The Best Of The Cherry Blossom Festival

David Hatef

The Cherry Blossom Festival is underway, with peak blooms expected between April 8-12. While an expected 1.5 million visitors will flood the city around those dates, locals know that cherry blossom season is best experienced from the first blush of color as winter says goodbye, to the soft rain of petals as summer arrives.

Almost impossible to imagine given the sprawling, week-long festivities of the modern Festival, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was a single day ceremony. On March 27, 1912 First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted two of the 3,000 cherry trees gifted to the United States by Tokyo’s Mayor, Ukio Ozaki. This modest ceremony could hardly have known that even ten years later, the cherry blossoms would be so fundamental to the nation’s capital that the festival would be a week-long affair, and then eighty years later become a month-long event.

This year’s Opening Ceremony was held March 18, but that was only the beginning of the Festival, which doubles as a welcome to spring after a long and particularly harsh winter as well as a cultural festival celebrating the friendship between Japan and the United States.

While the Tidal Basin hosts the Welcome Area, with visitor services, food, souvenirs, and park rangers available to answer questions, those who want to avoid the crush can find blossoms all over the city. Pockets of the trees can be found along the National Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial, and around the Washington Monument. For those looking to take the perfect photo, or admire further from the crowds, a trip to the National Arboretum, Anacostia Park, Dumbarton Oaks, Stanton Park, and Oxon Run Park may offer a quieter view of the beautiful pink blooms.

Families won’t want to miss the seventh annual Blossom Kite Festival on March 31, or Petalpalooza on April 7.  The 20th Annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk will happen on April 6th, commemorating the experiences of Japanese Americans during the World War II, and the Japanese Culture Day at Library of Congress on April 7th.

Restaurants and hotels around the city will also be hosting their own local events, and you never know what you might find, from a sake-tasting event to a Japanese calligraphy class, as you walk the streets of the city.

The festival will wrap up on April 14th with the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade which runs 10 blocks along Constitution Ave NW. Huge helium balloons, live musical performances, and elaborate floats make this the most popular part of the Festival for good reason. Once the parade is over, be sure not to miss out on Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Street Festival which be held on Pennsylvania Ave from 3rd to 7th Streets NW. More than 80 cultural groups, art venters, food booths, and 30+ hours of total programming are planned

​​​​​​​For more information about programming, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website.


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