Last April, when Nashville’s ice-tinged days finally gave way to springy weather and daffodils the color of egg yolks, my sisters and I packed our bags and headed to Washington, D.C. for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Attending the Cherry Blossom Festival had been on my bucket list for years, but it was even more magical than I anticipated. The museum-dotted gridlock of D.C. had been transformed into a living personification of spring. Pastel pink blossoms stretched as far as the eye could see, looking like something out of a fairytale. As the sun slunk behind the gleaming monuments, we moseyed around the memorials and admired the blossoms' reflections in the Tidal Basin. D.C. was ablaze with the sights and sounds and smells of springtime, as if the entire city was breathing a collective sigh of relief because the winter blizzards had finally given way to a blizzard of blossoms.
The festival’s origins date back to 1912, when Yukio Ozaki—mayor of Tokyo—gifted 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington, D.C. as a tangible reminder of the enduring friendship between Japan and the United States. Over a century later, Ozaki’s generous gift is commemorated with one of America’s most anticipated springtime celebrations. Each year, around 1.5 million guests descend upon D.C. to see the blooms and participate in a myriad of activities. This year’s festival spans four weekends (March 20-April 17, 2016). It's a must-visit destination for anyone who loves history, springtime, and cherry blossoms.(nationalcherryblossomfestival.org)
When to go: Peak season varies slightly from year to year, but around 70% of the blossoms are usually open by the beginning of April. We went over the weekend of April 10-12 last year and it ended up being the perfect time to glimpse the full spectrum.
Where to see the blooms: Start at the Tidal Basin, a partially man-made reservoir in D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Stretching between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel, the picturesque lakeshore is peppered with cherry trees. Walk along the Tidal Basin and the shoreline of East Potomac Park to find the most cherry trees. This route offers great photo opportunities near the Jefferson Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Although most of the blossoms are on this route, smaller clusters can be found at the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The National Park Service’s Cherry Blossom Festival map is a must-have resource.
What to do: Plan to spend at least a few hours just walking around and soaking in the sights. Consider packing a picnic lunch to enjoy on the National Mall lawn. Festival activities include the Opening Ceremony (March 26); the Kite Blossom Festival on the National Mall (April 2); and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (April 16). Budget time to visit the White House, see the Smithsonian, or tour the Pentagon while you’re there.