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Seeing the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington DC is a bucket list experience for families. But it requires some advance planning, especially nowadays. You’ll want to know how to time your trip right, where to park and a few other things so you can relax and soak up the gorgeous pink petals. Here are tips from a veteran DC cherry blossom viewer!
Cherry Blossoms Are Worth Celebrating
It’s Cherry Blossom season! Hibernating families will emerge from their dens and head out to see the beautiful pink blooms in Philadelphia. Or, perhaps, they’ll plan a two-for and drive north to catch the cherry blossoms in NYC too.
But the most popular place to enjoy the seasonal display of cherry blossoms is Washington DC. Droves of tourists, many for the first time, attack the Tidal Basin. That’s the area with nearly 1,700 trees around the Jefferson Memorial.
What to Expect During the DC Cherry Blossom Season
if you’re planning to come to the see the National Cherry Blossom Festival this year, plan on being in the nation’s capitol from March 20 through April 11, 2021. The National Mall projects the peak bloom time to fall between April 2 – April 5, 2021. Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70% of the Yoshino cherry blossoms are open.
Because of the pandemic, officials of the National Mall and Memorial Parks are urging people to stay home this year. They have designed a unique hybrid model for the 2021 event.
Art lovers can “attend” a virtual lecture about the Japanese artist Hokusai or immerse themselves in a futuristic exhibit at the ARTECHOUSE gallery. The can’t-miss experience for shoppers is a trip to the Kimono Trunk Show. And DC residents are invited to register as a participating Petal Porch by decorating their homes to celebrate cherry blossom season.
Essential Cherry Blossom Viewing Tips
Pandemic or not, the real draw for visitors is a stroll along the Tidal Basin to enjoy the cherry trees in full bloom. As a 20-year veteran of the blossom wars, I have four tips that will save you from making rookie mistakes when attending the nation’s spring celebration.
1. Come Early. REALLY Early.
I mean dawn. Sunrise. You’ll find free two- to three-hour parking right on the Tidal Basin, even on the weekend, if you come first thing. By 8 a.m., all of the spots will be filled and the area will be teeming with tourists.
Arriving super early is also the most socially distanced way to see the cherry blossoms in person. You can stroll while most people are still sleeping!
2. Expect to do a LOT of Walking.
The Tidal Basin is a half mile from the Metro, so the train may not help as much as expected. That always surprises folks on their first visit to the blossoms. I know, a half mile doesn’t seem long to you, but how long will it seem to your 3-year-old who is a “big girl” and refuses her stroller?
The blossoms are the rare event in downtown D.C. for which I actually recommend driving if feasible. Once you’re there, you’re 100% on your feet.
3. The Tidal Basin Lacks Facilities You Might Expect.
The Tidal Basin is run by the National Parks, and the services are more what you might expect at a campground than at a world-class tourist attraction. Pack snacks and plenty of bottled water.
Don’t expect a short hike to the bathroom from anywhere. Any time you see a potty, make your kids GO. Trust me on that one.
4. Don’t Fear the Weather…but DO Dress for It!
Some of my favorite cherry blossom pics are from cloudy or even rainy days. The area takes on a mystic quality that feels like you’ve walked into a Japanese scroll. That said, I’m always amazed by the folks I see in shorts and flip-flops. Yes, this is technically spring, but Washington DC can still be chilly and drizzly in March, especially if you’re going at dawn like I recommend.
After a long winter, I can’t wait to see the blossoms again. We’ll pile in the car before sun-up on a Sunday morning and head down and back before breakfast. Their emergence, as always, will be a sign that it’s FINALLY time to put winter away and celebrate the spring!