If you’re looking to experience the start of spring in all its glory (as many of us are after one of the worst winters on record), the National Cherry Blossom Festival makes a great weekend getaway or day trip to kick off the season. Originally a gift from the Japanese government to the United States in 1912, the cherry trees now number nearly 4,000 and attract more than 1.5 million visitors each year.
Washington, D.C. hosts a number of special events during the festival, which runs from March 20 through April 13 this year—you'll see the blossoms at their very best during peak bloom, from April 8 to 12. One of the biggest events, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on Saturday, April 12, features celebrity performances, colorful floats, giant helium balloons, and marching bands from across the United States.
Another top draw, the Blossom Kite Festival, held March 29 on Washington Monument grounds, showcases kite ballets and demonstrations by pros, and gives kids and families a chance to build and fly their own kites.
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Make sure to check out a few other places around Washington, D.C. to get your full dose of spring. Daffodils, crocuses, forsythia, and many other flowers will be blooming at the U.S. National Arboretum’s gardens. The Enid A. Haupt Garden’s dramatic setting at the Smithsonian Castle makes for a great combination visit to both the gardens and the museum.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate overlooking the Potomac, is a 30-minute drive from D.C. The site has lovely gardens of its own—you can even get there by boat, passing the riverbank cherry trees along the way. In Virginia, right across the Potomac, Alexandria will offer an Old Town food tour with cherry-themed eats, plus scenic boat rides, riverside bike tours, and more.
Where to Stay
When you book your trip, be sure to look for a festive hotel package with value-added perks like Metrorail passes and cherry-infused treats in breakfasts and cocktails. Here are three of this year’s best packages:
1. Mandarin Oriental
The luxury, Asian-inspired Mandarin Oriental (a Fodor’s Choice hotel) is centrally located downtown with some of the best views of cherry blossoms, the waterfront, and the National Mall. This year, the hotel’s Cherry Blossoms Bloom package offers the perfect couple’s escape. Indulge in a complimentary breakfast for two and cherry blossom-inspired treats before heading out to enjoy the day’s events, and make sure to unwind with the 20 percent discount on a weekday, cherry-themed spa treatment. The package includes overnight valet parking and a suite upgrade for an additional $200.
Details: Package is available from March 14–April 13, 2014 and is subject to availability. Rates start at $355/night.
2. The Liaison Capitol Hill, An Affinia Hotel
As a modern-chic Capitol Hill destination, The Liaison Capitol Hill, An Affinia Hotel boasts a trendy nightclub vibe with a rooftop pool and deck, plus pet-friendly offerings. This year, the Cherry Blossom Getaway package guarantees a complimentary welcome cocktail (cherry-inspired, of course) upon your arrival, plus a $10 Metrorail pass per adult each day. Cruise around the city on the hotel’s bicycles, available on a first-come first-served basis, and make sure to snag a commemorative cherry blossom branch as a festival souvenir.
Details: Package is available from March 20–April 13, 2014 and is subject to availability. Rates start at $189/night.
3. Kimpton Hotels
Eleven D.C.-area Kimpton hotels are offering a family-friendly Blossoms & Bubbles Package from March 20–April 13, 2014. Kids receive a bubble toy at check-in, and parents can sip complimentary sake at the hotels’ nightly wine hour from 5 pm to 6 pm. Enjoy a gift of handcrafted herbal Cherry Blossom Soap from local Virginia-based Harmony Creek Farm, and use the package’s daily $25 room credit for your choice of breakfast, dinner, or parking. Rates start at $159/night, subject to availability.
Three of the 11 Kimpton hotels offering the package are Fodor’s Choice selections, too:
- Hotel Monaco: Choose this downtown hotel for its close proximity to the International Spy Museum, plenty of Penn Quarter restaurants and shops, and a Metrorail stop just down the street. Fun fact: Architect Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument, also created the Hotel Monaco’s historic building.
- Hotel Palomar: The modern, artfully minded Hotel Palomar is near plenty of eateries, bars, and art galleries in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Try to request one of the corner rooms—they're the same size as the hotel’s suites.
- The Hotel George: With an ultramodern, boutique take on luxury, The Hotel George is located steps away from Union Station and the U.S. Capitol Building. Dine in the hotel’s Bistro Bis for classic French fare—it's a popular après-work spot for congressmen, celebrities, and Washington’s power elite.
Wherever you choose to go or stay, visit nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for the complete festival lineup with activities and events.
Arabella Bowen is Editor-in-Chief of Fodor’s. Follow her on Twitter: @arabellabowen.