Whether you’ve been slammed by snowstorm after snowstorm or you were lucky and only had to deal with a week or two of bitter cold, one of the best antidotes to winter is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
As the season begins, there is nothing quite as spring-like as thousands of cherry trees blooming all over the nation’s capital over the festival’s two week span. The original 3,000 trees were a gift from Japan in 1912. Today, the National Park Service cares for 3,750 trees planted along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, on the Washington Monument grounds, and in East Potomac Park.
“Right now they’re working seven days a week to make sure the cherry trees are in top shape for the festival,” said Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “There was a lot of concern about Washington’s snowstorms, but Rob DeFeo, chief horticulturist at the National Park Service, assured us that the trees are in great shape.”
More than a million people come to Washington, D.C. every year to see the trees’ explosions of pink and white blossoms. And when they come, organizers from the National Cherry Blossom Festival make sure they have a ton to do.
Most of the activities during the festival’s 16 days are free, and many are kid-friendly. “If you’re in town for opening day on March 27, Family Day at the National Building Museum is a must-do,” Mayhew said. Activities include face painting, craft projects and music and dance performances.
Want something outside instead? Pack a lunch and spend the day on the Washington Monument grounds. You can make your own kite and test it out, or watch others compete during the Smithsonian Kite Festival. Take a break at Sylvan Theatre near the foot of the monument at noon, and you’ll be there for the first cultural performances of the day.
Walking around is certainly one of the more popular ways of seeing the blossoms, but for different views use pedal power. Paddle boats on the Tidal Basin can give you a spectacular look at the Jefferson Memorial and the cherry blossom trees. Or ride through the blooms on a three-hour bike tour with a National Park Service ranger. Still prefer walking? Join a ranger on guided tours throughout the day.
The trees by evening can be just as striking, so try a ranger-led lantern walk (be sure to bring a flashlight). The walks will be held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Other evening events include a fireworks show and Cherry Blast, a night of dance, fashion, music and other arts. Or make a reservation at one of the many restaurants in town serving cherry-inspired cocktails and menu choices.
During the festival’s last weekend (and just after the National Cherry Blossom Parade), celebrate Japanese culture during the Japanese Street Festival. Catch dance and musical performances or martial arts demonstrations, learn about jewelry and handcrafts, or sample Japanese and Asian cuisine.
So much fun, it’ll almost get D.C. residents to forget Snowmageddon.
If You Go
This year the National Cherry Blossom Festival is March 27 through April 11 in Washington, D.C. Be sure to wear comfy shoes. You’ll most likely have to walk from a Metro stop to the Washington Monument grounds, parade route, or wherever you’re headed. Plus the perimeter of the Tidal Basin itself is 5 miles.
Metro, D.C.’s public transit system, is your best bet. If you’re coming into town through the Union Station stop, go to the station’s West hall to pick up festival guides. Want some official cherry blossom gear? You can pick that up there as well.
Plug addresses into the Trip Planner on www.wmata.com to find out the closest Metro stop to your destination
Dozens of D.C.-area hotels offer specials during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Check out http://arestravel.com/2209_welcome.html
Many restaurants have “Cherry Picks,” or cherry-inspired menu items. A list of participating restaurants is at http://washington.org/cherryblossom/restaurants.html
A full schedule of events is available on the festival’s website. Some events, such as performances at the Sylvan Theatre, take place every day. Others can be for one day, a few days, or only on weekends.
Go to www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org and click on Events for more information on all events, including the ones mentioned below.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day
10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27
National Building Museum
401 F Street NW.
Smithsonian Kite Festival
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, March 27
On the grounds of the Washington Monument.
9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday, April 2
1701 Florida Ave NW.
An eclectic night of performances. This is not for the wee ones. It’s 21 and older only, and there’s a $10 cover charge.
Fireworks at the Southwest Waterfront
Saturday, April 3
The fireworks start at 8:30 p.m., but the family-friendly fun will start at 5 p.m. with kids’ crafts, musical performances, and cuisine from local restaurants.
The National Cherry Blossom Parade
10 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 10
The parade runs along Constitution Avenue, from 7th to 17th Streets NW.
Standing along the parade route is free, of course, but you can also buy tickets for grandstand seating (on Constitution Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets NW). Tickets are $17 each, not including service charges. To purchase tickets, click here.
Japanese Street Festival
11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Saturday, April 10.
Pennsylvania Avenue between 10th and 14th Streets, and 12th Street between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues.
Tidal Basin Paddle Boats
1501 Maine Avenue SW.
Rental fees are $10 per hour for a two-passenger boat and $18 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can walk up, or make reservations for morning rentals at www.TidalBasinPaddleBoats.com
Ranger Cherry Talks
Tours guided by a National Park Service ranger.
Programs start at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. or 5 p.m.
Meet at one of two locations: the Tidal Basin at the entrance of the FDR Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial Welcome Center.
Ranger-Guided Lantern Walks
8-10 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays only.
Meet at one of two locations: Tidal Basin Paddle Boats or the Washington Monument stone lodge.
Ranger-Guided Bike Tours
Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m.
Departs from the Jefferson Memorial.
Provide your own helmet, bike and water.
Top photo: Blooming trees on the Mall. Photo by Vcelloho