Seeing the DC cherry blossoms was on my bucket list as soon as I moved to the area. They’re only in bloom for about two weeks, usually from late March through early April. This year they bloomed March 20 through April 17. The famous cherry blossoms are located around the Tidal Basin, which is a reservoir between the Potomac River and Washington channel. The Tidal Basin is a popular spot year round, but it’s especially popular when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
The DC cherry trees were a gift of friendship to the United States from Japan in 1912. In Japan, they call cherry trees, “Sakura.” Since gifting the trees, the US has maintained and expanded them along the Tidal Basin. They’re cared for and monitored year round by the Department of Interior and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Japan gifted 3,000 trees to Washington DC, and you can learn more about the history here.
Unless you already live in DC proper, there is some planning involved in seeing the cherry blossoms. Here’s 5 useful tips for seeing the cherry blossoms for the first time!
1. Go Early in the Day
If you’re looking for amazing photo opportunities or just want to skip the crowds, you should go at sunrise. I follow The Trendy Señorita on Instagram, and she took some sun rise beautiful photos with the cherry blossoms. The whole Tidal Basin looked empty, and the lighting and reflection in the water was gorgeous.
I wasn’t dedicated enough to wake up super early, so I went in the afternoon, and there were tons of people. Although the views and cherry trees are absolutely beautiful, be aware that there’s a huge crowd. However, you can still get some nice photos, and the people watching is great.
2. Avoid Parking (If Possible)
There simply isn’t parking around the National Mall, and it’s difficult to find a parking spot during cherry blossom season in DC. I’ve heard people say they spent over an hour trying to find parking. If possible, I recommend taking the Metro into DC. I drove to the New Carrollton Subway Station and took the orange line straight into DC. It only costs $5 to park there for the day, as long as you load an extra $5 onto your Metro Card.
If you’re taking the Metro, the Silver, Blue, and Orange lines exit at the Smithsonian Metro stop, and it’s about a 15 minute walk to Tidal Basin from there.
Can’t avoid parking? Another option is to park for free at East Potomac Park, and you can bike (or walk) from there. It’s about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from East Potomac Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and there’s bike racks by the MLK Jr. Memorial Bookstore. I love biking in DC, and I highly recommend spending a day biking around the city.
Finally, you can also reserve parking spots in DC on SpotHero.com. However, you’ll need to reserve far in advance. The website offers a list of parking garages, and they also have an app.
3. Check the Bloom Updates
Check out the National Park Service Instagram or website to see live bloom updates. I checked this before visiting, to make sure the blooms were at their peak. It’s also fun to watch the posts, and it builds the excitement leading up to your visit. Be sure to tag your photos because you might end up featured on their Instagram.
4. Find the Best Views & Photo Spots
As I mentioned above, the cherry blossoms are located around the Tidal Basin. I entered through the MLK Jr. Memorial and walked around the basin from there. There’s a beautiful view of the Jefferson Memorial from MLK Jr. Memorial Park, which is my favorite photo spot. You can also get a nice shot of the Washington Monument from this side of the basin. Here’s a detailed article with other great photo spots.
5. Check out the Cherry Blossom Festival Events
The Cherry Blossom Festival includes 4 weeks of events, including an opening ceremony, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the Blossom Kite Festival, Petalpalooza, and a Pink Tie Dinner Party.
All of the events honor Japanese culture, from the Japanese traditional music at the opening ceremony, to the sushi served at the Pink Tie Dinner Event. The Blossom Kite Festival takes place around the Washington Monument, and it’s free to the public. There’s also fireworks and live music at Petalpalooza. You can check out the festival website here, to learn more about each event.