Springtime in D.C. means one thing: it’s time for the city to shake off winter and erupt in a burst of pink cherry blossom flowers. This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 26–April 10) marks the 99th anniversary of the trees’ residence in Washington. While no one can predict exactly when the blooms will pop, numerous events span the festival’s three weekends, including fireworks and a parade. If you’re one of the flower-peeping visitors traveling to D.C., below are some tips for making the most of your experience.
Originally a gift to the U.S. from Japan, the flowering cherry trees symbolize friendship between the two nations. This year, the festival is even more poignant, as a portion of the proceeds from some events will aid Japan’s recovery from the recent earthquake and tsunami.
1. Plan ahead
This is one of Washington’s busiest times of year, and D.C. hotels book up far in advance. It’s best to start your planning early—book hotels, make restaurant reservations, and check whether the museums or events you want to visit offer advance registration or ticket sales. While it might be too late to score a good deal this year, remember that 2012 is the festival’s centennial, and a five-week celebration is planned, so it’s not too early to start your preparations.
2. Check Out the Action Off The Mall
There’s no denying that the flowering trees around the Tidal Basin and monuments are D.C.’s main attraction this time of year. But don’t forget about the city’s museums, which join the celebration with special shows and exhibits.
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- March 26: The National Building Museum kicks off the fest with all-day activities.
- March 26 and 27: The Freer Gallery will host an "Arts of Japan" tour.
- March 31: Tudor Place will lead a house and garden tour while serving cherry mimosas.
- April 9: The Japan Society of Washington hosts the popular Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival along Pennsylvania Ave ($5 admission).
3. Eat (or Drink) a Cherry Blossom
Well, not literally, but during the festival D.C. goes bonanzas for the little pink flowers, and it’s not just the trees that get the spotlight. Local restaurants and bars embrace the blooms, offering cherry blossom theme dishes and cocktails. This year’s concoctions include:
- a peanut butter and jelly fois gras with dried cherry jelly at Georgia Brown’s
- cherry blossom special chirashi at Kaz Sushi Bistro
- a cherry-hibiscus cocktail at Quill, the bar at The Jefferson Hotel
- cherry blossom cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake.
Tip: The food truck craze has taken hold of D.C., and if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, these mobile eateries serve everything from lobster rolls to fish tacos. Join the locals and find a vendor’s location on Twitter. Our favorites are: Red Hook Lobster Pound, Fojol Brothers, and Sauca
4. Don’t Fear Cloudy Days
Sure, there isn’t much that beats a warm, sunny springtime day. But if the sun isn’t shining, don’t shy away from the blossoms. Odds are, the crowds won’t be quite as intense if the weather isn’t cooperating, and overcast days can really make colors pop—you’ll end up with some vibrant photographs.
5. Need more Blossoms? Branch out from the Tidal Basin
The Tidal Basin’s cherry blossoms are famous for a reason—the vistas of pink blooms against the Jefferson Memorial and Potomac River are truly stunning. But this spot is no secret, and over 1 million visitors flock here yearly to see the trees. Here are some less crowded options:
- Cherry-trees line the streets in Foxhall Village, near Georgetown, making for a nice stroll.
- The U.S. National Arboretum has a large number of flowering cherry trees.
- The popular gardens at Dumbarton Oaks are home to cherry and other flowering plants.
- Across the District line in Bethesda, MD, the Kenwood neighborhood is a favorite among locals. Cherry blossom trees flower over neighborhood streets, forming pink tunnels that are fun to walk or drive through. For a real treat, take a bike ride from Georgetown along the Capital Crescent Trail to Kenwood.
Tip: Cherry trees often bloom at different times, so if you miss the Tidal Basin flowers you still might have luck at one of these above spots.
For More Information
- Fodor’s Washington, D.C. destination guide.
- Fodor’s Forums Advice on Cherry Blossom Crowds
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
Photo credits: National Cherry Blossom Festival