The blooming of the cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C., may be the most spectacular time of year to visit the U.S. capital. Marking the beginning of spring, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is a four-week-long celebration that includes events like a parade, Japanese street festival, and fireworks display. All the festivities commemorate the lasting friendship between the United State and Japan, which gifted the original 3,000 trees to D.C. in 1912.
This year, the Festival runs from March 20-April 17, 2016, but peak bloom is predicted to be March 18-23, which is earlier than usual due to the unseasonably warm weather D.C. has had recently. Although there are cherry blossom trees planted throughout D.C. and the surrounding area, “peak bloom” specifically refers to the time when 70% of the trees along the Tidal Basin are in bloom. The delicate white and pale pink petals make the Tidal Basin appear to be lined by snow-covered trees. It’s a gorgeous site and well worth the visit.
The question becomes: what unique way can you experience this impressive sight? One cool sightseeing option offered by several boat companies is a “Cherry Blossom River Cruise” on the Potomac River (LivingSocial has a lot of deals for these cruises). During the daytime, you’ll be able to see the Kennedy Center, monuments, memorials and the cherry blossom trees. These cruises offer a different way to see D.C. (and northern Virginia if you look south), but don’t join one expecting a full-on cherry blossom experience. In order to be surrounded, or at least closer to the blossoms, you’ll need to walk over to the Tidal Basin (closest Metro stop is Smithsonian on the Orange/Blue/Silver lines). Once there, you can rent a paddleboat to get a middle-of-the-water 360-view of the tree-lined Basin. Be warned: it gets crowded, so you’ll want to get there early in the day for your best chance at renting a paddleboat without an insanely long line.
D.C. offers much more during this time of year than just the festival and blooming cherry trees. You can look forward to special treats at restaurants and bars throughout the city. Many create cherry blossom-inspired cocktails and food menus (sweet and savory) that are available only for a limited time. NBC Washington published a list of spots for such food and drink. For a unique experience, visit the Willard Intercontinental Hotel for their afternoon tea. They also serve up other cherry blossom-themed delights, including specialty cocktails and an accommodations package for visitors. Keep an eye on websites like City Paper, Washington Post (food and drink), and DCist for other ideas.
If you’ll be in D.C. on March 26 or April 9, you can attend the Cherry Blossom Beer and Wine Festival. Your entry fee includes unlimited tastings of 100+ beers and wines, access to local food trucks (note: it appears food isn’t included in the ticket, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket), and live entertainment (probably bands or a DJ). We haven’t been to this particular event, but we’ve attended similar all-you-can-taste festivals, and they’re pretty fun. Grab this LivingSocial deal to save some moolah.
Another big event happening on April 3 is the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. The race’s beautiful route has participants starting and ending at the Washington Monument, running along the Potomac River, around the Tidal Basin, and looping the outer rim of East Potomac Park. It’s a scenic run that will hopefully take runners’ minds off the fact that the last stretch of the race is uphill (spoiler!). This popular race selects entrants through a lottery the previous year, but you may be able to find people who cannot participate selling their bib online at the last minute, though the official number transfer process has already closed. If you’re not running and are an early riser, stop by the course and cheer on everyone with “Go runners!”
As locals, we can only assume that hotels will increase their rates during cherry blossom season. If you want to save some money, Couchsurf or use AirBnB. You might also consider staying at a hotel in the suburbs off the Metro, like in Arlington, Virginia; Bethesda, Maryland; or Silver Spring, Maryland. They will likely be less expensive than staying in D.C. proper, and there are plenty of restaurants and shops in those areas. Using the Metro to go in and out of D.C. will allow you to save money by not having to rent a car (and find parking for it, which is not an easy thing to do). You can also rent a bike through Capital Bikeshare to cruise through the city at your leisure. The rental fee is based on how long the bike is checked out for, and you can buy a 24-hour or 3-day membership to reduce the hourly fee (a good idea if you think you’ll use the bike often during that time period). There are a lot of docking stations, which makes it a convenient transportation option if you’re up for biking.
We hope you enjoy your time in our city. As always, if you have any questions in preparation for your trip or want a local’s recommendation, drop us a line or leave a comment below.