US Cities With the Best Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

Female Dancers During Cinco De Mayo

Junko Richie / EyeEm / Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo might have Mexican origins, but the holiday has gained more traction in the United States than its own home country over the years. May 5 is a time to celebrate all the greatness that hails from south of the border, often with margaritas, tacos, and mariachi music.

The day actually commemorates a battle in which 4,000 Mexican soldiers triumphed over twice as many French fighters in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862—it is not Mexican Independence Day. Celebrations surrounding the holiday are notably different in Mexico, though. Simply put, there's a lot more cerveza and tequila involved with Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. Even though it isn't widely celebrated in Mexico, the holiday has morphed into a day for Mexican Americans to celebrate their Latino heritage, much like St. Patrick's Day for Irish Americans.

Cities around the country observe the holiday with Mexican food, happy hours, street fairs, and parades. In some places, the revelries can carry on for several days. Naturally, the biggest and most authentic celebrations occur where there is a high concentration of Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

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Portland, Oregon

Cinco de Mayo celebrations with Portland skyline

Portland Guadalajara Sister City Association

Ever since Portland paired with its sister city of Guadalajara in 1983, it's thrown the largest multicultural festival in the entire state of Oregon every May for Cinco de Mayo. People flood to Tom McCall Waterfront Park by the thousands to get a taste of tapatío culture, the Spanish name for everything and everyone that comes from Guadalajara. Artists who are both local to Portland and who come all the way from the Mexican state of Jalisco perform mariachi and dance folklórico. There's also a kid's area with cultural crafts, carnival rides, and a tequila tasting.

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San Franciso, California

Cinco de Mayo festival in San Francisco

Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc.

San Francisco's Mission District always has a Latin flair, but it really pulls out all of the stops for Cinco de Mayo. The entire neighborhood turns into a giant street fair, with most of the action centered around Mission Street between 16th and 24th streets. There is all-day cultural entertainment, live music performances, lucha libre fighters, and tours of the historic Mission Dolores Church. And if you're looking for good food, you'll find the best Latin American cuisine that San Francisco has to offer right in the Mission.

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San Diego, California

Cinco de Mayo festivities in Old Town San Diego

Historic Old Town Community Foundation

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in San Diego is just about the closest you can get to celebrating in Mexico without actually crossing the border. The Old Town neighborhood was the first place in California to be settled by the Spanish, and here you can find made-to-order tamales, from-scratch tortillas, and mouthwatering tacos. The entire area explodes with festivities during Cinco de Mayo, especially on San Diego Avenue between Conde and Twiggs streets. One of the highlights of Cinco de Mayo in San Diego is the Artisan Mercado, selling delicious food and handmade artisan crafts.

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Reno, Nevada

Dancing horses at the Cinco de Mayo Festival in Reno, Nevada, NV.

TripSavvy / Stan White

The biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in Reno—as well as in Northern Nevada—takes place at the Grand Sierra Resort. Hop on some carnival rides, gawk at the Mexican dancing horses, dance to live music, and you can even see home amateur boxing. Since this event is a fundraiser it does charge an admission fee, but all of the proceeds go back to the local community.

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Phoenix, Arizona

Outdoor nighttime block party in Downtown Phoenix for Cinco de Mayo
Barry Winiker / Getty Images

On May 5, you can find Cinco de Mayo festivities all over Arizona which has a vibrant Mexican-American population. But for the biggest cultural celebration in the desert, the obvious choice is the fiesta in Downtown Phoenix. The jamboree is centered around City Hall and apart from the live music, folklórico dancing, and delicious street food, cultural understanding also plays a huge role to educate the whole community about the meaning of Cinco de Mayo and Hispanic customs. Guests do have to pay to enter the festival, but the event raises funds to award scholarships to Latino students from all over the Phoenix area.

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Denver, Colorado

Chihuahua Races
Mario Villafuerte / Getty Images

The two-day Cinco de Mayo Celebrate Culture Festival in Denver is attended by some 400,000 people every spring. Two stages in Civic Center Park host mariachi, cumbia, salsa, norteña, Spanish rock, and Latin jazz into the night. Other uniquely Denver activities include a local community parade, a taco eating contest, and what has to be the most adorable holiday event in the country, a chihuahua race. Food takes center stage at this event, with local Latin-flavored restaurants serving their best and a fiery chili cook-off competition serving one of Denver's specialty dishes, green chili.

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Twin Cities, Minnesota

Woman in parade in St. Paul Cinco de Mayo

Saint Paul Festival & Heritage Foundation

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul throw their Cinco de Mayo celebration in the District del Sol neighborhood in West St. Paul, known for its thriving Latino community. Partygoers may opt into a salsa tasting contest, peruse the Community Village for locally produced goods, make their own arts and crafts in the kids' zone, or engage in some self-care at the Wellness Lane. Of course, all of the festivities are accompanied by lively musical performances and delicious food.

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Omaha, Nebraska

Cinco de Mayo parade on 24th Street in Omaha

Cinco de Mayo Omaha Foundation

You may not expect Omaha, Nebraska, to host one of the most dynamic Cinco de Mayo parties in the country, but the surprising element just makes it that much better. The fiesta stretches back a century in Omaha and brings out over 250,000 visitors each year, with much of the festivities taking place on South 24th Street. A Miss Cinco de Mayo is crowned during this annual carnival and you can bet on live music, food stalls, a parade, and a beer garden as well. There's also a Latino Expo featuring keynote speakers and workshops for the whole community.

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San Antonio, Texas

Escaramuzas on horseback in San Antonio
Gabriel Perez / Getty Images

Everything is bigger in Texas, so you can expect the best at the state's biggest Cinco de Mayo party in San Antonio. It's so big, in fact, that it's split into two massive events. The downtown celebration takes place in the Historic Market Square where you can hear local high school mariachi bands, eat at the local restaurants, and listen to live music performances. Meanwhile, the fiesta at Trader's Village is outside of the city center but is even bigger, with carnival rides, concerts, a huge flea market, and traditional Mexican charrería, or rodeo events.

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Chicago, Illinois

Folklorico dancers in Chicago
David Banks / Getty Images

While everyone knows about Chicago's over-the-top St. Patrick's Day celebrations, this Midwest city celebrates its Mexican heritage with comparable fanfare. The Little Village neighborhood—often called "the Mexico of the Midwest"—along with the neighboring Pilsner neighborhood both come alive with parades, cultural displays, live music, and lots of good food, typically with a festival taking place at Douglas Park.

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