The blooming of the cherry blossoms each year signal another springtime in DC. More than 1.5 million visitors trek to Washington, DC each year to admire the 3,000-plus trees, which are the celebrated each year in combination with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Coming off its centennial celebration, the festival represents the close bond between the United States and Japan, which started with Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s gift of the trees back in 1912.
The 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from March 20 through April 12.
Each spring, tourists from across the globe make the pilgrimage to DC in order to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms. The only thing is, there’s no guarantee that they will see the blossoms in full bloom. The National Park Service is responsible for measuring the growth of the buds of the trees, and each year it predicts the peak bloom dates (when more than 70 percent of the blossoms are fully opened). On average, the peak bloom is on April 4, but that date changes year to year. For instance, 2012’s peak bloom occurred on March 20 due to unseasonably warm weather.
The blooming period can last up to 14 days, depending on weather conditions. You can follow along on the National Park Service’s website for updates on this year’s cherry blossom blooming schedule.
The main event of the spring is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which features citywide events running throughout its three-week run. Get things started on March 20 at the Pink Tie Party—a fundraiser attended by those culinary- and cocktail-inclined flower lovers. Meanwhile, the Opening Ceremony, held March 21, is a free and favorite event to kick-off of the festival. Other popular events you won’t want to miss include the Blossom Kite Festival (March 28) Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival (April 4) and the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival (April 11). For a list of featured events, click here.
Washington, DC hotels get into the spirit of season with spring- and cherry blossom-themed room packages. When planning your stay this year, weigh the usual decisions—king-size bed or two queens, or proximity to the Tidal Basin—with exclusive bonuses, like bottles of Champagne, cherry-inspired goodie bags, cherry blossom-themed cocktails, and more. For a list of all the participating hotels, click here.
- The first donation of 2,000 trees was ordered burned to the ground by President William Howard Taft. Insects and disease had infested the gift, but after hearing about the plight of the first batch, the Japanese mayor sent another 3,020 trees to DC two years later, in 1912.
- First Lady Helen Herron Taft planted the very first tree in West Potomac Park. Many First Ladies, including Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush, have officially commemorated the blossoms. And just last year, First Lady Michelle Obama took up the cause by planting a cherry tree to mark the centennial of the blossoms, on March 27.
- One of the earliest recorded peak blooms occurred on March 15, 1990, while the latest recorded peak bloom occurred on April 18, 1958.
- The majority of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin are of the Yoshino variety. But another species, the Kwanzan, usually blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees, which gives visitors a second chance to catch the blossoms.
- You can get cherry blossom photography pointers from the pros with an on-site class. You can also check out our top spots for photographing the cherry blossoms.
Since most blossoms are around the Tidal Basin, we recommend taking Metro to the Smithsonian station stop on the Blue/Orange lines. From there it is a short walk to the Tidal Basin. Along the way you can admire the cherry blossom trees planted near the Washington Monument.
Alternatively, here are a few other methods of transportation you can utilize to make the most out of your blossom sightseeing adventures.
- Walk the sites by yourself or with a National Park Service Ranger for a free and informative experience.
- Take a bike tour around the blossoms.
- Lavish yourself in luxury while flower gazing aboard an Odyssey Cruise.
- Paddle boat yourself silly in the Tidal Basin, amid the blooming beauties lining the water’s edge.
- Hop on the Official Bus Tour of the National Cherry Blossom Festival for easy access to all the best views of the blooming flowers.