The Best Cinco De Mayo Celebrations Across the U.S.
Yes, yes, we know: Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day. It isn’t much of anything, in fact, as far as Mexico’s concerned—except in Puebla, where the holiday was born on May 5, 1862: the day local forces defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla and turned the tide of the Franco-Mexican War. But none of that gives you license to sit out some of the most raucous parties across the U.S., where costumed Chihuahua parades are the norm and eating way too many tacos is highly encouraged. Here are our six favorite fiestas.
San Diego’s Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo
This weekend-long neighborhood party (May 3-5) is one of the nation’s biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Expect lucha libre matches, lasso shows, and mucha musica from Latin rock to Afro-Caribbean to the requisite mariachis. The perennial crowd favorite, though, is Lowrider Lane—a whole street’s worth of eye-popping works of automotive street genius. Be sure to vote for your favorite—the annual People’s Choice Award is much coveted and highly competitive. Also be sure to restaurant-hop through Old Town, where the food and drink specials last all weekend long.
St. Paul’s Cinco de Mayo West Side
Cinco de Mayo West Side (May 4) has been celebrating Mexican culture and heritage since 1999. The 20th anniversary festivities will include a parade, folkloric music and dance of all kinds, a grito contest, lucha libre matches in a beer garden—and not just one, but two jalapeño-eating contests. And while admission is free, do the neighborhood a favor and show up with school supplies: The 2019 Backpack Drive is determined to give out a record 1000 bags to local kids.
San Antonio’s Viva Market Square
Even during non-holiday weekends, this three-block Market Square is a dense and color-splashed collage of (mostly) Mexican craft shops, restaurants and boutiques. But come Cinco de Mayo, the marketplace gets its party on, and for three days from May 3-5 adds serious revelry to all that retail therapy. This year’s version will bring a big addition: the city’s first annual Festival del Mariachi, a Univsion-sponsored mariachi youth competition that begins Sunday morning.
Denver’s Cinco de Mayo Celebrate Culture Festival
Denver kicked off its first Cinco de Mayo Celebrate Culture Festival 31 years ago. The event grew so quickly that within just a few years organizers had to move it to the much larger Historic Civic Center Park. Now the largest cultural event in the state—and one of the largest Cinco de Mayo events on earth—the fiesta lasts from May 4-5 and includes a crazy lineup of music and dance, a taco-eating competition, Chihuahua racing, and a lowrider show. Also—because Cinco de Mayo or not, this is still Denver—the festival comes with a climbing wall. (We hope there are churros waiting at the top.)
San Francisco’s Cinco de Mayo Festival
San Francisco’s 15th annual Cinco de Mayo Festival (May 4) celebrates Mexican and Latin American culture—so expect the music to range from Ranchera and Mariachi to Salsa and Cumbia, and don’t be surprised when the odd capoeira performance gets thrown in. Looking to learn, say, some Zumba moves or Latin drumming skills? The festival’s got you covered. Just be sure to show up early—last year’s turnout was something in the neighborhood of 6,000 people, and the best seats at your performances of choice may go fast. You can keep tabs on the latest schedule at the event’s Facebook page.
The (many) celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capital has no single official Cinco de Mayo festival this year, but there are several events you’ll want to catch around the beltway. The one we’re most hoping to attend is the “Running of the Chihuahuas” race at The Wharf on May 4 from 1-5 p.m. (Not convinced? There’ll be an accompanying pet costume contest. That’s right: Pet. Costumes. You’re welcome.) Then there's the ever-popular Cinco de Mayo Pub Crawl on May 5 from 1-8 p.m. in Dupont Circle, where participating bars will serve up discounted margaritas, sangria, and tequila shots (register here). Over in Fairfax, High Side will be hosting its first-ever Cinco de Mayo Beer Garden (May 5, 12-7 p.m.), where the neighborhood fave will pour 20+ craft brews and back them up with street food and outdoor games. For a more haute Cinco de Mayo experience, check out this collab between two of DC’s top talents: Chef Christian Irabién, a Mexican native and veteran of some of the country’s top kitchens whose first DC outpost is in development at the highly anticipated La Cosecha—and Al Thompson, head bartender at Barmini by José Andrés and founder of the pop-up Experience Cocktail club. The duo's menu will include four craft cocktails (spoiler alert: there’ll be lots of agave) and a pan-Mexican menu of small plates. Or platos pequeños, as the case may be.