8 Free Cinco de Mayo Celebrations that Are Great for Families

First let's set the record straight: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, and—while the festivals might look similar—confusing the two holidays is as gringo as, say, putting pastrami in a taco. (Actually, scratch that—LA is pretty darned proud of its pastrami tacos.) Let's simply agree that just because the US named its independence holiday 4th of July doesn't mean that Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is Mexico's independence day. What the day actually celebrates is an underdog Mexican victory over a French military attack on Puebla, Mexico in 1862. The holiday is mostly observed in Puebla and in Southern California, where there's little mention of the French, but much swinging at piñatas and dancing to mariachis. After all, by the first weekend of May, who needs more excuse than that to revel in the sunshine?

Although much of LA's Cinco de Mayo revelry goes on in places catering to the 21+ crowd, we've pulled together a list of free celebrations that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Some of the events below are really just excuses to enjoy good burritos and music al fresco, but a few do actually take the time to reference the historical significance of the day amidst the revelry. Whether or not pastrami tacos can be found at any of these events—well, we'll just have to go investigate, won't we?

1. Fiesta Broadway
April 29, 2018
Much as it would seem like a no-brainer which day to look for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the nation's largest Cinco de Mayo festival, which takes place right here in Los Angeles, always happens at least a week early. Don't ask us; we're just the messenger. The good news is that this papa of all festivals, which covers 12 blocks of downtown LA and draws half a million people, is billed as alcohol-free - to keep it as family-friendly as possible.

2. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Cinco de Mayo Celebration
May 5-6, 2018
From the biggest to the oldest, El Pueblo de Los Angeles has been celebrating the victory over France on this site for more than 140 years (which means that when this particular party started, it was the actual guys from the actual battle still celebrating!). Three days are filled with traditional music, dance, and food on LA's oldest street.

Kids get in the groove at a Cinco de Mayo Festival. Photo by Fiesta 505 / CC BY 2.0

3. Monterey Park Cinco de Mayo Celebration
May 6, 2018
This is the 36th year for Monterey Park's annual Cinco de Mayo event, with a full program of entertainers in the Barnes Park Amphitheater.

4. San Clemente Cinco de Mayo Fiesta
May 5, 2018
Orange County's Spanish Village by the Sea has been breaking out the mariachis for more than 25 years for its annual family-friendly celebration in the park.

5. Fiesta de Mayo Celebration
May 5, 2018
Because one celebration in San Clemente can't possibly be enough, the Outlets at San Clemente also throw a free family event, with music, dancing, face painting, and balloon artists.

6. Venice Cinco de Mayo Parade and Festival
May 5, 2018
A parade on Lincoln Blvd. is not an every day event. The festivities march north along the beach town thoroughfare, then turn in to go past La Cabaña restaurant and finish at an all-day festival in Oakwood Park.

7. Cinco de Mayo at Mar Vista Farmers Market
May 6, 2018
The Farmers Market takes on a Mexican flavor for the day, featuring performers and piñatas among the usual festivities.

8. Cinco de Mayo at the Citadel
May 5-6, 2018
The Ballet de Folklorico performances are free; just be prepared for the fact that the outlet shopping is irresistible.

As ever, if you know of a great celebration we missed, please let us know. ¡Viva el Cinco!

Originally published April 24, 2012

Top photo: Dancing at the Cinco de Mayo festival. Photo by S. Pakhrin/CC BY 2.0


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