Know Before You Go: Experiencing Cherry Blossom Season Washington DC
Every spring, Washington DC is covered in a canopy of pink when the city’s iconic cherry trees blossom. For more than 100 years, the city has celebrated the blooming of the trees—and the events, parties, and exhibitions that ring in the season are livelier than ever. Here are some tips to make the most of visiting DC to see the cherry blossoms.
History of the cherry blossom season in Washington DC
A tale of two cities.
The arrival of cherry blossoms each spring has been celebrated in Japan for more than a millennium. In 1912, after First Lady Helen Herron Taft, who had lived in Japan, initiated a plan to plant cherry trees in Washington DC, Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki gave the city over 3,000 cherry trees as a sign of friendship. Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, each planted a tree on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. The original two cherry blossom trees, which are still standing, were soon joined by thousands of others.
When is cherry blossom season?
Six weeks of flower power.
Cherry blossom season typically runs from mid-March through the end of April. Some blossoms start to fall within a few days of blooming, while others last up to two weeks. The Washington DC area also has several different varieties of cherry blossom trees that bloom at different times, some before “peak bloom” (see below) and some after. That means it’s likely you will see cherry blossoms if you visit any time from the middle of March through April.
First-time visitors likely won’t even notice a difference between peak bloom and the trees’ appearance a week earlier or later. That means you shouldn’t be concerned if your visit isn’t perfectly timed, or if peak bloom changes unexpectedly after you book your trip.
Insider tip: It’s illegal to touch or pick the cherry blossoms, so hands off!
When is “peak bloom?”
It can be early April, but it varies …
It is notoriously difficult to predict “peak bloom,” the day when 70 percent of DC’s cherry trees are flowering. Each year the National Park Service launches ”bloom watch” and makes a prediction about when peak bloom will occur—but the timing is largely dependent on weather conditions, so an unexpected cold snap or a couple of warm days can easily change when it happens. It’s not unusual for the prediction to be off by several days, either. The earliest recorded peak bloom occurred on March 15, 1990, and the latest peak bloom recorded was on April 18, 1958.
Insider tip: The average day of peak bloom is April 4, but since this varies widely from year to year, it’s best to check when peak bloom is predicted before booking a trip.
The best place to see the cherry blossoms
In short, blooms abound on the National Mall.
For stunning views of thousands of cherry blossom trees, head to the National Mall and walk the 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) loop around the Tidal Basin. Elsewhere on the Mall, there are small clusters of cherry blossoms near the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. For great photo ops, head to the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
The National Mall gets very crowded during peak cherry blossom season. Early birds who arrive around sunrise will have the best chance of avoiding crowds and taking photos without lots of people in the background. Seeing the blossoms glow in the warm light of early morning is another reward of getting there early.
Insider tip: Rent a pedal boat on the Tidal Basin for fantastic views of the cherry blossoms from a different perspective.
Alternative viewing sites
Special locales without the crowds.
There are several locations off the National Mall to see cherry blossoms, for those who want to avoid the crowds. The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, the US National Arboretum, the Hains Point trail in East Potomac Park, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor are all great alternative viewing sites.
Insider tip: Take a ferry ride from National Harbor to Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown for unique views of the blossoms.
How to get to the cherry blossom sites
The metro is a great way to go.
Parking spots around the National Mall are scarce during peak cherry blossom season. Taking public transportation or using a rideshare service are the best ways to go. The closest metro stops to the National Mall are Union Station and the Smithsonian.
Insider tip: Download the SmartTrip app before you arrive to make taking public transportation easier.
Where to eat nearby
Consider a picnic lunch, or a cherry blossom tea.
There aren’t any standalone restaurants on the National Mall, which can make grabbing a bite while seeing the cherry blossoms challenging. If you want to eat on the National Mall, plan on packing a picnic or grabbing a hot dog or slice of pizza from one of the many food trucks along the perimeter. Each of the Smithsonian Museums on the Mall has a restaurant or café, and since admission to the museums is free, it’s possible to go in just for lunch.
For more choices, check out the restaurants and a food court in nearby Union Station, or walk to Downtown DC. The historic Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria offers a cherry blossom–themed tea annually, and is a great way to end a morning of cherry blossom viewing. Many other restaurants and hotels offer special cherry blossom teas, cocktails, and meals during cherry blossom season, too, so it’s worth looking into a few of these (and reserving ahead) before you go.
Experiencing the Cherry Blossom Festival
Parties, family activities, and performances are all part of the fun.
Every year, Washington DC hosts a massive Cherry Blossom Festival with a combination of free and paid events that take place throughout cherry blossom season. While the events vary from year to year, there is usually a parade, a “pink tie” opening night party, a kite festival, family events, Japanese cultural performances, and more. The festival includes Artechouse’s annual immersive cherry blossom–themed exhibit, which is always spectacular. Some DC residents get into the cherry blossom spirit and decorate their porches with elaborate pink decorations, so it’s worth taking a walk around the city’s neighborhoods to take a look, too.
Where to stay
Different ways to enhance your cherry blossom trip.
Many hotels offer cherry blossom packages, which may include themed rooms and cherry blossom–inspired meals. The Salamander DC, a 10-minute walk to the Tidal Basin, boasts great views of the cherry blossoms and has six cherry trees of its own on the lawn.
Meanwhile, the Waldorf Astoria is a 2-minute walk to the National Mall, with an unbeatable location for viewing the blossoms; and the Morrow Washington DC, Curio Collection by Hilton (a 10-minute ride or 30-minute walk to the National Mall) offers an annual cherry blossom package. While the options vary from year to year, past packages have included a picnic lunch curated by a Michelin-starred chef, the ability to “adopt a tree” to support cherry blossom conservation efforts, and metro passes.