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Springtime is here, and in the District, that brings both cherry blossoms and swarming tourists coming to view the flowers in all their glory. This year, the National Park Service predicts peak bloom—meaning 70 percent of the Yoshino Cherry trees blossoming—will occur from March 22 to 25.
It’s a big year for the blossoms: 2022 marks the 110th anniversary of Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifting 3,000 cherry trees to the District, and it’s also the 95th year of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. And, after a two-year hiatus, the festival will finally return to being fully in-person. (But if you’d rather stay safe by staying home, you can still catch the flowers via the #BloomCam, a 24/7, live, real-time view of the Tidal Basin trees.)
Celebrated across four weeks, the festival brings more than 1.5 million people from all over, making it one of the region’s most popular events. Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, confirms it isn’t just for tourists. “It’s evolved to celebrate beyond the Tidal Basin, through food and cuisine, entertainment and culture,” she says.
To help festival newbs, or those who haven’t left their homes in two years, City Paper has your need-to-know guide with everything from notable events, transportation, and parade 101.
There’s a parade?
Yes. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival parade is one of the most popular events in D.C. This year, it will be held on April 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. Expect the route to extend along Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 17th streets NW. For the best seats in the house, reserved grandstand seating can be purchased for $30.
If you prefer standing (for free) along the streets, Mayhew recommends posting up between 9th and 17th streets NW for the best views. Can’t make it? ABC7 will broadcast the event on April 17 at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
How should I get to the festival—i.e., the Tidal Basin—during these four weeks?
The best advice when it comes to driving in D.C. during the festival is: don’t.
Do not drive to the festival or Tidal Basin. Unless you’re planning on a pre-sunrise joyride, there’s no reason to drive—and even if you do drive in early, it’ll be difficult to leave with all the expected road closures. Parking will be scant.
Water taxi is also an option. It offers docking locations at the Wharf’s Transit Pier, 950 Wharf St. SW; Georgetown at 3100 K St. NW; Alexandria City Marina at 0 Cameron St. in Alexandria, and National Harbor at 145 National Plaza. Reservations can be made online or in person.
Capital Bikeshare is a great backup plan, especially for the parade. Several stations can be found near the route, including one at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW and another at 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. Use the website or app for a map of all nearby stations and bike availability.
What events should I be excited about?
Petal Porches brings a pop of color to the region by inspiring residents to decorate their homes through April 17.
The Blossom Kite Festival on March 26 is a long-standing, free tradition in the nation’s capital where people from all across the region can participate by flying kites. On the grounds of the Washington Monument, kids and adults can compete on the designs of their handmade and flown kites. Several other parks host kite programming as well, including Palisades Recreation Field, Takoma Recreation Field, and Marvin Gaye Recreation Center, among others.
On April 3, National Harbor hosts its annual Sakura Sunday Festival, which will run from noon to 6 p.m.
Billed as the largest celebration of Japanese culture in the U.S., Sakura Matsuri on April 9 and 10, is an unmissable event. The Japanese street festival first started in 1960 as a community bazaar by the Japan-America Society of Washington DC. Since then, it has become a premier event, with up to 40,000 people attending in a single day, according to the JASWDC’s Olivia Kent. The event includes activities, a Ginza Marketplace (with Japanese home goods, accessories, and artworks), a culinary arts stage, and Kirin Beer Gardens and Hakutsuru Sake Tasting Pavilion. Several food vendors will serve traditional Japanese snacks including takoyaki, onigiri, yakisoba, and more. Find it on Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 7th streets NW. $10–$70 depending on the package.
In Alexandria, the Torpedo Factory’s Cherry Blossom Jubilee takes place on April 10 from noon to 3 p.m. with a live performance by taiko drum group Nen Daiko.
Petalpalooza on April 16 is a free daylong event at the Capitol Riverfront with live music, interactive art installations, a beer garden, and family-friendly activities. A 15-minute choreographed fireworks show starts at 8:30 p.m.
For those who want to nosh and tear up the floor, the Pink Tie Dinner Party on April 28 is perfect for bites, a cocktail reception featuring a sushi and sake tasting, and dishes crafted by TCMA executive chef Houman Gohary. Dancing and a silent auction resume after dinner. Don’t forget to don your pink attire! $250.
Enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms through ARTECHOUSE’s immersive art installation, PIXELBLOOM. The main immersion gallery hosts a 22-minute audiovisual installation. This fifth annual spring-inspired exhibition is open to all ages through May 30.
Art in Bloom, the festival’s community-wide visual arts exhibition, will scatter cherry blossom statues painted by local artists across all eight wards as well as National Harbor and Northern Virginia’s Aurora Highlands and National Landing neighborhoods through May 31.
Where can I see the flowers but avoid tourists?
If you want to enjoy the cherry blossoms without worrying about crowds, consider the following sites: East Potomac Park, Hains Point, the National Arboretum, the Dumbarton Oaks gardens, Anacostia Park, and Maryland’s Kenwood neighborhood.
If you brave the Tidal Basin, avoid weekend visits.
Carolyn Muraskin, owner of DC Design Tours, also hosts cherry blossom history tours available at the Tidal Basin and in Cleveland Park. Muraskin recommends them for tourists and residents, but the latter option is best for avoiding massive crowds. $20–$35.
Will I need a permit to take photos of the cherry blossoms?
Probably not. You can definitely snap a few selfies by the blossoms without one.
The National Park Service requires film and photography permits for shoots that would impact park resources or the visitor experience. “Low-impact” filming activities—aka “outdoor filming activities in areas open to the public, except areas managed as wilderness, involving five people or less, and equipment that will be carried at all times, except for small tripods used to hold cameras”—don’t require a special use permit, regardless of use.
Professionals planning on a photography shoot need to submit an application in person or via mail. Filming and photography are not permitted within restricted areas: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (without copyright approval), Korean War Veteran Memorial, above the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Stone of Hope section of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, within the outer columns of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Apex, within the circle of flags at the Washington Monument, and in front of the gold stars at the World War II Memorial.
If you’re tempted to use a drone, don’t do it. The Federal Aviation Administration has designated D.C. a no drone zone.
Finally, always remember you can look at the cherry blossoms, but do not touch them. It’s not only rude to climb, pick, or break the branches of the trees—it’s also illegal.
What cherry blossom–inspired food and cocktails are being offered locally?
Enjoy a buzzy beverage from Café Georgetown with their cherry blossom latte. The light pink drink offers a tart cherry flavor with steamed milk and two shots of espresso, topped with pink flowers. Compass Coffee is also selling a Cherry Blossom Blend with flavors of cherry and vanilla, and their perfectly pink Cherry Blossom Cream Cold Brew—made with homemade cherry blossom syrup, cream, or any milk option, and their house nitro cold brew—is also available.
If you prefer tea, the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel has Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea with spring teas, sandwiches, and seasonally inspired pastries in tow. Likewise, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel offers Sakura Pink Empress Afternoon Tea with a choice of rosé or one of two boozy teas, the Chamomile Teani or the Pink Coconut Chai.
For a sweet treat, consider Ice Cream Jubilee’s seasonal flavor Cherries Jubilee. The ice cream is layered with black cherries, a splash of brandy, and dark chocolate stracciatella chips.
Alexandria’s the Majestic, Mia’s Italian Kitchen, and Hi-Tide Lounge are all serving a Cherry Blossom Sangria with brut rosé, blanc vermouth, cherry juice, and orange flower water, available for dine-in and takeout.
Lost Boy Cider in Alexandria is also celebrating the spring season with their “March Explorer Series” Cherry Blossom hard cider. It’s sugar- and gluten-free, with flavors of cherry and jasmine.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from March 20 to April 17. nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.