Cherry Blossom Festival Guide

DC Cherry Trees Jefferson MemorialThe annual Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival is just around the corner and DC By Foot has you covered with all the essential information about our city’s favorite festival.

Check out our Cherry Blossom Tours for the best way to see the blooms!


When is the 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival?

This year’s festival is March 20-April 16 with the Parade on Saturday, April 08 2017

When is peak Cherry Blossom bloom predicted? These beautiful flowers come at their own pace. The NPS won’t have a suggested predication date until March 01, and then it can often change based on weather.

How long do Cherry Blossoms last? The length of blooms depends highly on weather where a slight frost or heavy thunderstorm can cause the trees to lose their blooms overnight. There are a lot of cherry blossoms trees that bloom before and after peak bloom all over the city.

Want up to the date information? Have a peek at the NPS BloomCam. (don’t be surprised if you see bright pink flowers in the depth of Winter – they don’t actually turn the camera to Live until Spring so if you check too soon, you’ll just see the archived footage!)

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What is the history behind the Cherry Blossom Festival?

Cherry trees Tidal BasinIn 1912, 3,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees were given to the city of Washington, DC from the Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo as a token of lasting fellowship and peace. Most of the original trees were planted around the Tidal Basin, a small man-made reservoir adjacent to the National Mall. The number of trees has since grown to 3,750 and they are now of 16 varieties. Today, we celebrate that gift and the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan by celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival.

There are a few gnarly trees along Hains Point that are thought to be part of a 1910 shipment that was the original gift. Unfortunately, this shipment arrived full of disease and bugs and had to be burned. A few were saved for study and these 12 might be the oldest Cherry Blossom trees.

The first two trees planted from the 1912 shipment are still standing. Planted by First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador on March 27 1912, you can see them along the water where 17th St SW ends. There is a small plaque to mark the spot.

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How to get to Cherry Blossom Festival?

According to National Park Service, over 1.5 million people are expected to come to DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival, which means you should expects lots of crowds and traffic around the National Mall. Parking near the Tidal Basin is extremely limited, so we suggest you travel by Metro. The closest stations are Smithsonian (orange, silver and blue lines) and Federal Triangle (orange, silver and blue).  Here are some tips on traveling to the National Mall and Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Cherry Blossom Guide

 

 

Take the Metro

As parking is limited and traffic is certain to be heavy, using public transport is the best way to get to and from the National Mall. The nearest stations are Smithsonian (orange/blue) and Federal Triangle (orange/blue). If you dread the thought of squeezing in on a crowded train, consider getting off at one of the stations that are slightly farther, but still a walkable distance, from the National Mall: Archives (yellow/green); Metro Center (red/orange/blue); Foggy Bottom (orange/blue). The Trip Planner feature on WMATA website is a great way to estimate time and distance when traveling on the Metro.

Ride a bike

Capital Bikeshare offers 1 and 3 day passes for guests to the city. There are many stations on and along the National Mall and Tidal Basin, making this a convenient way to travel during the busy season. However, keep in mind that though you are allowed total access to the bikes with one of these passes, using a bike for more than 30 minutes at a time will incur additional trip fees. Check out their website for additional information. Fancy seeing the memorials and cherry blossom trees by bike, but worried about racking up fees or locking up your bike?

Parking near the National Mall

Not for the feint of heart! As we’ve mentioned, parking is extremely limited, especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival. There is some parking at Hains Point, though spaces fill quickly (Note: A $1 shuttle will run from Hains Point to the Tidal Basin during the festival. Union Station and the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building also have limited parking available for a fee. Otherwise, guests can use one of the parking garages located downtown: Parking Management, Inc; Colonial Parking Garages.

Take a Taxi/Uber

There will be an abundance of taxis available near the National Mall. If all of the above options sound too complicated or tiresome, treat yourself to a cab or hail an Uber.

Guests interested in traveling with the car-sharing service Uber are invited to use exclusive promo code “DCbyFoot” for a free $20 credit added to their new user account!

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Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms

So you want to know the best place to see the Cherry Blossoms? The pink and white flowering trees that you see on nearly every postcard of Washington DC are (some) of our famed Cherry Blossom trees. I, for one, was a little disappointed to discover they are not full of delicious cherries ripe for the plucking. However, these hybrid trees are grown specifically for their beauty and during peak bloom, they do not disappoint.

How long do Cherry Blossoms last? That depends entirely on the weather! A chilly night or strong storm can cause the trees to lose their blooms but we’ll tell you below all about how to time your visit.

In the age of Instagram selfies and the the perfect shot, however, you’ll be hard find pressed to get a photo that does not also include a hundred of your new closest friends. Let’s be honest. It gets crowded.

Though the most photographed spots are along the Tidal Basin, they are not the only ones. Use our guide to find some of the best places and best times to view the Cherry Blossoms.

…On the National Mall/Tidal Basin

…Off the Beaten Path

…Tips on When To View the Blooms

Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms


Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms On the National Mall/Tidal Basin

Be warned, you’ll be there with lots of other people. Sometimes, though, this makes it all the more photogenic. From engagement shoots and wedding poses, families and pets, you get to be part of some of the most memorable photos of another.

You’ll find the most people along the Tidal Basin. The Tidal Basin has a sidewalk that borders the water the nearly wraps around the edge of entire thing featuring the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, George Mason Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The trees here line the sidewalk along the water and you can walk amongst them making them popular for good reason.

Want to know what you’re seeing? Take our Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin Walking Tour!

If you want to avoid the crowds without going off the beaten path, Best Place to See the Cherry Blossomswe have two suggestions:

  • Go a little further. If you venture off the sidewalk along the water and past the George Mason Memorial along Ohio Drive and the Potomac you’ll come across a few other groves of blossoms that have just as much beauty and a few less people. If you want to do the whole thing it is a 4.1 mile loop, but you’ll see much more variety than the Tidal Basin. Use the NPS Hains Point Loop Guide to know what you’re looking at!
  • Go in the water! You can rent a paddle boat to take out on the basin to get a different perspective – and a bit of fun! Just be careful with your camera.

Walking along the Tidal Basin leads to some beautiful photographic shots to document your visit to the blossoms.

Photograph the Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms:

Best Shot 1: One of the most popular images is of low hanging branches full of blooms with the Jefferson Memorial in the distance.  The sidewalk alongside the MLK Memorial has some of the best shots of Jefferson in the distance.

Best Shot 2: A key reason to place the trees along the Tidal Basin was the reflection in the water. Though the water is filled with creatures, the occasional log, and tourists (on paddle boats) and there is a small current, the water often has great reflections. Especially if come in the morning before the paddle boats hit the water. The sidewalk between the MLK and FDR Memorials has a nice curve that allow you to catch a nice view of the reflections.

DC cherry blossoms washington memorialBest Shot 3: There are two ways to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument framed by blossoms: wide angle and close up. Being the tallest structure in the city, you can see the Monument from just about everywhere. If you want a grand view of the blossoms lined up along the water with the Monument jutting out of the top – you can do that from anywhere along the Tidal Basin sidewalk! A popular spot is the bridge between the FDR and Jefferson Memorial.

…but the Tidal Basin isn’t the only place to see Cherry Blossoms. In honor of the centennial celebration, Japan gifted the city an additional 100 cherry blossoms that have been planted around the Washington Monument. They are not right at the base but close enough and in a few groves that you can get some beautiful shots of the blossoms look up at the Monument in the background.

Not a real Shot: There are no Cherry Blossom trees by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It’d be a lovely photo and it is a frequent question.

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Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms Off the Beaten Path

The famed Cherry Blossom trees are the ones of the Tidal Basin – as the oldest and the most photographed. But they are not the only ones and in some views, aren’t the prettiest. Washington, DC in Spring is beautiful in part due to the number of cherry blossoms but also a variety of other flora and the pride city residents have in their individual neighborhoods.

Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms at the Capitol: The photo du jour in the Spring seems to be blossoms with a DC landmark. Nothing evokes the capital more than the Capitol! If you’ll be “on the Hill” anyways, take a stroll through Senate Park north of the Capitol Building. There is a gorgeous reflecting pool and fountain lined with Cherry Blossom trees. In fact most of the West Lawn of the Capitol also has a variety of Cherry Blossom trees so you’ll be able to get a great photo of the blooms up close surrounding the Capitol dome. This is a great thing to do before/after our Capitol Hill Tour.

View the cherry blossoms at arlingtonBest Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in Arlington National Cemetery: Besides being the hallowed ground to honor our fallen men and women, Arlington is also a level II arboretum. A fitting place for such beauty and serenity, a personal favorite is the Cherry Blossom tree along Crooks Walk, the set of stairs that connects Arlington House to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This solitary Cherry Blossom has  limbs full of flowers set amongst the simple white marble headstones. It is a common bottleneck on our Arlington National Cemetery tours as folks stop for photos.

Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in Georgetown: This historic neighborhood has had nearly 275 years to develop its beauty. Just like residents in most DC neighborhoods, Georgetown residents are responsibility not just for their yards but also the tree boxes along the sidewalk. You’ll see a variety of spring blooms, including another weeping Cherry Blossom on our Historic Georgetown tour.

Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in the Arboretum:  The National Arboretum is here to share its flowers, trees, plants with us and it is beautiful all year round. In the Spring, you can find numerous variety of Cherry Blossom trees. They even have self guided tour booklet! It is about 3 miles so a bit lengthy for a walk, even if it is a gorgeous one. Personally, we like to do it on bike but you can drive through the Arboretum – just park in designated spots only.

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Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms- When to View the Cherry Blossoms:

Cherry Blossoms are fickle creatures – this past December 2015 the tree in my front yard bloomed because it had been so warm. They are greatly affected by weather for both when the bloom and for how long as there is no way to tell for sure. Even the National Park Service expert on the trees won’t predict peak blooms until March 01.

The trees usually reach peak bloom the first week in April but in the last five years they have come early and late. Since most people need a little more notice to plan their trip than can be guaranteed, the best we can offer is when to view the blossoms once you’re already here.

  • Too Early to see the Cherry Blossoms? – Try the Indicator Tree: There is one tree by the Jefferson Memorial that always blooms a week before the rest – this is how we “know” that it is about time. Got to DC too early – go check out this tree. At least you can see one blossom before you go! You’ll find the tree along Where to view the Cherry Blossomsthe path on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial side of the bridge over the Tidal Basin — Washington Channel. This is the bridge closer to the city. The tree is growing next to a holly tree and has a sign to indicate which tree is the indicator tree.
  • Missed the Chance to see the Cherry Blossoms?Try the Kwanzan Blossoms on Hains Points: They historically blooms two weeks after the main blossoms on the Tidal Basin but are just as pretty. If you venture off the Tidal Basin sidewalk along the water and past the George Mason Memorial along Ohio Drive and the Potomac you’ll come across a few. Try to get there in the afternoon for the best light.
  • Here for Peak Bloom but Too Many People? – Go at Sunrise: A quieter and potentially more beautiful time to view the blossoms. You’ll see plenty of photographers but you’ll get there before most of the crowds. If you’re on the basin, the Jefferson Memorial is on the eastern side if you want to place yourself for sunrise.


Which events should not be missed?

There are over 200 events and performances, but here are some of our favorites.

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Opening Ceremony

Beaver cherry blossom festivalDate: March 25, 2017
Time: 5 – 6:30 PM
Location: The Warner Theatre – 513 13th Street, NW (map)
Cost: FREE – There will be a $5 registration fee when tickets are claimed.
Note: Available to claim beginning at 10 AM on Friday, January 27

 

  • Anacostia River Festival

Date: April 09 2017

Time: 1pm-5pm
Location: Anacostia Park, Anacostia Drive & Good Hope Road SE (Map)
Cost: FREE

Cherry tree post towerThis year’s Anacostia River Festival celebrates biking. Activities include: trail rides, safety classes, quick bike tune ups and special bike activities for all ages. There will be pop-up stores and other unique programs engaging families with the river, its history and ecology.

  • Cherry Blossom Festival Kite Festival

Date: April 1, 2017
Time: 10 AM – 4:30 PM
Location: Washington Monument grounds – Constitution Avenue & 17th Street, NW (Map)
Cost: FREE

  • Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival

Date: April 15, 2017
Time: 2PM – 930 PM (Fireworks start at 8:30 PM) RAIN OR SHINE
Location: Southwest Waterfront – 600-900 Water Street, SW (map)
Cost: FREE

  • DC cherry blossoms washington memorialSakura Matsui – Japanese Street Festival

Date: April 8, 2017
Time: 10AM – 6 PM
Location: M St SE and New Jersey Ave SE, by the Navy Yard Metro Station.
Cost: $10, children 12 and under free. Tickets go for sale on March 01 online.

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Date: April 8, 2017
Time: 10 AM – Noon
Location: Constitution Avenue – From 7th to 17th Streets, NW (map)
Cost: Starting at $20 for Grandstand Seating.  Standing along the Parade route from Constitution Avenue between 9th and 15th streets, NW is FREE and open to the public. Arrive early for the best views.
Tickets: Purchase Grandstand seats here.

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Where to stay for the Cherry Blossom Festival?

There are a number of designated Cherry Blossom Festival Hotels featured on the festival’s official website. Don’t find what you’re looking for? Check out our post on affordable B&Bs in the city. and where to stay in Washington DC.

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