DC Cherry Blossom Season On and Off the Tidal Basin
Washington, D.C residents wait all winter to see the cherry blossoms blooming across the city. This is the first time that visitors and residents alike start to believe spring is finally on the way. While the Tidal Basin gets all of the love, and for good reason, the National Arboretum is also worth a visit if you want to avoid the crowds. The DC cherry blossom season is truly a magical time to explore the city.
Washington D.C. Tidal Basin
There is no denying the beauty of the Tidal Basin in full bloom. Ever since the Japanese gifted the city these cherry trees in 1912, visitors have flocked towards the MLK, FDR and Jefferson Memorials for a stroll under the gorgeous pink blooms. I found out the wet way that the best time to see the blooms is when it is pouring rain; not hard to do since full bloom takes place during the rainy season anyways!
Parking near the Tidal Basin when it rains is easy, because most people aren’t bothering to pop down. Parking when it is sunny can be a huge pain and next to impossible depending on the time of day you visit and what else is happening in the city that day. Take the Metro whenever possible, but avoid the metro during rush hour travel times so you aren’t squashed in with the tired government workers. Walking from your hotel or grabbing one of the Capital BikeShare bikes to get to the Tidal Basin is also a good option, unless you have kids. Sadly, the bikes do not have child seats on the back.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to get gorgeous light across the city. If that isn’t an option, just avoid high noon—early morning and late afternoon light is the best for capturing the blooms.
U.S. National Arboretum
If you want to get away from the crowds, but still see cherry blossoms when in Washington, DC, you can head to the National Arboretum on the east side of the city. This massive garden, filled with woods and grassy lawns is perfect for families with smaller children; less crowds and more room to run. There is also a driving loop for anyone who has trouble walking.
I was lucky enough to go to the Arboretum as the cherry trees grew into peek bloom season (when more than 70% of the blooms are open on a tree). Unlike the Tidal Basin, the trees are spread out across acres of fields and woodlands. It was easy to escape the minimal crowds on a weekday, although plenty of families and bloom enthusiasts do show up on the weekend. We grabbed a cherry blossom guide and map that told us where the cherry blossoms were located throughout the arboretum. An impromptu scavenger hunt ensued!
Why the U.S. National Arboretum?
The Arboretum is better known for its azalea festival, which is why this part of the city isn’t as popular as the Tidal Basin. There is enough space for everyone to spread out to get their photos with their favorite trees without crowds in the background. Parking and admittance to the arboretum are free, which makes this an ideal spot for a low-key date or picnic on the lawn. You can run or enjoy a leisurely stroll on the trails throughout the arboretum. A spot that most people don’t think to look in the arboretum is the Asian Gardens Collection, which is in bloom at the same time as the big trees next to the visitors’ center.
National Cherry Blossoms Festival
Last but not least, you need to check out the National Cherry Blossoms Festival. This celebration lasts a month and is held to remember the friendship between Japan and the U.S., and the gift of the trees the city was given. Most daily events are free, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the Blossom Kite Festival, and the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival.
No matter where you wander in DC there are likely trees in bloom. It’s easy to get caught up in the crowds and excitement of the Tidal Basin, but remember, there are other great spots to see the blooms. Every year a descendent of the Tidal Basin trees are being planted at schools and other spots across the city. Visit the Tidal Basin first and then go on a scavenger hunt in search of its’ offspring.
Where to stay during the National Cherry Blossom Festival
- Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC
- The Graham Georgetown
- Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington, DC