7 Best Cinco de Mayo Blowouts
Did you know Cinco de Mayo is more of an American holiday than a Mexican one? (Yeah, you read that right). So if you’re stuck north of the border this May, don’t fret. Mariachi music, traditional dance, authentic food (washed down with a cold cerveza) – we’ve got it all.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Let’s Set History Straight
First thing’s first: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day (that’s September 16th) – it’s actually a celebration of the country’s 1862 victory against France in the Battle of Puebla (during the Franco-Mexican War, which I’m sure you knew).
As far as festivities go, Mexico’s celebrations are downright dinky in the face of ours (hell, it’s not even a federal holiday). So who does it best? Check our list of cities repping the biggest blowouts.
When: All day May 6th, free admission
Portland might seem like a random locale for a Cinco de Mayo throwdown, but the hipster hub is Guadalajara’s sister city, and the southern capital is showing some sibling love this year. Try your hand at making a pre-Columbian clay figure with bonafide Guadalajaran artists in the Artisan Village; catch a lucha libre wrestling match; watch Mariachi de Ciudad Guadalajara perform alongside local PDX group Ballet Folklórico México en La Piel; or try to hold down your lunch on a carnival ride. The five-block Tom McCall Waterfront park plays host to a number of vendors, but don't miss the fried avocado taco – with hand-battered avocado, grilled onion slaw, vegan cashew ranch, and cotija cheese – at nearby Stella Taco.
The Mission District San Francisco, California
When: May 7th, 10 am - 6 pm, free admission
Many Cali cities wear their Latino heritage proudly on their sleeve, and the Mission in SF is a prime example. The neighborhood is filled with colorful storefronts, eye-popping murals, and some of the best Mexican food this side of the border – not to mention they throw a killer Cinco de Mayo fest. The celebration is normally held in Dolores Park, but this year they're taking things to the streets – block party-style. Locate the main- and community stages on Valencia (the Mission's newest thoroughfare) between 21st and 24th for Mexican ballet performances and beats from mariachi, salsa and latin bands. The only caveat? The event is family-friendly and alcohol free (aka no Cinco de Drinko here) but that's a-okay; take your next-level celebrations to nearby Lolo's. The joint spins a Jaliscan-Californian twist on tacos and empanadas, and the smoky mezcal-based cocktails at their Agave Bar are like no other.
El Paso, Texas
When: May 6th - 8th, One-day general admission $10-$15
Love your mom and Cinco de Mayo? (We’ll go ahead and answer ‘yes, of course’ for you.) Take your favorite lady out to El Paso’s Mariachi Loco Musical Festival – a combo-celebration for Mother's Day and the Mexican holiday. Come hungry and thirsty – there will be tequila, tacos, and plenty of cerveza – and be ready for a day full of traditional folk dance, mariachi bands and local crafts. This year's featured performers include Aida Cuevas, Sebastien de la Cruz and Gerardo Fierro. End your day stuffing your face with rolled Flautas Ahogadas tacos – El Paso's most famous street food – at Tacoholics (your choice of food truck or brick-and-mortar).
Albuquerque, New Mexico
When: May 5th, 6 pm - 9 pm, free admission
Albuquerque celebrates Mexican culture year round: just look at the desert city’s adobe buildings, colonial plazas, luminarias, regular heritage festivals (flamenco, mariachi, you name it) and traditional food joints. Their free Cinco de Mayo Celebration just happens to wrap it all up into one day of music, food and dance. This year you can check out the Ballet Folklórico Fiesta Mexicana and Mariachi Nuevo Sonido and keep your eyes peeled for ABQ vendors fixing up local favorites like tamales, posole, chile stew, and biscochitos. If you'll be around for more than one day, take time to mosey through the historic old town and you'll find buildings decked out in ristras – welcoming strings of dried red chiles.
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When: May 7th - 8th, general admission $5
Phoenix’s Cinco de Mayo Festival is as close to a real fiesta as you can get north of the Mexican border. The 23rd annual, weekend-long pachanga will include music from featured artists like Sunny Ozuna & the Sunliners, Brenton Wood, El Chicano, 80H Project, and Thee Latin All-Stars – all performing between skyscrapers right downtown. They won't be too hard to miss, but look for vendors slinging traditional Mexican fare – street tacos, raspados, burritos, margaritas and refreshing aguas frescas. Whether you save room for dinner that night, or have to wait to work up an appetite again, Tapacubo in Tempe is also a must. Saddle up to the bar – lined with 38,000 Mexican pesos – for a marg served straight from a specially-made cocktail gas pump, and chow down on some signature chips and guac and cubano tortas.
When: May 7th-8th, free admission
Think you have what it takes to devour 10 tacos in a race against other amateur eaters? Head to Denver’s 29th Annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration to compete against taco lovers poised for a challenge (the fest is sponsored by Tecate and Dos Equis, so look forward to a post-match beverage). Happen to have a chihuahua? Register your pooch for the 6th annual Chihuahua Race and you could also stand to win $500 if your pup takes the gold. Otherwise, you can watch performances from local and international ballet and mestizo dance groups and mariachi and latin bands. Arrive at 11am to catch the parade, which kicks off the whole event.
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When: April 30th - May 1st, admission $5
Mexican dancing horses. Amateur boxing. Live Latin music from Los Horoscopos De Durango, Tiranos Del Norte and Los Nuevos Cadetes. Despite its size, little Reno does Cinco de Mayo on a colossal scale. The celebration sets up shop at the Grand Sierra Resort with food stalls, arts and crafts booths and entertainment scattered all around. Expect to find Mexican and American fare everywhere you look – we're talking chimichangas, fajitas, camarones rancheros, and BBQ in excess (if that's even possible). If you need more reason to throw down on all the food you can stomach, know that the festival's proceeds support non-profits around Reno.
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