Jumping ahead to bring you some close-to-real-time coverage of my favorite holidays, since apparently some people don’t like reading about Christmas in July.
When I was messing around with my fall calendar, trying to figure out when to be where, one date stuck out to me as important: October 31st. As one of my favorite annual explosions of creativity, I wanted to spend Halloween somewhere special. I settled on Los Angeles.
Once the tickets were booked, I started researching for the best ways to celebrate. The famous West Hollywood Halloween party would fall on the actual holiday of Monday, October 31st, which left the weekend wide-open for alternative ideas. As I’m sure you can imagine, in a city like Los Angeles, I had plenty of options!
When I stumbled across the LA Dia De Los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, just a ten minute drive from my dad’s place in Koreatown, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
And yet I actually almost did miss it. My first few days back in Los Angeles were spent more or less in hibernation and to-do list mode: sleeping off my Hawaii jetlag, procuring my Thai visa, crafting costumes, and catching up on work. So by the time Friday night rolled around, I was pretty ready to let loose and enjoy the weekend I’d rechristened “El Fin De Semana de Los Muertos.”
And let loose I did at the cocktail tasting at The Walker Inn, where my badass friend Amy is one of the bartenders. The two hour tasting menu changes every two months or so, and the current theme is “childhood science experiments,” hence our stylish lab goggles. I went with my friend Amanda, a fellow blogger who I met in Bangkok last year at TBEX and immediately clicked with. She went from one City of Angels to another, and I couldn’t be happier to have another friend in my West Coast HQ. We were seated with two other cute girls who we loved chatting with and getting to know. It was perfect.
I went into The Walker Inn literally knowing nothing other than the fact that my friend Amy works there and was surprised and was so delighted by the whole experience — and I don’t want to ruin the surprises so you can feel the same way. If you are heading anywhere in Los Angeles anytime soon, just trust me. Make this a top priority. Reservations are tough to get so snap one up early — it’s one of the coolest things I’ve done in the city!
However, I paid for it dearly. I woke up on Saturday with one of the worst hangovers I’ve had all year, which I attribute to the wine I consumed when Amanda and I stuck around until well after closing. I had planned to hit up Hollywood Forever around mid-afternoon, but when finally peeled myself out of bed I was thinking more like maybe 2017 would be a more realistic goal.
I tried to find strength in donuts.
I’ve been wanting to check out California Donuts for a few different trips now, and Halloween weekend was the perfect excuse to finally indulge in their fancifully decorated creations. This retro bakery is walking distance from my dad’s place — though like true Angelenos we drove — and we were not disappointed by the festive results.
Around 3pm — you know, the time I’d planned to actually arrive at Hollywood Forever Cemetary — Amanda and I exchanged guilty texts and decided to rally.
She headed over and we quickly abandoned all hope of digging deep into our artistic souls and creating beautiful face paint masterpieces and instead pretty much copied my previous Dia Del Los Muertos look with a half-hearted change in color scheme. Our barely-clinging-to-life moods at least matched the theme of the night!
The sun set right as we were finishing the last touches of our face paint, dashing my hopes of arriving in time to get daylight photographs. But alas, my disappointment was quickly replaced with excitement as we approached the cemetery and were suddenly surrounded by face-painted revelers as we inched towards the entrance in traffic.
As we made our way through the gates, I felt I’d left Los Angeles entirely.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is not Halloween — it just happens to be around the same time, and also involve dressing up. The holiday originated in Mexico, though it is now celebrated throughout Latin America — and beyond. Los Angeles, with its large Latin American population, was the perfect place to get a primer. As I’d learn throughout the night and the through the reading I was inspired to do later, Dia de los Muertos is a rich, beautiful tradition that celebrates the lives of those who have passed — but who return to the community for one special night per year for a post-mortem party with their loved ones. Personally, coming from a culture that fears and dreads death, I found the concept of embracing and accepting it as part of the natural cycle of life to be refreshing and beautiful.
We spent our first few hours at Hollywood Forever wandering the gorgeously manicured grounds, soaking in the ninety or so detailed altars. While some were created in honor of the creator’s friends or family members, others were tributes to groups that have made tragic headlines — victims of police brutality, animals that have died in cosmetics testing labs, the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, undocumented workers who have died without access to health care, and the victims of the San Bernadino shootings were just a few that moved me to tears.
As we were staring reverently at one altar in particular, I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone asking me if I spoke Spanish. “Un poquito,” I replied apologetically, thinking I was about to be asked for directions.
“Bien,” was the reply, as the lights of a news camera suddenly blinded me and a beautiful woman shoved a microphone in my face and asked me about my night and my understanding of Dia de los Muertos. I did my best, and then later laughed imagining myself as the punchline on a Late Show-esque compilation of silly gringos struggling with Spanish.
I remarked to Amanda many times that I couldn’t stop thinking of Burning Man. The alters reminded me of the heart-wrenching and beautiful notes left behind in The Temple, while the elaborate costumes left me reminiscing about the wild acts of self-expression on The Playa.
Eventually we found a spot in the grass to relax and take in some of the performances and music taking place on the half a dozen stages dotted throughout the event. We gorged ourselves on taquitos, churros, agua fresca, horchata, and as many other delicious Mexican treats as we could get our hands on. Meanwhile, festival vendors and talented face painters tended to the masses.
Dia de los Muertos was, truly, a celebration of so many things I cherish in life. And — due to our delicate states — there was so much more we didn’t even experience! The doors are open from noon to midnight with a procession starting at 2pm and music on the stages firing up around 3pm. Next time, I vow to get there around 1:30 to take it all in. While the atmosphere at night was magical I think we missed out by not getting to admire the altars in the daytime, as well. And we simply didn’t have the energy to wait in line to see the Cathedral Art Exhibit inside the Cathedral Mausoleum, a wait I’m sure would have been much shorter had we arrived earlier. Moral of the story? You’re going to pay $20 to get in, you might as well make the most of your money and arrive as early as you can.
Other tips? Buy your tickets online ahead of time to skip at least one line. Come hungry and bring small bills for snacks — some booths accept credit cards but lines are long and you’ll speed things up by paying with exact change in cash. Take an Uber or Lyft rather than attempting to park. Definitely get in the spirit by dressing up — almost no one was not in costume, although levels of wow-dom obviously varied. Get your face painted onsite if need be. Prices ranged from $25-40. And once you’re looking fresh, get in line for the free photobooth!
While I was disappointed by our late start and my half-hearted costuming, I’m so glad we went. The night really summed up everything that has slowly won me over to Los Angeles — diversity in culture, an atmosphere of creativity, and a flair for the unique. I learned so much about this special holiday and fell in love with this event which I hope to attend over and over again.
And it was just the beginning of the weekend’s festivities. Need more? Check out my post on Dia de los Doggies.
Happy Dia de los Muertos, amigos!