Partying Americans owe a debt of gratitude to General Ignacio Zaragoza. Had the Mexican militia under his leadership not defeated the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, Cinco de Mayo might involve cognac and baguettes while listening to Debussy instead margaritas and nachos while listing to mariachi bands. Somehow Cinq Mai just doesn’t have the same celebratory ring to it as Cinco de Mayo.
Though Cinco de Mayo is technically a Mexican holiday commemorating the battle, neighbors to the north are not about to let an occasion to celebrate go unnoticed, particularly if it represents an opportunity to involve alcohol—see: St. Patrick’s Day. The popularity of Cinco de Mayo in the United States has grown enormously as Mexican restaurants, corporations, and even city governments promote concerts, parades, and parties as a part of the festivities.
Viewfinder Tip: Cinco de Mayo celebrations at restaurants can be extremely crowded, so be sure to make reservations well in advance.
The best celebrations of Cinco de Mayo are in the South where there are higher populations of people with a Mexican heritage. So if you want to experience a fun slice of Mexican culture, put on your party poncho, grab your sombrero, and head to one of the five best cities north of the border for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring your appetite!
San Antonio, Texas
With its famed River Walk and historic Market Square, San Antonio has the feel of a perpetual Cinco de Mayo celebration. But when May 5 rolls around, it is a celebration on steroids as nearly 50,000 visitors flock to the city to enjoy incredible food, drinks, costumed dancers, arts and crafts, and concerts by mariachi, tejano, and conjunto music groups. The smell of fajita meats and handmade gordita tortillas sizzling on outdoor grills can be as intoxicating as any margarita you might drink.
You will find scores of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in communities throughout the greater Phoenix area. Though great food and live music are a common thread in all of the celebrations, some communities host special events that make them a little different from the others. Historic downtown Chandler’s festivities include a car show, soccer tournament, and Chihuahua races! Florence hosts a contest, lottery (bingo), and a beer garden. The Cinco de Mayo Phoenix Festival is a two-day street event in downtown Phoenix with concerts, Ballet Folklórico, and Olympic–style boxing.
Los Angeles, California
It’s no surprise that Los Angeles boasts the world’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration called Fiesta Broadway. Promoters of the event refer to it as “The Super Bowl of Festivals.” The free event is staged in downtown Los Angeles, spans several city blocks, and draws more than 300,000 visitors each year. Food, games, concerts, and a no-alcohol policy make Fiesta Broadway a super family-friendly event.
San Diego, California
The Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo in San Diego has been one of the city’s most popular annual events for over 30 years. This free multiday celebration in Historic Old Town San Diego features two cantina gardens, four live music stages, equestrian performances, a lowrider car show, and a Folklórico competition. For children, there is face paintings, glitter tattoos, caricature drawings, and a petting zoo.
Though downtown Houston hosts an annual Cinco de Mayo parade, celebrations are held at bars and restaurants throughout the city. Here are a few hot spots to check out. El Big Bad is a gastropub that celebrates with special infused tequilas and liquid nitrogen frozen margaritas. Howl at the Moon calls its celebration “Drinko de Mayo” and offers 86-ounce Mega Margarita buckets. Bodegas Taco Shop hosts an annual block party with a mariachi band, street tacos, a bouncy house for the kids, and mechanical bull rides for adults. If you can’t make up your mind on just one place, PubCrawls.com offers a Cinco de Mayo Pub Crawl in Houston.
How do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo?