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During three weeks each spring, colorful kites take flight, music floats through the air, bands march through the streets, and fireworks light up the night sky for Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival. The annual celebration is a quintessential DC experience. The blooming cherry blossom trees are the official kick-off to spring in the region. The Capital is never as beautiful as when she’s decked out in pink. The pink and white petals serve as a welcome to spring in the nation’s capital.
Peak bloom varies each year, which makes it a bit tricky to plan a trip; the pink petals generally appear between the last days of March into the first few days of April. The National Park Service forecasts the peak blooming period. This year, the peak bloom prediction is between March 20th and April 16th.
This post on the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC was updated October 2022]
History of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC
The three-week fete, that commemorates when the city received a gift of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees that the Mayor of Tokyo gifted the city of Washington, D.C., in 1912. The gift was meant to strengthen the friendship between Japan and the United States.
When to see the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC
Typically, more than 1.5 million people flood the city when the flowers bloom each year, for events like the Kite Festival the Cherry Blossom Parade, and Petalpalooza a music festival. Each year my family and I like love to make the most of our spring break in DC. For 2023, the festival runs from March 20-April 16th.
Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC and Beyond
Most of the festival events take place along the Tidal Basin, near the National Mall. The cherry trees along the Tidal Basin are mostly Yoshino cherry trees. However, my favorite variety is the Kwanzan cherry trees that look like clusters of deep pink carnations in the trees. The Kwanzan blooms approximately two weeks after the Yoshino trees.
If you would like to have the cherry blossoms all to yourself, there a few tricks for avoiding the crowds. Arrive at the Tidal Basin around 8 a.m. The crowds generally don’t arrive until at 10 a.m. Several tour companies, including DC Cruises; Potomac River Boar Company; and Odyssey Cruises that will take you on a tour of the blossoms through D.C.’s waterways, blissfully avoiding the masses on the National Mall on foot. You could also tour the blooms by bike with a guide.
Perhaps the least hectic option, you can just avoid the Tidal Basin altogether. The United States National Arboretum boasts 42 varieties of cherry blossom trees sprawled across the 400 acres, which means that the trees are in bloom well before and after those at the Tidal Basin.
Kenwood is another popular alternative during blossom season. This exclusive suburb is located on the outer edge of upper edge of northwestern D.C., technically in Maryland. More than 1,200 Yoshino cherry trees line the streets of this upscale residential neighborhood, planted in the 1930s and 1940s to attract homebuyers. Each spring, blooms here peak a few days after the Sakura cherry trees bloom along the Tidal Basin.
To get here, take the red line to the Bethesda station, enter the Capital Crescent Trail via Bethesda Avenue. The Kenwood Neighborhood is about a mile and a half walk from the Bethesda Metro station. Or, hop on a bike and take the Capital Crescent Trail, a six-mile scenic route that leads directly into the Kenwood neighborhood.
Cherry Blossom Pro-Tips
For all Cherry Blossom Festival activities, be sure to bring a light jacket and wear comfortable shoes. If you attend the festivities on the National Mall, the only restaurants in that area are located inside of the many nearby museums. To avoid crowds, bring snacks and drinks, pack a lunch, or check out the host of food trucks parked along 14th Street. Due to the large crowds, it’s hard to find parking; using public transportation is highly recommended.
Even though you might want to pluck one of the pink beauties off a cherry tree to take as a souvenir…don’t. Picking one of these beautiful flowers is a crime. It’s considered vandalism of federal property in D.C. and could lead to a small fine or even an arrest.
If you’d like to see the blooms in real-time, visit the Bloom Watch, or to attend any of the virtual events, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival website. Visit the National Park Service for the latest information regarding the safety of seeing the blossoms.
Photos from the Cherry Blossom Festival on the Tidal Basin
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