My kids just had their 10th snow day this winter, and several inches of white stuff still blanket my yard. Today I am dreaming of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which begins in Washington D.C. in just two weeks. The festival runs from March 20-April 13, 2014, with the cherry blossoms expected to reach peak bloom sometime between April 8-12.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a huge celebration of spring, drawing around 1.5 million visitors to Washington D.C. Check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival website for details on the opening ceremony, kite festival, and the festival parade scheduled for April 12.
What is the best way to enjoy the cherry blossoms? On foot! Here are my insider tips for how to celebrate spring and enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Take your kids to the National Kite Festival.
The kite festival takes place on Saturday, March 29, 2014. This event is so easy for families! We went down early in the morning and found street parking, but the festivities run all day. We loved getting an early start and flying our kites near the Washington Monument before the sky got crowded. As the morning wore on, the sky filled with hundreds of kites, including some pretty amazing trick kites we all loved watching.
If you go early, dress warmly. We were colder than we thought we would be at 9:00 a.m. on a spring morning. We wished we had hats and mittens.
Watch for peak bloom time carefully.
My favorite bloom watch website posts daily updates with pictures. The peak bloom time can last as few as two or three days or as long as a week. If you want to see the cherry blossoms at their peak, watch the forecast carefully. A strong rain or wind storm can pull most of the blossoms off the trees, so watch the weather.
The cherry blossoms start as white as popcorn, turning pink as they mature. Toward the end of the blossoms, you will find trees filled with pink blossoms and small, new green leaves.
These two pictures were taken exactly one week apart.
Check Out the Paddle Boats
Paddle boat rentals on the Tidal Basin are a popular way to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Find reservation information here. Online reservations begin March 15 this year.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds
If your goal is amazing family pictures with the cherry blossoms, you need to go EARLY. Weekends are the most crowded, but I’ve been during the day on a weekday and walked through areas so crowded it was hard to navigate my stroller. Crowds also tend to thin later in the evening, but the early morning hours are definitely the calmest.
I love to drive into Washington D.C., but unless you love walking and plan to do plenty of it, this outing would be easier on the Metro. Ride to the Smithsonian station (orange/blue line) and it is a short walk to the Tidal Basin.
If you decide to drive, which I still usually do, head toward Ohio Dr. and follow the signs for the Cherry Blossom parking. Street parking is available along Ohio Dr. all the way to Hains Point. The walk toward the Tidal Basin along the Potomac is lined with beautiful cherry trees and is far less crowded than the Tidal Basin. However, wear your walking shoes because you might walk well over a mile before you even arrive at the Tidal Basin.
I have sometimes lucked out and found a parking space quickly, and other times circled for twenty minutes before finding an open spot.
Is a Cherry Blossom Cruise worth it?
Knowing how much I love spring and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, my husband surprised me with a Groupon purchase to do a cherry blossom cruise. In theory, this is a brilliant date night. But since these cruises are popular (there are several options, and many offer deals in the spring), you need to reserve your spot early. We looked at the forecast in 2013 and booked our cruise during the peak forecasted blossom time. But as our cruise date dawned, this is what the cherry blossoms looked like:
The trees blossomed three days later than their estimated peak time in 2013, so we were out of luck.
If you do decide to try a cruise, you should know that the cruise is along the Potomac river, not inside the Tidal Basin so you won’t see the trees up close. Our cruise was crowded–not enough seats, people blocking your view, etc. I would highly recommend walking around the Tidal Basin instead of wasting money on a cruise if you truly want to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
However you choose to enjoy this celebration of spring, don’t miss the National Cherry Blossom Festival.