For many, spring break means sandy beaches and tropical weather, but another travel spot you might consider this spring is our nation’s capital and the spectacular Washington, DC cherry blossoms. I’ve lived in the DC suburbs all my life and worked in the city itself as well—and I must say, there’s no time like spring to visit DC. The biggest draw, of course, is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the city’s most beloved traditions.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is a celebration of spring that commemorates Japan’s gift of cherry trees to the District in 1912. Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City gave the cherry trees to the United States as a gesture of goodwill and to celebrate the positive relationship between the two countries. Today, thousands flock to DC to catch a glimpse of the fluffy white and light pink blooms that line the Tidal Basin, a two-mile loop dotted with national monuments like the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
This year, the festival runs from March 20th through April 16th. And the city will be bustling with cherry blossom events and activities. While it’s tricky to perfectly time your trip around peak bloom (Mother Nature runs on her own schedule!), mild temperatures have experts predicting the bloom will be early this year—think the end of March. If the DC cherry blossoms are on your bucket list, here are a few tips from a local to make the most out of your experience.
How to See the DC Cherry Blossoms Like a Local
Hit the Tidal Basin early to avoid crowds.
DC cherry blossom season is the busiest time of year in the city—and for good reason. The blooms are gorgeous, the weather is mild. And it’s an ideal time for walking, being outside, and taking in the sights. With that said, you can expect crowds just about everywhere, especially around the Tidal Basin, where the cherry blossom trees are located. If you’re looking for a peaceful walk, fewer people, and a perfect shot for the ‘gram without crowds in the background, waking up with the sun is your best bet. It may be an early start, but you’ll get stunning views without the hustle and bustle of other tourists, and you’ll most likely be joined by photographers and other early birds. The next best time to catch the blooms? Right at sunset (also an optimal time for photos!).
Travel during the week if possible.
Cherry blossom weekends are much busier compared to the middle of the week. Tour buses and day trippers are usually out in full force on Saturdays and Sundays, so if your schedule allows, it’s best to plan your trip while others may still be at work or school. You’ll breathe a little easier when you’re not fighting a crowd of other tourists!
Bring your walking shoes and dress comfortably.
The Tidal Basin and the National Mall are the two best places to catch the DC cherry blossoms, and both require a bit of walking. Rest assured that you’ll get your steps in on your spring DC trip, as most hotels and Metro stops are about a 15-minute walk to the blooms. Save your cute-but-not-exactly-comfy shoes for dinner and opt for your favorite hot-girl-walk sneakers during the day. Spring weather can also be a bit fickle in DC, so be sure to wear layers that you can take on or off, depending on how warm (or chilly!) it gets.
Opt for public transportation instead of driving.
Getting around DC is easiest without a car. A mixture of minimal parking and city traffic makes the many different public transit options super appealing. DC’s subway system, AKA the Metro, is usually your best bet. The easiest way to get to the cherry blossoms is to take the silver, blue, or orange line to the Smithsonian stop, then take a 15-minute walk to the Tidal Basin. You can also grab a bike at one of the many Capital Bike Share locations throughout the city. A 24-hour pass is only $8, and biking through the National Mall is a fun way to see the sights.
Plan ahead and arrive early to cherry blossom events.
Cherry blossom season comes with a ton of special events, and they can make for a fun addition to your DC itinerary, as long as you have a plan! The Blossom Kite Festival on March 25th is free and family-friendly with plenty of music, activities, and, of course, kites. The Cherry Blossom Parade on April 15th is another can’t-miss activity, with floats, balloons, and performances. Certain portions of the parade route are available for free to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis, so arrive early to stake out your spot (the parade begins at 10 a.m.!). You can also guarantee your spot in the grandstand by purchasing a ticket for $25-$30.
If you prefer a more laidback itinerary, be on the lookout for Petal Porches, where area residents decorate their homes in pink and blossoms, and Art in Bloom installations, giant cherry blossom sculptures that are featured throughout the city.
Make time for cherry blossom-themed food and drink.
There are tons of fantastic places to eat in DC, and many restaurants offer special cherry blossom menus for the season. For a fancy cocktail, get dressed up and head to Silver Lyan at Hotel Riggs between March 27th and April 1st for their cherry blossom pop-up. Surveyor, the restaurant in Thompson Hotel, is also featuring a special cherry blossom-themed menu with cherry and goat cheese toast, as well as a cherry blossom cake with green tea sponge and cherry mousse (yum!).
For a morning treat, both District Doughnut and Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken are featuring a special cherry blossom doughnut. Hot tip: The seasonal coffee drinks over at Commonwealth Joe in Arlington are worth the short trip into Virginia. Their Berry Blossom latte is adorably pink, delicious, and topped with pink flowers—available hot or iced.
Check out other D.C. sites and neighborhoods.
While the cherry blossoms are the star of the show in March and April, DC has plenty of other sites to explore, too. For quaint cobblestone streets and plenty of shopping, head to the Georgetown neighborhood. (Pro tip: avoid the long line at Georgetown Cupcake and opt for Baked and Wired instead). Take the kids to see the pandas at the National Zoo, or catch a baseball game at Nationals Park.
If you prefer to stick close to the National Mall, however, there are a number of incredible museums to check out. A few great options include the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of American History, which includes Judy Garland’s ruby slippers, Julia Child’s kitchen, and the First Ladies exhibit—a large display of gowns worn by first ladies throughout history. However, if I had to pick just one museum to check out, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest Smithsonian museum and is not to be missed. Admission is free, but be sure to get a time-entry pass in order to enter the museum.