In case you didn’t know, I’m not always traveling.
Occasionally I stay in one place for more than 3 months.
Occasionally I work.
Because, you know, I have to eat and stuff.
Every March, I return to the fine (and totally not corrupt) city of Washington, DC where I work as a professional tour guide. Basically, I get paid to tell lots of stories about the assassination of Abe Lincoln, the curse of the Hope Diamond, and the history of our biparty political system. You know, really uplifting stuff.
In late March/early April, I get paid to show people around during the cherry blossoms’ bloom. It’s a very crowded and crazy time, but let me tell you, these trees are worth the chaos.
So, because of the volume of visitors coming to DC to see the trees, I figured it was time to put together an in-depth guide to the Cherry Blossom Festival. Oh and PS. despite my implied cynicism, I actually have mad love for this city.
What is the history behind the Cherry Blossom Festival?
In 1912, 3,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees were given to the city of Washington, DC from the Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo as a token of lasting fellowship and peace. Most of the original trees were planted around the Tidal Basin, a small man-made reservoir adjacent to the National Mall. The number of trees has since grown to 3,750 and they are now of 16 varieties. Today, we celebrate that gift and the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan by celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival.
When is the 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival?
This year’s festival is March 20-April 12 with the Parade on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Yeah, okay, but when will there actually be cherry blossoms?
That’s a very good question. Many people are tricked into believing that, because the festival runs for a solid 3 weeks, the cherry blossoms will be out for the entirety of the celebration.
Not the case.
The cherry blossoms are only in bloom for a maximum of 2 weeks, and the peak bloom period lasts just a couple of days.
Determining the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms is no easy task. This year, the cherry blossoms are predicted to be in peak bloom from April 8 – 12. However, keep in mind that the peak bloom date depends heavily on the local weather. This year Washington, DC has experienced an unusually long and intense winter, which explains the later dates. If the cold weather persists, the expected peak dates could be pushed back.
If you arrive in DC only to discover that you’ve missed the blossoms, I’d suggest you pay a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. The hallowed grounds are not only humbling and historic, but also incredibly beautiful. The land is covered in many different types of trees and flowers, including cherry blossoms that are of a different variety and that last longer than the trees planted around the Tidal Basin.
Finally, please keep in mind that, even if your trip does not coincide with the cherry blossoms’ bloom, there are still many other ways to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival.
What is the best way to see the cherry blossoms?
- Take a stroll around the Tidal Basin. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Thomas Jefferson Memorial are each surrounded by the beautiful trees and offer incredible photo opportunities.
- Take a tour! Rather than just walking around the memorials, discover the history behind the memorials. In case you missed my extremely obvious self-promotion at the beginning of the post, then I’ll again shamelessly remind you folks that I’m a professional tour guide in the DC area. Shoot me an email if you’re interested in listening to me chatter away about history and DC gossip for an hour.
- Rent a paddle boat to take out on the Tidal Basin to enjoy a unique view of the cherry blossoms and the memorials.
- Have a picnic. Find a shady spot under one of the thousands of cherry blossom trees and lounge around with some food and friends.
Which festival events should not be missed?
There are over 200 events and performances, but here are some of the most popular. My personal favorite is the Kite Flying Festival on the Mall because WHO KNEW THERE WERE PIRATE SHIP SHAPED KITES?
National Cherry Blossom Festival Opening Ceremony
- Date: March 22, 2014
- Time: 5 – 6:30 PM
- Location: The Warner Theatre – 513 13th Street, NW
- Cost: FREE
- Note: Though this event is free, all available tickets have already been claimed. Walk-ins to the event will be accepted at 4:45PM on the day of the event, if space is available due to no-shows, though there is no guarantee
Family Day Presented with the National Building Museum
- Date: March 22 & 23, 2014
- Saturday: 10 AM – 4 PM
- Sunday: 11 AM – 4 PM
- Location: National Building Museum – 401 F Street, NW
- Cost: FREE
Blossom Kite Festival
- Date: March 29, 2014
- Time: 10 AM – 4:30 PM
- Location: Washington Monument grounds – Constitution Avenue & 17th Street, NW
- Cost: FREE
Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival
- Date: April 5, 2014
- Time: 1 PM – 9 PM (Fireworks start at 8:30 PM) RAIN OR SHINE
- Location: Southwest Waterfront – 600-900 Water Street, SW
- Cost: FREE
Sakura Matsui – Japanese Street Festival
- Date: April 12, 2014
- Time: 10:30 AM – 6 PM
- Location: 12th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
- Cost: $10, children 12 and under free. $8 for a limited time when purchased online.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
- Date: April 12, 2014
- Time: 10 AM – Noon
- Location: Constitution Avenue – From 7th to 17th Streets, NW
- Cost: Starting at $20 for Grandstand Seating. Standing along the Parade route from Constitution Avenue between 9th and 15th streets, NW is FREE and open to the public. Arrive early for the best views.
- Tickets: Purchase Grandstand seats.
How to Get There
Take the Metro
As parking is limited and traffic is certain to be heavy, using public transport is the best way to get to and from the National Mall. The nearest stations are Smithsonian (orange/blue) and Federal Triangle (orange/blue). If you dread the thought of squeezing in on a crowded train, consider getting off at one of the stations that are slightly farther, but still a walkable distance, from the National Mall: Archives (yellow/green); Metro Center (red/orange/blue); Foggy Bottom (orange/blue). The Trip Planner feature on WMATA website is a great way to estimate time and distance when traveling on the Metro.
Ride a bike
Capital Bikeshare offers 1 and 3 day passes for guests to the city. There are many stations on and along the National Mall and Tidal Basin, making this a convenient way to travel during the busy season. However, keep in mind that though you are allowed total access to the bikes with one of these passes, using a bike for more than 30 minutes at a time will incur additional trip fees. Check out their website for additional information. Fancy seeing the memorials and cherry blossom trees by bike, but worried about racking up fees or locking up your bike? Take a Free Bike Tour with us!
Park near the National Mall
Not for the feint of heart! As we’ve mentioned, parking is extremely limited, especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival. There is some parking at Hains Point, though spaces fill quickly (Note: A $1 shuttle will run from Hains Point to the Tidal Basin from March 18-April 15). Union Station and the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building also have limited parking available for a fee. Otherwise, guests can use one of the parking garages located downtown: Parking Management, Inc; Colonial Parking Garages.
Take a Taxi
There will be an abundance of taxis available near the National Mall. If all of the above options sound too complicated or tiresome, treat yourself to a cab.
Where to stay?
If you’re set on staying in a hotel, I’d recommend you choose one near a metro stop in Virginia or Maryland as the ones in the District are ridiculous. There are a number of designated Cherry Blossom Hotels featured on the festival’s official website. Otherwise, check out AirBnB. Whenever my parents come to visit, I direct them towards AirBnB for the best deals and sweetest apartments in the city.