes and configurations much like baked goods can mean cupcakes, cakes, and bear claws. And as we mentioned above, every year around Halloween time, a special type of bread is baked called pan de muerto. It is a round loaf that has skeleton bone dough forms baked into the top. It takes just like other kinds of raised pan dulces called conchas (shells).

A popular panaderia in San Diego is Panchita’s Bakery in Golden Hill. The bakery is located inside and you can see the bakers working in the kitchen as you shop. Panchita’s is located on C Street between 25th and 26th Streets. Here is a map. They have a handy parking lot, so no need to worry about street parking. Their phone number is: (619) 232-6662.

When you enter a panaderia, go to the counter and pick up one of the round metal trays and a pair of tongs. This is the way to properly collect your pan dulce. Go ahead and look at the racks of baked goods and start selecting. Pick the pieces up with the tongs and put them on your tray  (sorry, there is usually no sampling allowed). The prices range from 6 pieces for $1 or .40/each or .60/each. To the left of the pan dulce racks is a rack of sandwich rolls called bolillos which can cost as little as .25/each. They are worth every penny. Get some.

Once you are done selecting your pan dulce, bring the tray to the counter and surrender it to the clerk. The clerk will wrap up your breads and give you a grand total. Please note that Panchita’s bakery is a cash-only place.

Once you get the pan dulce home, just leave it on your kitchen counter until you want some. If you choose, you can warm the pan dulce up.  And yes, they can be frozen as well.

The pan de muerto ($4.99) at Panchita’s is large so you might want to enjoy it with friends and family or over the course of a couple of days.

Now, there is also a regular bakery in San Diego that is making pan de muerto for the first time this year. The bakery is Con Pane and it is located at Liberty Station. If you haven’t been to Liberty Station yet, here is a great place to check out. Con Pane’s pan de muerto ($5.99) tastes like a moist brioche and you can’t go wrong with that.

Note: We know that there are more events related to Day of the Dead and there are more places to buy pan dulce. If you have suggestions for more events or panaderias, please make a comment below and let us know. We would appreciate it!

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