Should You See the Cherry Blossoms?

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Spring is here and flowers are starting to bloom.  I think we can all agree that we should stop and smell the roses.  But, should you see the cherry blossoms?  Is a visit to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms worth it?

I have seen many pictures of the iconic white and pink flowers in the foreground of historic national monuments.  I have heard people gush about their beauty.  However, it never crossed my mind to visit our nation’s capital just 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?  Is going to see the cherry blossoms worth it?  

We cover everything you need to know about the cherry blossoms and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  Then, we share our pros and cons of a Washington, D.C. trip to see the cherry blossoms.  You can then decide for yourself.

HISTORY OF THE WASHINGTON, D.C. CHERRY BLOSSOMS

Close view of white cherry blossoms
Close view of white cherry blossoms

What is so special about cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms are widely considered a symbolic flower 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 very short, typically two weeks.  This fleeting nature of life often resonates with people.

In Japan, cherry blossoms have been celebrated for centuries.  It is a very important part of their culture.  The blossoms represent many things, including birth and death and beauty and violence.  The blooms signify a fresh start or new beginning.

What is the history of the Washington, D.C. cherry blossoms?

A park ranger gave us more details on the background of the 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 that we plant cherry trees in Washington, D.C.  

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, the trees were diseased and had to be destroyed.  

In 1912, Japan renewed their donation and presented us with over 3,000 cherry trees.  Eliza’s dream finally came true.

The first “festival” was held in 1927.  We celebrated Japan’s gift to America.  Children performed a re-enactment of the planting of the trees.  The blossoms were honored and admired.

The cherry blossom festival later became an annual event.

NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: WHAT TO KNOW

National Cherry Blossom Festival
National Cherry Blossom Festival – Washington, D.C.

What is the National Cherry Blossom Festival?

It is America’s biggest springtime celebration.  Each year, over 1.5 million people visit Washington, D.C. to admire the cherry blossoms and celebrate the arrival of spring.  Hard to believe this all stemmed from a gift in the early 1900s…

The festival has grown to be much more than celebrating spring and beautiful flowers.  The festival promotes art, culture, natural beauty and community spirit. 

Why is this year’s festival special?

Due to COVID-19 for the last two years, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has had hybrid/virtual events to celebrate the blooming cherry trees.  

Now in 2022, the festival allows us to celebrate in person once again.  Appropriately, this year’s theme is “Rediscover Spring!”

What are the events at the festival?

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has many events.  This year both virtual and in person events are offered.

Here are the festival’s signature events:

  • Opening Ceremony – 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 – It has been a long-standing tradition for people to fly kites near the cherry trees.  The emphasis is to encourage outdoor family fun.
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade – The celebratory parade runs for 10 blocks on Constitution Avenue Northwest and includes balloons, floats, marching bands and performers.
  • Petalpalooza – This event includes a full day of live music and many activities.  There is a beer garden for adults.  Family friendly activities are available as well.
  • Pink Tie Dinner Party – Looking for something more fancy?  The Pink Tie Dinner Party includes entertainment, cocktail reception, sushi tasting, fine cuisine and a silent auction.  And, you get to wear your finest pink attire!
  • Tidal Basin Welcome Area & ANA Stage – There will be live performances on the main stage during peak bloom.  Information booths and souvenirs can be found in this area.

Information on all festival events and activities can be found here.

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 20 – April 17, 2022.  Many visitors attempt to arrive during peak bloom.

Close view of pink cherry blossoms
Pink cherry blossoms

What is peak bloom?

Peak bloom is reached when 70% of the buds have openedin the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin area.  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.  Timing is impacted by weather patterns.  On average, peak bloom is around the 4th of April.

The earliest peak bloom has been March 15.  The latestpeak bloom was April 18.

For 2022, peak bloom was predicted to be March 22-25.  This turned out to be very accurate.

Where can you find the peak bloom dates?

Each year, the National Park Service predicts the peak bloom dates and provides details.  You can find more information and follow the updates on their bloom watch page. 

How long do the cherry blossoms stay around?

The entire blooming period can last up to 14 days.  Some years, Mother Nature has decided not to cooperate.  If she gets angry and sends us harsh weather, the blooming period can be shorter.

Washington Monument at sunset
Washington Monument and cherry blossoms at sunset

Where can you see the cherry blossoms?

The most popular area to view the cherry blossoms is the Tidal Basin.  Beautiful cherry blossoms adorn the entire walkway along the circular route.  

It is a breathtaking stroll.  Cherry blossoms peacefully greet you on one side.  Calm waters with floating ducks and people gliding in pedal boats fill the horizon on your other side.  

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, D.C.  While exploring the city, you will find plenty of additional photo ops.  

Looking for a less touristy location?  Try the U.S. National Arboretum.  Some consider it a secret spot.  It is on the eastern edge of town and is removed from the typical tourist attractions.

People also tend to overlook Arlington National Cemetery.  There are a decent number of cherry trees in the sprawling cemetery.  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.  It is 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 areas with cherry blossoms nearby:

  • Jefferson Memorial – The domed shrine to honor Thomas Jefferson is located 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 is located 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 is located in the center of the National Mall.
  • U.S. Capitol – The Capitol Building is located on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.

SHOULD YOU GO TO WASHINGTON, D.C. TO SEE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS?

Jefferson Memorial behind cherry blossoms
View of Jefferson Memorial through cherry blossoms

Let’s explore the pros and cons of visiting Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms.

Pros

  • 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 arrival of spring – Being part of America’s largest springtime celebration is special.  Simply put, just being there made Julie and I happy.
  • Appreciation – Recognizing the short life of the cherry blossoms reminds us to appreciate the beauty in our own fleeting lives.
  • Photography – The beautiful blossoms in the foreground of historic landmarks provides an opportunity for dream shots.  The 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 – If you love nature, the cherry blossoms will warm your heart.  The trees are beautiful.  Birds are singing.  Other flowers are starting to bloom.  It is wonderful! 
  • American history – You are surrounded by American history.  It is nice to be reminded of who we 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, D.C. has a mile-long list of things to do.  There are museums, monuments, memorials and more.  There are many restaurants.  There are lots of wonderful parks where you can walk, run, play and explore.
  • Low costs – Many events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival are free and open to the public.  Washington, D.C. has many museums, monuments and memorials that are free.  You will have to cover transportation, food and lodging, but a lot of your entertainment will not cost a thing.
  • Food trucks – If you love food trucks, you have found your heaven.  During the festival, streets are lined with food trucks with nearly every food concoction under the sun.
  • Positive vibe – In a city normally dominated by heated politics, you can feel a positive vibe in the air during the festival.  It is a nice change.

Cons

  • Planning is difficult – Trying to be in Washington, D.C. for peak bloom presents serious challenges.  You can’t accurately predict the dates until about 10 days from peak bloom.  You need 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 own hours.  They are not necessarily open every day of the week.  You will need to prioritize your sightseeing accordingly.
  • Crowded – The city is packed with tourists during this time.  It is nuts!  Traffic is bad.  Pedestrians are everywhere.  This can take away some of the joy of seeing the beautiful flowers.
  • Difficulty getting great photos – It is not easy to get that perfect picture.  Did I mention it is crowded?  People are all fighting for the same space to get the same shot.  Even when you have the sweet spot, people keep walking in front of your perfect scene.  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 is fully aware that you want to go to Washington, D.C. this time of year.  They warmly welcome you with higher rates for transportation and lodging.  Still proud to be an American?
  • Unpredictable weather – Weather this time of year can be unpredictable.  It can get cold.  Rain or snow are 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 own snacks.  With a little 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 must admit that I was skeptical about going to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms.  Despite the crowds, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I love walking.  I got to do plenty of that.  I love nature.  The cherry blossoms were as advertised.  We 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.

There are so many peaceful places to walk and enjoy nature in this city.  The Tidal Basin, National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery are some of my favorites.

Washington, D.C. 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 wonderful museums.

So, for me the trip to Washington, D.C. for the cherry blossoms was worth it.  Yes, I would do it again.  Absolutely!

TIPS FOR SEEING THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS

Cherry blossoms in Tidal Basin
Cherry blossoms at Tidal Basin

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 ahead 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 seems to start getting busy around 9:00 am.  The middle of the day is very crowded.  Try to arrive around 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning if possible.  It will be less crowded.  Another option is to show up shortly before sunset.  The crowds usually thin out again late in the afternoon.  You can get some great sunset pictures.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – You will do a lot of walking.  It is important that you 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, be sure to 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 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 absolutely loves it!
  • Pack your patience pants – Know that it will be crowded.  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, D.C.

Tidal Basin and Washington Monument
Washington Monument in background of Tidal Basin

Where to start

  • Monitor the peak bloom dates.  
  • Be prepared to quickly lock down your plans when the dates are known.
  • Try to go during the week rather than on a 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, D.C.  We recommend using Expedia or Booking.com to determine your best options.

We stayed at Hampton Inn Washington, D.C./White House.  A hot breakfast is provided.  The room was clean.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  

The hotel 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.  We did find two places that we highly recommend.  One is a coffee shop.  The other is a restaurant that serves lunch and dinner.

Compass Coffee is a friendly coffee shop just a couple doors down from the Hampton Inn on H Street.  

They have a cherry blossom blend.  I had this as a pour over.  It was delicious.  The cherry notes were subtle but gave the coffee a nice flavor.

Julie had the cherry blossom cream cold brew.  It had a strong, sweet flavor of berries and cream.  She loved it.

We shared a Bethlehem bar.  It was a dense snack bar packed with oats, nuts, chocolate and caramel.  Yum!

GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar – This place blew us away.  They focus on customizable grilled cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese and craft cocktails.  They also have burgers and quesadillas.  Because we liked it so much, we had dinner there twice.

We sampled a couple different grilled cheese sandwiches and mac & cheese dishes.  Everything we tried was fresh, hot and delicious.  

Their cup of tomato soup has subtle spicy undertones.  It goes very well with the grilled cheese sandwiches.

We tried their homemade hibiscus sangria.  It was fantastic.  The wine and fruit juice flavors blended nicely.

They also make their own non-alcoholic lemonade and limeade drinks.  I particularly enjoyed the limeade which was infused with mint and ginger.

GCDC is a block away from Hampton Inn Washington, D.C./White House.  It is also just a short walk from the White House itself.

Getting around Washington, D.C.

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 great exercise.
  • Uber or Lyft – If your hotel is not within reasonable walking distance to 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.  You can find Metro stops and routes here.
  • Bikeshare – There are many bike stations throughout the city.  You can pay for a bike per trip or for a whole day.  You can find details at Capital Bikeshare.   
  • Scooters – We saw people everywhere zipping along on scooters.  You can find details about scooters here. 

Start planning now for next year

If you feel that it is too late for you to see the cherry blossoms this year, put a plan in place now for next year.  

Mark the dates on your calendar.  The 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival is expected to be March 20 through April 16.

Learn as much as you can now and use our planning guide as we get closer to next year’s festival.

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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.

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