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Spring, with its colorful and fragrant flowers, is a favorite season for many. We can all agree that we should stop and smell the roses. But, should you see the cherry blossoms? Is a visit to Washington, DC, primarily for the cherry blossoms, worth it?
I have seen many pictures of the iconic white and pink flowers in the foreground of historic national monuments, and I have heard people gush about their beauty. However, visiting our nation’s capital never crossed my mind to look at these pretty flowers.
Going to see the cherry blossoms has always been on Julie’s bucket list. Naturally, we made the trip!
So, how was our experience? We will cover everything you need to know about the cherry blossoms and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, including the pros and cons of a Washington, DC, trip during this time. You can then decide if you should see the DC cherry blossoms.
History of Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms
What is so Special About Cherry Blossoms?
Cherry blossoms are widely considered symbolic flowers of spring. Flowering cherry trees are among the first trees to bloom each year. Their beautiful white and pink blossoms brighten the landscape as we come out of winter.
Cherry blossoms represent a time of renewal. Their life is concise, typically two weeks. This fleeting nature of life often resonates with people.
Japan has celebrated cherry blossoms for centuries. It is a vital part of their culture. The flowers represent many things, including birth, death, beauty, and violence. Their blooms signify a fresh start or a new beginning.
What is the History of the Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms?
Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, a diplomat in the late 1800s, had spent time in Japan and was enamored with the beautiful trees. Year after year, she proposed planting cherry trees in Washington, DC.
Unfortunately, her proposals repeatedly fell on deaf ears. Eliza persisted in her efforts for more than two decades.
In 1909, Eliza finally found support. First Lady, Helen Taft, had lived in Japan and appreciated the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Upon hearing about Helen Taft’s interest in cherry trees, Japan decided to make a gift to the American people.
In 1910, Japan gifted 2,000 cherry trees to the United States. Unfortunately, we destroyed the trees upon discovering they were diseased.
In 1912, Japan renewed its donation and presented us with over 3,000 cherry trees, making Eliza’s dream finally come true.
We held our first “festival” in 1927, celebrating Japan’s gift to America. Children re-enacted the planting of the trees, and the blossoms were honored. The cherry blossom festival later became an annual event.
National Cherry Blossom Festival: What to Know
What is the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
With over 1.5 million people descending upon Washington, DC, to admire the cherry blossoms and celebrate spring’s arrival, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is America’s biggest springtime celebration. It is hard to fathom that it all stemmed from a gift in the early 1900s.
The festival has become much more than celebrating spring and beautiful flowers. It promotes art, culture, natural beauty, and community spirit.
When is the Cherry Blossom Festival?
Traditionally, the festival begins around the start of spring and lasts for a month. This year, the festival runs from March 18 – April 16, 2023. Many visitors attempt to arrive during peak bloom.
What are the Events at the Festival?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival has many virtual and in-person events. Here are the festival’s signature events.
- When: March 25, 2023, 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
- Where: Warner Theatre, 513 13th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
The kickoff event is an artistic celebration to honor the 1912 gift of trees and the friendship between Japan and the United States.
Blossom Kite Festival
- When: March 25, 2023, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm (Rain date: March 26)
- Where: Washington Monument Grounds
It has been a long-standing tradition for people to fly kites near the cherry trees, emphasizing outdoor family fun.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
- When: April 15, 2023, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
- Where: Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 17th Streets, Washington, DC
The celebratory parade runs for ten blocks on Constitution Avenue Northwest and includes balloons, floats, marching bands, and performers.
- When: April 8, 2023, 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm
- Where: Capitol Riverfront at The Yards
This event includes a full day of live music, family-friendly activities, and an adult beer garden. The evening culminates in a fireworks show choreographed to music at 8:30 pm. Note you can also observe the fireworks from Anacostia Park.
Pink Tie Dinner Party
- When: March 16, 2023, 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm
- Where: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
Are you looking for something fancier? The Pink Tie Dinner Party includes entertainment, fine cuisine, cocktails, and mocktails. And you get to wear your finest pink attire!
Tidal Basin Welcome Area & ANA Stage
- When: March 18 – April 2, 2023
- Where: West Basin Drive SW
There will be live performances on the main stage during peak bloom from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm, rain or shine. You can find information booths and souvenirs in the welcome area from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival site for current information on events and activities.
What is Peak Bloom?
We reach peak bloom when 70% of the buds have opened in the Tidal Basin area’s cherry trees. The best viewing time usually lasts up to 4 to 7 days after peak bloom begins.
When is Peak Bloom?
Peak bloom is potentially different each year, as weather patterns impact timing. On average, peak bloom is around April 4. The earliest peak bloom was March 15, while the latest was April 18.
Our National Park Service (NPS) predicted peak bloom for 2022 to be March 22-25, which was accurate. The NPS predicts the 2023 peak bloom to also be March 22-25.
Where Can You Find the Peak Bloom Dates?
Visit the NPS bloom watch page for predictions and updates on peak bloom dates.
How Long do the Cherry Blossoms Stay Around?
The entire blooming period can last up to 14 days. Some years, Mother Nature decided not to cooperate. The blooming period can be shorter if she gets angry and sends us harsh weather.
Where Can You See the Cherry Blossoms?
The most popular area to view the cherry blossoms is the Tidal Basin, where beautiful cherry blossoms adorn the entire walkway along the circular route. Cherry blossoms peacefully greet you on one side while calm waters with floating ducks and people gliding in pedal boats fill the horizon on your other side. It is a breathtaking stroll.
Nearby, the National Mall provides ample opportunity for viewing beautiful cherry blossoms in the foreground of iconic national memorials and monuments.
There are clusters of cherry trees throughout Washington, DC. While exploring the city, you will find plenty of other photo ops.
Are you looking for a less touristy location? Try the US National Arboretum. Some consider it a secret spot. It is on the eastern edge of town, away from typical tourist attractions.
People overlook Arlington National Cemetery, which houses a decent number of cherry trees. It is beautiful! You can also see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watch the Changing of the Guard.
Arlington National Cemetery is across the Potomac River, a short distance from the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.
Here are the top national monuments and memorials in the Tidal Basin and National Mall with cherry blossoms nearby:
- Jefferson Memorial – The domed shrine to honor Thomas Jefferson sits in the Tidal Basin.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial – This memorial is located along the western shore of the Tidal Basin and walks you through all four terms of FDR’s presidency.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – The Stone of Hope, a granite statue, honors Martin Luther King, Jr. It sits in West Potomac Park along the western bank of the Tidal Basin.
- Lincoln Memorial – The iconic shrine honoring Abraham Lincoln is on the western end of the National Mall.
- Washington Monument – The 555-foot towering obelisk to honor George Washington dominates the center of the National Mall.
- US Capitol – The Capitol Building rests on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.
Should You Go to Washington, DC, to See the Cherry Blossoms?
Let’s explore the pros and cons of visiting Washington, DC, to see the cherry blossoms.
- Beauty – You cannot deny that the white and pink blooms are beautiful. Seeing so many of them near historic landmarks brings a feeling of serenity.
- Celebrate the arrival of spring – Being part of America’s largest springtime celebration is memorable. Just being there made Julie and me happy.
- Appreciation – Recognizing the short life of the cherry blossoms reminds us to appreciate the beauty in our fleeting lives.
- Photography – The beautiful blossoms in the foreground of historic landmarks provide an opportunity for dream shots. These scenes are gorgeous, and you will want to capture them with your camera. We could not stop taking pictures. The entire route along the Tidal Basin is full of spectacular views.
- Nature – The cherry blossoms will warm your heart if you love nature. Birds are singing, and other flowers are starting to bloom. It is wonderful!
- American history surrounds you, reminding you of who you are. You will feel proud to be an American.
- Lots of things to do – Remember, this is a festival. Beyond seeing the flowers, there are many events and activities. Even without the festival, Washington, DC, has a mile-long list of things to do. There are museums, monuments, memorials, and more.
- Low costs – Many National Cherry Blossom Festival events are free and open to the public. Washington, DC, has many free museums, monuments, and memorials. You will have to cover transportation, food, and lodging, but much of your entertainment will not cost a thing.
- Food trucks – If you love food trucks, you have found heaven. During the festival, food trucks line the streets. You can find nearly every food concoction under the sun.
- Positive vibe – In a city typically dominated by heated politics, you can feel a positive vibe during the festival. It is a nice change.
- Planning is complex – Trying to be in Washington, DC, for peak bloom presents serious challenges. You can’t accurately predict the dates until about ten days from peak bloom. It would help if you had flexibility in your schedule to guarantee that you are there at the right time. Otherwise, you risk missing the cherry blossoms. Planning around peak bloom is difficult enough. Each museum has its hours. They are not necessarily open every day of the week. You will need to prioritize your sightseeing accordingly.
- Crowded – Tourists pack the city during this time. It is nuts! The traffic is terrible, and pedestrians are everywhere. It can take away some of your joy.
- Difficulty getting great photos – It is not easy to get that perfect picture. Did I mention the crowds? People are all fighting for the same space to get the same shot. People keep walking in front of your perfect scene even when you have the sweet spot. Maybe this is a photobomb convention.
- Annoying photo shoots – If you are annoyed by people flaunting for the camera, you may want to skip the cherry blossoms. Every other cherry tree was the setting for a personal glamour shoot. Some appeared to be admiring themselves more than the cherry blossoms. Perhaps this is a vanity festival.
- Higher travel costs – Hotel and flight prices are likely to be higher. The travel industry knows you want to go to Washington, DC, this time of year. They warmly welcome you with higher rates for transportation and lodging. Still proud to be an American?
- Unpredictable weather – Weather at this time of year can be unpredictable. It can get cold. Rain or snow is certainly possible. You will need to pack for a variety of weather conditions.
- Food trucks – If you despise food trucks welcome to your nightmare. As I said, they are everywhere! You can always pack your snacks. With a bit of walking, you can find restaurants with healthier food options. Many museums in the area have a cafe. The museum cafes typically close around 4:00 or 5:00, though.
My Thoughts on a Trip to See the Cherry Blossoms
I was skeptical about going to Washington, DC, to see the cherry blossoms. Despite the crowds, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I love walking, and I got to do plenty of that. I love nature, and the cherry blossoms lived up to the hype. We also saw birds, squirrels, and ducks. Spring was definitely in the air.
Seeing the national monuments and memorials stirred patriotic feelings in my soul. The cherry blossoms enhanced the beauty of these iconic sites.
This city has so many peaceful places to walk and enjoy nature. My favorites are the Tidal Basin, National Mall, and Arlington National Cemetery.
Washington, DC, has so much to offer with its museums. We got to spend a little time in a few of them. But we barely touched the tip of the iceberg. We need to go back and spend more time in the beautiful museums.
So, was the trip to Washington, DC, for the cherry blossoms worth it? Yes, I would do it again. Absolutely!
Tips for Seeing the Cherry Blossoms
Here are our suggestions to make the most of your cherry blossom viewing experience.
- Plan ahead – I acknowledge that planning for peak bloom is challenging. We encourage you to plan as much as you can. Closely monitor the peak bloom predictions and be prepared to travel on short notice.
- Visit during the week – Try to visit on weekdays rather than a weekend. It is more crowded on weekends.
- Go early or late in the day – The Tidal Basin is busiest in the middle of the day. Try to arrive early in the morning or late afternoon.
- Wear comfortable shoes – You will do a lot of walking so you must have comfortable shoes. Julie and I walked over 13 miles in one day alone. You do not have to walk that far, but you will be on your feet for quite some time.
- Bring water – Since you will be walking so much, bring water to stay hydrated.
- Bring your camera – You will want to capture the breathtaking scenery. For pictures, we use an Apple iPhone 13 pro. The quality is outstanding. For the video, Julie uses a DJI Pocket 2. It is compact, light, and easy to use. The camera is easier to hold than a phone and shoots in high definition up to 4K. Best of all, it has a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer. Even on the move, video footage is smooth. She gets questions about her camera all the time. She loves it!
- Pack your patience pants – You will experience large crowds. Everyone wants to take pictures, just like you. Put on your patience pants and be respectful. You will get your turn.
Plan Your Visit to Washington, DC
Where to Start
- Monitor the peak bloom dates.
- Be prepared to lock down your plans quickly when the dates are known.
- Try to go during the week rather than on the weekend.
- Watch our video for more travel tips.
- Use the map below to view the area.
- Prioritize your sightseeing spots. If you plan to visit any museums, check the hours of operation first.
- Check the National Cherry Blossom Festival website for events and activities.
- Pack light layers and be able to adjust for weather changes.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
Where to Stay
There are many places to stay in Washington, DC. We recommend using Expedia or Booking.com to determine your best options.
We stayed at Hampton Inn Washington, DC/White House. The hotel provides a hot breakfast, keeps its rooms clean, and employs friendly, helpful people. It is less than a 5-minute walk from the White House and a 20 to 25-minute walk from the Tidal Basin.
Where to Eat
We had breakfast at the hotel and lunch from the various festival food trucks. However, we found two places that we highly recommend. One is a coffee shop, and the other is a restaurant that serves lunch and dinner.
Compass Coffee is a friendly coffee shop just a few doors down from the Hampton Inn on H Street. I had a delicious cherry blossom blend served as a pour-over. The cherry notes were subtle but gave the coffee a nice flavor. Julie had the cherry blossom cream cold brew, delivering robust and sweet flavors of berries and cream. We shared a Bethlehem bar, a dense snack bar packed with oats, nuts, chocolate, and caramel. Yum!
GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar features customizable sandwiches, mac & cheese, and craft cocktails. They also serve burgers and quesadillas. We liked it so much we had dinner there twice.
Julie and I sampled some grilled cheese sandwiches and mac & cheese dishes. Everything we tried was fresh, hot, and delicious. Their cup of tomato soup has subtle spicy undertones and pairs nicely with grilled cheese sandwiches.
The fantastic homemade hibiscus sangria perfectly blends wine and fruit. You can order house-made non-alcoholic lemonade and limeade drinks. I particularly enjoyed the refreshing limeade infused with mint and ginger.
GCDC is a block from Hampton Inn Washington, DC/White House and a short walk from the White House itself.
Getting Around Washington, DC
What are the best options for moving around the city to see the cherry blossoms?
- Walking – Good old-fashioned foot power is a great way to get around the city. It’s free. You are in control. And it’s excellent exercise.
- Uber or Lyft – If your hotel is not within reasonable walking distance of the cherry blossoms, you can grab a ride from Uber or Lyft. During our visit, there were plenty of rides available in the area.
- DC Circulator – You can ride a bus. The base fare is $1 per person per trip. You can find DC Circulator routes and schedules here.
- Metro – You can take the metro, a subway/rail system, to get around the city. Click here for information on Metro stops and routes.
- Bikeshare – There are many bike stations throughout the city. You can pay for a bike per trip or a whole day. Find details at Capital Bikeshare.
- Scooters – We saw people everywhere zipping along on scooters. You can find details about scooters here.
Start Planning Now
Although the 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival is upon us, March 18 – April 16, 2023, there is still time to pull off a last-minute adventure.
If you plan to attend the event in 2024, mark your calendar now. The proposed dates for next year’s festival are March 20 – April 14, 2024.
You have smelled the roses. Now it is time to see the cherry blossoms!
You might also like:
- 2 Days in Washington DC: 20 Interesting Things to See
- 15 Amazing Flower Festivals To Celebrate Spring
About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.