Cherry blossoms transform the greater DC area every Spring, but nothing compares to the Tidal Basin during Peak Bloom! It is definitely worth a trip to see the famous National Cherry Blossom Festival and the trees around the Tidal Basin. The trees were a gift of friendship from the people of Japan in 1912. Since then, the annual explosion of color and blooms around the Tidal Basin signals the beginning of Spring in Washington DC.
Growing up in the DC area, Danny and I took this magnificent spring display for granted. After years of living in Hawaii, we were back in DC for a visit and were blown away by the blossoms. The sweet smell, delicate petals floating in the breeze and the Tidal Basin awash in pink, we had somehow forgotten how spectacular it is to stand amongst this living history. If you want to learn more about the history of the cherry blossoms in DC the National Park Service has a timeline of events and information about the different varieties.
Keep reading for 14 ways to enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival this year!
tips for visiting the National Cherry Blossoms
First things first: the peak bloom and the National Cherry Blossom Festival are not the same thing. What do I mean? Peak bloom is when you experience the most trees with the most open blooms. It is the most stunning display of the National Cherry Blossoms. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual celebration of cherry blossoms. Join residents and visitors in a series of organized events and activities around DC.
If you plan your visit based on the events of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, you may not see peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Luckily, there are nerdy (like me!) plant lovers at the National Park Service who predict the peak bloom, which makes your visit much easier to plan. The Peak Bloom Prediction this year is April 2 – 5, 2021. Get the most up to date Peak Bloom Predictions for the Tidal Basin from the National Park Service HERE.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a family friendly celebration that usually begins mid March. You can get annual updates on the family friendly festivities of the National Cherry Blossom Festival on their site. The Tidal Basin Welcome Area of The National Cherry Blossom Festival may not be open this year to ensure visitor safety, but the festival will run from March 20 through April 11, 2021 amidst the sea of pink and white blossoms.
As with everything in our COVID reality, please confirm all details of events and current guidelines before making plans.
the National Cherry Blossoms for Visitors
If you are planing a visit from out of town the biggest piece of advice is PLAN AHEAD!
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is one of our city’s most popular events which means tickets, accommodations and reservations are often sold out in advance. If seeing peak bloom is on your bucket list, plan to be in the District for two days prior to peak bloom and stay for the full three days of peak bloom prediction. There is a caveat to this, keep watching the peak bloom updates. The weather can drastically change the predictions. Also keep in mind that weekends during the festival are busier than midweek.
Once you have your dates booked be sure you check out all of the National Cherry Blossom Festival events going on so you don’t miss anything. We also LOVE the ranger programs by the National Park Service. You can download the Junior Ranger book HERE and once it is complete, visit the Tidal Basin Welcome Area for your littles to collect their Junior Ranger Badge.
Booking refundable accommodations is a BONUS!
It is always a balancing act between deals and flexibility when booking travel, but keep in mind that the peak bloom predictions are more accurate the closer we get. If you can book something with a lenient refund or rescheduling policy it is a plus.
THE NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOMS FOR local Residents
We are spoiled. This national treasure is literally in our backyard. We have more flexibility when planning our visits to the National Cherry Blossom Festival around our regular life schedule. But just like any other local attraction, it is easy to get complacent or busy and think ‘I’ll go next year’.
Don’t miss the cherry blossom festivities and PLAN AHEAD!
Go ahead and add all the local events to your calendar now. This way you will be less likely to be too busy to do any of the family friendly events. If you haven’t experienced peak bloom yet, or don’t want to miss it this year, add it to your calendar too. I keep my calendar very light during the Cherry Blossom Festival which makes last minute or shorter trips easier to squeeze in. I have been known to drop my kids at preschool and drive directly to the Tidal Basin to soak up some solo time during peak bloom so be creative and flexible with your trips.
If you know you can’t do the sporadic trips to see peak bloom you can also enjoy all of the pre-planned events including the opening ceremony, parade and kite festival. You can also plan a day to go to the Tidal Basin for one of the ranger programs by the National Park Service. The NPS offers some amazing tours or you can download the Junior Ranger book HERE and once it is complete, visit the Tidal Basin Welcome Area for your littles to collect their Junior Ranger Badge.
tips for Families
Our kids have responded differently to the blossoms every year. It is usually a mixed bag. With three young kids, we joke that at any given time one of them needs something. We don’t let that stop us from enjoying the blossoms as a family. To be prepared for a trip to the Tidal Basin consider the following:
The National Park Service has awesome maps to help you plan your transportation to the Tidal Basin. If you are planning to drive, which a lot of parents prefer, we recommend planning 2 parking options. There is very limited street parking available along Ohio Drive SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. You can alternatively park on the other side of the mall and visit more of the monuments on your way to the Tidal Basin. With rental scooters becoming more common in the District we sometimes prefer to have the ease of parking over proximity. There are also 3 lots with limited spaces along Ohio Drive SW between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Buckeye Drive SW.
If you have a mission it usually makes it more fun for the kids. It can be hard to explain to the littles why they can’t climb on the trees or pick the blossoms off. Being a botanist myself, I explain every year that the trees are sensitive so we are going to walk like ninjas near them and remind them that the blossoms are for looking at. To keep the kids entertained, you can schedule a ranger program, download the Junior Ranger packet or create your own DIY Blossom Secret Mission. Our girls have liked trying to find ‘the perfect blossom’ on the ground. Since the petals fall off so easily, it is not as easy as it sounds which keeps them busy. We also like to bring our binoculars and cameras with us. Our kids observe and document all the beauty we are asking them not to touch.
Going to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms with kids is great because it has a paved path and several places to sit and rest. If you’re in doubt, bring the stroller. Now that might seem crazy since I already told you the Tidal Basin will be swarmed with crowds for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, but we thought it was easier to keep track of our wee little ones in the mayhem of blossom mania. There are bathrooms at West Potomac Park, Franklin Delano Rosevelt Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
The West Potomac Park and East Potomac Park both have some grassy areas to spread out a blanket for a picnic. If you prefer not to walk to see the blossoms, the Cherry Blossom Shuttle is $1 and runs from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial around Haines Point and has 11 stops along the way. There is not a ton of reliable food options, especially for families so we always bring snacks. There are sometimes food trucks or carts along Ohio Drive SW and food is available at East Potomac Park.
Above all, the National Cherry Blossoms are a splendid sight, so however and whenever you can, go and experience it for yourself. Let your kids stand in a shower of petals falling softly on their faces as they squeal with delight and if you take any pictures please share them with me (@theadvfam) because they make my heart jubilant.
14 Ways to Step Into Spring With the National Cherry Blossom Festival March 20-April 11 2021
- Go on a Blossom Hunt. Head out on a search for the 25 giant Art in Bloom sculptures, painted by 25 talented local artists and installed in various locations across Washington, D.C., and in Maryland’s National Harbor and Virginia’s Aurora Hill and National Landing neighborhoods. Strike a pose, take a photo, and post it to Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #ArtInBloom – anytime starting March 20. Art in Bloom is presented by Amazon.
- Prettify your porch! Get into the spirit of spring by decorating your porch, yard, window, or balcony with all things spring for the Petal Porch Parade. Register on the Petal Porch Parade web page and then challenge your friends and neighbors to a friendly DIY design challenge. Install your creative design by March 20 and then plan a walk or drive around your community to see how others have brought the celebration of spring to their homes through Petal Porch Parade. Petal Porch Parade is presented by Amazon.
- Welcome spring in a special way. Don’t miss the Opening Ceremony, an artistic celebration of the 1912 gift of trees from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., and annual tribute to the longstanding friendship between Japan and the U.S. The one-of-a-kind production will be live streamed on March 20 at 6:00 p.m. ET. It will be co-hosted by Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic gold medalist, and Michelle Marsh, journalist with ABC 7 (WJLA), and feature special performances from acclaimed artists with ties to both countries, plus narration from Festival dignitaries. The Opening Ceremony is co-presented by The Japan Foundation.
- Party with your pod! Gather your inner circle of friends and family for a fun evening of food, drink, fashion, entertainment, and more at the 2021 Pink Tie Party on March 26 – supporting D.C. area restaurants. This much loved annual social event has been reimagined for a virtual platform. You might be sitting in your living room, but you’ll be dressed to the nines, interacting with other partygoers, dining on a festive three-course dinner from a top local restaurant, entertained by top-notch local musicians, participating in a lively silent auction, and enjoying a sake tasting presented by sake samurai. Pink Tie Party is sponsored by Amazon and Events DC.
- Find a new favorite restaurant. Choose from more than 170 restaurants across Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia participating in Cherry Picks, starting March 20. With loads of dynamic food and drink choices, plus takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining options, there’s something for everyone. Try some new restaurants or support a couple of old favorites. Cherry Picks is presented with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
- Let’s go fly a kite! Make or buy a kite and join in the longstanding spring tradition of kite flying in your backyard or neighborhood park through Blossom Kite Fly anytime on March 27 or March 28. Get prepared with virtual kite-making workshops and videos of world-class kite flying demonstrations from Wings Over Washington Kite Club. Then, show everyone how you soared by sharing photos and videos on social media using the #BlossomKiteFly and #StepIntoSpring hashtags. Blossom Kite Fly is presented by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.
- Flaunt your furry best friend. The first annual Paws & Petals Parade will give dog owners the opportunity to have Fido included as part of an entertaining virtual parade that will be posted to the Festival’s Instagram Story on April 3. People in the Washington, D.C., area and beyond can submit short videos of their dogs walking, prancing, doing tricks, and donning costumes for the chance to be featured in the Paws & Petals Parade video. The full gallery of submissions will be available for viewing on the Festival’s website after the Instagram debut. Paws & Petals Parade is presented by Mars Petcare, part of Mars, Incorporated.
- Tune in to the Celebration Show. This nationally syndicated variety entertainment show will bring the spirit of spring and the 2021 Festival into your living room. Co-hosted by Drew Barrymore and ABC 7’s Alison Starling, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Celebration Show will feature an all-star lineup of performances and special appearances, including Amy Grant, CeCe Winans, Norm Lewis, Samantha Diaz, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Rachael Ray. It will premiere on GATHER by Events DC on April 9; air locally on WJLA-TV (ABC 7) on April 10 and WJLA 24/7 News on April 11; and syndicate nationally throughout April, May, and June. The National Cherry Blossom Festival Celebration Show is presented by Events DC.
- Be amazed by your City in Bloom! Starting March 20, the D.C. region will be covered in all things “pink” and “cherry blossoms” to welcome spring in a big and beautiful way. Think pink lighting in windows, cherry blossom decals on storefronts and taxis, and floral projections across buildings. The District and surrounding areas, including National Harbor in Maryland and Mosaic District and National Landing in Virginia, will come to life through City in Bloom. Keep your eyes open for those beloved blossoms!
- Look out for parading art vehicles. The neighborhoods with the densest number of decorated Petal Porch Parade homes could be chosen for the inaugural Petal Procession on April 10 and April 11. Ten TOYOTA vehicles — all uniquely painted by local artists – will bring lots of springtime cheer as they roll through the community. Petal Procession is presented by Amazon and supported by Chase and TOYOTA.
- Get the kids involved. There are plenty of ways for young people to step into spring, including the Blossom Kids interactive website and the Girl Scouts’ Gift of Trees Patch Program. And, with most 2021 Festival activities, programs, and virtual events being family-friendly – from Art in Bloom and Blossom Kite Fly, to Petal Porch Parade and Petal Procession – kids will have lots of opportunities to celebrate spring. Also, don’t miss the Student Art Showcase, featuring creative masterpieces from D.C. public and charter school students. After the Virtual Gallery Opening on March 30, all submissions plus commentary from D.C. arts leaders and Patrick Guyton, the 2021 official artist, will be viewable on the Student Art Showcase website. Blossom Kids and Student Art Showcase are presented by Chase.
- Bookmark the Bloom Watch page. The leading destination for virtual “bloom watchers,” Bloom Watch is the go-to source for official updates about peak bloom, with details about the bloom stages and a link to National Park Service’s #BloomCam. Now, Bloom Watch will include new virtual ways for you to see the beloved cherry trees along the Tidal Basin and experience their peak bloom from anywhere – an on-demand virtual tour by National Park Service rangers and a 360-degree “bike ride” experience around East Potomac Park.
- See the official artwork in person! The official 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival artwork created by Patrick Guyton is on public view at Macy’s Metro Center through April 11. The piece is artfully displayed in a window showcase, so you can see its intricacies and feels its emotion. Guyton beautifully captured the energy and colors of the Tidal Basin in springtime, with a metallic, reflective spiraling vortex of cherry blossoms set against the backdrop of the Washington Monument. To create the piece, he merged gold and silver leafing techniques from the 14th century with contemporary creative methods to develop his signature style, which he describes as “gilded modernism.”
- Treat yourself! Head to the Festival’s online gift shop to check out 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorative items – from face masks, magnets, and the 2021 official National Cherry Blossom poster, to tote bags, earrings, and coloring books. There’s nothing that doesn’t look great paired with a cherry blossom!