Best Ways to See the Washington D.C. Cherry Blossoms
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There is no more beautiful time to be in D.C. than during the cherry blossom bloom. For a little while, the city turns pink and the cherry trees in D.C. are the stars of the show. It is a highlight for tourists and locals alike! The whole city gets a bit giddy awaiting the peak bloom of the trees and there is even a month-long Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the season. If you’re visiting Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms, there are some things you should know in order to make the most out of your visit. Here’s an overview of all the important details to help you plan your visit.
HISTORY OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOM TREES
Washington D.C. was gifted over 3,000 cherry blossom trees from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. This was actually the second donation. The first donation of 2000 cherry trees arrived diseased and infested with bugs. Those trees had to be destroyed.
In Japan, these trees are called Sakura and they symbolize the fragility of life. The cherry blossom full bloom only lasts a short time before the blossoms begin to drop.
WHEN DO CHERRY BLOSSOMS BLOOM IN D.C.?
The D.C. cherry blossoms bloom at slightly different times each year depending on the weather. In general, you can expect the cherry blossom season in Washington D.C. to begin in late March and end in mid-April.
Every year the National Park Service will report an estimated peak bloom date where 70% of the trees are expected to be fully bloomed. Sometimes they have to adjust their prediction based on the weather. Warmer weather encourages the trees to bloom sooner. So if D.C. has a long winter, the cherry blossom bloom in Washignton D.C.may not happen until the second week of April. But if D.C. is having nice spring weather, the cherry blossoms peak bloom could be earlier.
How long do cherry blossoms last? Once the trees bloom you can expect them to stay pink for about 7-10 days. After the trees blossom fully the flowers will begin to drop and little green leaves will start to appear. Don’t fret if you plan a visit that isn’t at the exact peak date. The trees look beautiful a few days before peak bloom and for at least a week after the peak bloom.
WHERE TO SEE CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN D.C.
The best place to see cherry blossoms in D.C. is at the Tidal Basin. The Tidal Basin is a small body of water lined completely by cherry blossom trees. You will find the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial along the perimeter of the Tidal Basin as well.
Because the views of all the blossoms and the monuments are so epic here, you can expect lots of other visitors at the Tidal Basin. Expect crowds when you come here. There are some other places you can see cherry blossom trees throughout the city with fewer crowds that I will list further down.
Recommended Reading: Snap D.C.
A book written by local, well-respected photographer Angela Pan with all the best tips on where and how to photograph all the iconic places in Washington D.C. Even if you are not a photographer, you will love Angela’s images, including her cherry blossom photos!
TIPS FOR VIEWING CHERRY BLOSSOMS AT THE TIDAL BASIN
Go early. Arriving at the Tidal Basin at sunrise, or as close to sunrise as possible is your best bet. Even getting there this early, you will still see plenty of photographers with their tripods already set up. The average tourist or blossom viewer won’t show up until mid-morning. So the earlier you can get to the Tidal Basin, the better. It will be easier for you to enjoy walking around and easier to take pictures without tons of people in them.
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Go on a weekday. Pretty self-explanatory but more people go to see the cherry blossoms on the weekends. If at all possible, plan your visit on a weekday and the crowds will be more tolerable as the locals are all working and in school.
Go on a cloudy or cold day. Check the weather forecast and pick a day with the least desirable weather. Sure, this may mean you have to bundle up a bit more but I think that’s better than battling the masses on a sunny day. If the temps are up and the sun is out, you can expect it to be wall to wall people out there!
Shoes. The first thing you should know about the Tidal Basin is that it is often muddy. The water is connected to the Potomac River and the water level can rise up onto the path at times. So you may need to navigate puddles and muddy patches. Be aware of this when choosing your shoes.
Strollers. You can push a stroller around the entire perimeter of the Tidal Basin. It becomes more challenging as the crowd levels rise. Many parts of the Tidal Basin do not have a railing between the path and the water. So you will want to be extra careful not to wheel too close to the edge. Also, keep a tight hand on little kids in these areas. The path is mostly paved and flat, but if you need to cross some grass sections to get back to the area behind the main path, you’ll have to go over uneven terrain, tree roots, and up/down inclines. We did it one year with a double umbrella stroller which was not ideal but we made it work.
Get off the main path. In some places on the Tidal Basin there is a path right on the water and a path further behind it. Step back once in a while to get a different perspective. This is a great way to take pictures through the cherry blossoms, and may also show you some good spots for taking family photos.
Read about What to do with Kids in Washington D.C.
Snacks. Bring snacks for yourself and kids! There aren’t many food options close by. There are the festival booths on one side of the basin but lines can be long, and food can be expensive. Definitely bring some snacks and water to keep everyone in their happiest moods.
Benches. There are no picnic tables around the Tidal Basin but there are benches. Most of the benches are located in between the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. This is where you want to be if you need to sit for a snack break or if you need to sit and nurse a baby.
Bathrooms. You can find bathrooms at each of the memorials. There will be signs directing you to them. There are also port-a-potties at the festival section of the Tidal Basin.
Pedal Boats. Consider renting a pedal boat to cruise around the tidal basin and view the blossoms from the water. On a sunny weekend day you will likely have to wait in line for a turn, but on an overcast or weekday, boats are much easier to come by. Prices are $18 for a 2-person boat, $30 for a 4-person boat, and $34 for a 2-person swan shaped boat. Prices are by the hour.
Get this cherry blossom book for kids to get them excited and remember their visit!
HOW TO GET TO THE TIDAL BASIN
If you will be visiting the Tidal Basin on a weekend and you do not plan to show up at sunrise, I would NOT recommend driving. Taking the metro would be a better choice. The closest metro stop is Smithsonian which is reached by the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Walking is another option if you will be staying downtown. Or you can Uber and get dropped off nearby.
Driving can be quite a challenge with all the traffic, road closures, and limited parking availability. Tidal Basin parking is limited but if you are coming on a weekday, or very early you should be able to park in one of these three parking lots.
Download the Park Mobile app to pay easily from your phone without waiting in line to pay at the machine. You can also add more time later if you need to from your phone without having to go back to the lot to feed the machine.
If you can’t find parking here, you can try to find street parking along Ohio Drive or on the street near the Martin Luther King Memorial. You can also park nearby at the Wharf in a parking garage.
When Is the Cherry Blossom Festival?
The cherry blossom festival is about a month-long celebration from the middle of March to the middle of April. It includes a variety of events including:
TIDAL BASIN WELCOME AREA
There is a small festival set up at the Tidal Basin where you can find food tents, live music, and a cherry blossom shop. The National Park Service is also set up here to answer questions and provide guest services.
The cherry blossom parade is a big event with floats, dancers, and giant balloons that marches down Constitution Avenue. Find a free spot to sit along the curb, but come early! Or buy a ticket to sit in the grand stand for the best views.
Petalpalooza at the Wharf includes live music and entertainment on several outdoor stages, activities for families, beer garden, food, and a fireworks show at night. Entry is free and there is something for everyone!
BLOSSOM KITE FESTIVAL
The kite festival for professionals and novices alike. Bring your kite to the National Mall near the Washington Monument and fly it amongst hundreds of other kites! Don’t have a kite? No problem, just come picnic on the lawn and watch. Or you can make your own kite at the activity station or purchase a kite onsite.
WHERE TO STAY FOR THE CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
The most convenient area to stay for seeing the D.C. blossoms in near the Wharf or south of the National Mall. Try these fabulous options:
Mandarin Oriental. The most conveniently located to the Tidal Basin and with a parking garage underneath which is handy if you will be driving in. This hotel is also known for its wonderful spa services!
Canopy by Hilton. Great location on the D.C. Wharf. Rooftop bar/restaurant, buffet breakfast in the morning, and nice Potomac River views.
Hyatt House. Also on the D.C. Wharf conveniently located near the Tidal Basin and many dining options. Also has a rooftop pool!
Intercontinental at the Wharf. Luxury hotel with in house dining options, and a rooftop pool. Conveniently located near a free shuttle to tourist destinations in the city.
Or use this Booking.com search box to find deals on other hotels in Washington D.C.:
Where TO SEE ThE CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN D.C. with less crowds
WEST/EAST POTOMAC PARK
Just steps away from the Tidal Basin, along the Potomac River, you will find cherry blossoms. Seeing these trees will have you far removed from the masses around the Tidal Basin. This is a great place to stroll and enjoy the blossoms and the water.
THE NATIONAL ARBORETUM
The Arboretum has a cherry blossom grove where you can enjoy the pink trees with much fewer people. There are also many other varieties of blooming trees and plants, making it a great place to visit in the spring. Have lunch at nearby Union Market afterwards.
THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
On the grounds of this beautiful and historic church, you will find lovely gardens including cherry blossom trees. In addition, you can tour this very grand and ornate cathedral.
Have you visited the cherry blossoms before? Tell me in the comments!