In 1961, Almaraz moved to New York city, with Dan Guerrero, the son of Lalo Guerrero. He left after six months to take advantage of a scholarship offered him by Otis Art Institute. He returned to New York and lived there from 1966 to 1969, where he struggled as a painter in the middle of the new wave movements of the era.
While in New York, he also wrote poetry and philosophy. Almaraz's poems and philosophical views have been published in fifty books.
After returning to California, Almaraz almost died in 1971, and was given the last rites. It has been said that he had an experience with God during his convalescence. In 1973, he was one of four artists who formed the influential artist collective known as Los Four. In 1974, Judithe Hernández, who was a friend and classmate from graduate school at Otis Art Institute became the "fifth member" and the only woman in Los Four. With the addition of Hernández, the collective exhibited and created public art together for the next decade and have been credited with bringing Chicano art to the attention of mainstream American art institutions.
Almaraz then went on to work for famed Arizonan and fellow Chicano Cesar Chavez, painting murals, banners and other types of paintings for Chavez's United Farm Workers. He also painted for Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino.
His "Echo Park" series of paintings, named after a Los Angeles park of the same name, became known worldwide and have been displayed in many museums internationally. On November 12, 1978, Almaraz wrote "Because love is not found in Echo Park, I'll go where it is found". While Almaraz may not have found love at Echo Park, he certainly found inspiration to produce paintings there: he lived close to the park, having a clear view of the park from his apartment's window.
Another of Almaraz's works, named "Boycott Gallo", became a cultural landmark in the community of East Los Angeles. During the late 1980s, however, "Boycott Gallo" was brought down.
Almaraz was married to Elsa Flores, Chicana activist and photographer. Together, the pair produced "California Dreamscape". He exhibited his work at the Jan Turner Gallery starting in the mid-1980s in Los Angeles through his passing.
Carlos Almaraz died in 1989 of AIDS-related causes. He is remembered as an artist who used his talent to bring critical attention to the early Chicano Art Movement, as well as a supporter of Cesar Chávez and the UFW. His work continues to enjoy popularity. In 1992 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art honored him with a tribute featuring 28 of his drawings and prints donated by his widow. Flores continues to represent his estate. An exhibition of his paintings, pastels, and drawings from the 70s and 80s opened in September 2011, in conjunction with the Getty Research Institute's "Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980". Almaraz will also be featured in corresponding "Pacific Standard Time" exhibitions, including “MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism(s) in Los Angeles 1930-1985” at the Museum of Latin American Art, “Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement” at the Fowler Museum. His and Flores's papers are preserved at the Smithsonian.