When spring has sprung, cherry blossom lovers flock to the D.C. area to take in one of the best collections of trees in the country. We’ve partnered with Keryn Means of Walking On Travels to give us the inside scoop on the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. takes cherry blossom season very seriously. The fact that we have a record of when peak bloom has hit for the past several decades should tell you something. Hotels offer cherry blossom themed dining and spa specials. Pop-up bars appear to celebrate the coming of spring. None of this compares to the number of people who flock to the nation’s capital to gawk at something other than politicians for a change.
The problem with the D.C. cherry blossoms is that like all things in nature, they are unpredictable. If you are trying to book a trip far in advance to D.C. to view peak bloom time (when 70 percent of the flowers are open), you may be out of luck. Some years the blooms appear early, while if there is a chilly, long winter, the city might see blooms late. The average cherry season is around the first week of April, but if it’s a warm winter, peak blooms may appear in early March. This is a trip that if you can plan last minute to arrive, you will be better off.
Is it worth stalking the cherry blossom watch sites to book a trip? Absolutely! Even if you don’t make it for peak season, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has plenty of activities to celebrate the season.
Where to See the Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms can be found throughout the city, but most visitors will stick to the Tidal Basin. If you want to avoid the crowds, you should get up early for sunrise at the Jefferson Memorial. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet moment with the blooms. You won’t have the trees all to yourself (the photo pros know this is the time to arrive), but it will be a lot less crowded than midday and the after work rush.
Other spots within walking distance of most hotels include the National Mall near the Washington Monument. Fly a kite on the green, or enjoy a picnic while you do some people watching. If you are up for a walk, head into the neighborhoods and side streets of D.C. This city loves its cherry blossoms; blooms aren’t hard to find.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. by the mayor of Tokyo. Offspring of these original trees can be found throughout the city, but it’s the originals around the Tidal Basin that most people come to D.C. to view.
The festival has a number of annual events, including the Pink Tie Party that raises funds for local charity. If you want to see some of Washington, D.C.’s elite class, this is where you go. Tickets are not cheap.
For free fun, the National Cherry Blossom Opening Ceremony is a free event with live music that locals love, but you must request a reserved ticket to attend. Parents will want to head to the Washington Monument with their kids and a few kits for the Blossom Kite Festival. You haven’t seen one of D.C.’s most iconic monuments until you are looking over a vast field of kites flying around it. Families will also love the Japanese Street Festival and numerous special exhibits at the Smithsonian museums around the city.
The two must-not-miss events of the festival are the Fireworks Festival and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, generally held towards the end of the festival. Both events are free and bring together the community and visitors to celebrate the coming of spring and the beauty of the season.
A stay at the Mandarin Oriental is probably the best hotel in the city for families and friends looking for luxurious comfort, an indoor pool, and walking distance to the Tidal Basin. Each year the Mandarin offers cherry blossom specials centered around the traditional Japanese custom of “Hanami,” or “blossom-viewing.” Specials include spa treatments, room packages, and delectable dining options.
Those looking for a little colonial charm outside of the city can head to the Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa in Alexandria, VA. You will be away from the crowds, but an easy metro ride right into the heart of D.C. and the cherry blossoms. Even better, you can hop on a cherry blossom viewing cruise to see the tidal basin by water. Alexandria also has its own cherry blossoms for you to wander through if you don’t want to hit the Tidal Basin.
Booking note: Cherry blossom season is high season in D.C. Book well in advance whenever possible. If you are booking a quick weekend getaway, keep an eye out for last-minute vacancies and deals that pop up.
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