Your Ultimate Guide to Seeing Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossoms

by Pam @ East by Midwest
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Peak bloom of Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms is one of those rare events that draws both tourists and locals with equal enthusiasm.

Every spring, these spectacular trees attract people from around the world to experience the blossoms in person.

And no matter how far you have to travel to Washington, DC to see the blooms – believe me, it’s worth it.

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for almost 15 years now and still look forward to peak bloom of the cherry blossoms every year.

Over the years, I’ve learned a number of lessons to improve my cherry blossom experience. I’ve listed these lessons below so that you can have the best possible cherry blossom experience. It’s an incredible event well worth the trip to Washington, DC.

What are cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms are the spring-time flowers that bloom on cherry blossom trees.

The blossoms bathe the tree branches in beautiful white and pink colors.

Where is the best place to see the cherry blossoms?

In Washington, DC, the best place to see the cherry blossom trees is along the Tidal Basin by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Cherry blossom trees were first planted there in 1912 as a gift from the City of Tokyo to the City of Washington, DC.

Over time, more cherry blossom trees have been planted in the adjacent East Potomac Park and next to the nearby Washington Monument.

What time of year can you see peak bloom?

In Washington, DC, peak bloom of the cherry blossoms usually takes place sometime during the last week of March and the first week of April and can last up to a week.

However, colder or warmer weather can delay or speed up peak bloom in unpredictable ways.

The National Park Service provides predictions of when peak bloom will occur, but warns that predictions are almost impossible more than 10 days in advance of peak bloom. You can see current predictions and past peak bloom dates here.

While many of the trees bloom at the same time, there are plenty of trees that bloom before and after peak bloom. If you come sometime during those two weeks in March and April, you’ll see several cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

What time of day/week should you visit the cherry blossoms?

Since peak bloom of the cherry blossoms lasts only about a week, you can expect a lot of crowds.

To avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is on a weekday morning. After that, I’d recommend around sunset on weekday evenings.

The busiest times are early afternoon/evening on weekdays and on weekends.

However, if those are the only times you can go, I still recommend making the trip. The Tidal Basin is about two miles around and there are plenty of less crowded areas if you stay patient and keep walking.

The areas around the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Martin Luther King, Junior Memorial are a little less crowded and offer the opportunity to visit those memorials.

What activities can you do?

  • Walk around the Tidal Basin: One of my favorite spring activities is simply just walking around the Tidal Basin to take in the cherry blossoms. The Tidal Basin is about two miles around, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes (that you’ve already broken in).
  • Take lots of pictures and videos: The cherry blossoms are worthy of lots of pictures and videos. Take your time walking around the Tidal Basin to stop for lots of photo-ops and videos.
  • Bike tour: Take in the cherry blossoms and the monuments with a bike tour. It’s a great way to see both the cherry blossoms and the monuments. Plus, there aren’t a lot of Park Rangers or guides around the Tidal Basin, so going on a tour gives you access to a guide who can answer your questions.
  • See the memorials around the Tidal Basin: In addition to the cherry blossom trees, the Tidal Basin is home to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Junior Memorial. Take some time to stop and enjoy each of these memorials.
  • Boat cruise: Check out Washington, DC from the Potomac River with a boat cruise. While you won’t see a lot of cherry blossom trees from the river, you will get a great view of the monuments.
  • Paddleboat: If walking around the Tidal Basin isn’t enough exercise for you, jump into a paddleboat for a view of the cherry blossoms from the water.

What type of weather should you expect?

Like many areas, spring can be unpredictable in Washington, DC. A warm, sunny day can quickly turn into a cold, rainy day.

Keep updated on the weather before and during your trip to make sure you’re prepared for the possible weather scenarios.

See my “what should you bring” tips below to help you dress and prepare for the weather.

What food options are available?

Food options around the Tidal Basin are pretty limited. If you’re planning on spending an extended time at the Tidal Basin, bring your own snacks and water.

Afterwards, you can walk to the National Mall to eat at one of the Smithsonian Cafes or head east to the Wharf to get some seafood at the outdoor seafood market.

What facilities are available?

There are three memorials around the Tidal Basin – the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Junior Memorial. All three have restroom facilities.

During peak times, you’ll also find port-a-potties near the paddleboat rental.

However, it’s quite a walk to each of these locations, so plan ahead when considering restroom breaks.

What should you bring with you?

Here are the things I recommend that you bring with you to make your experience more enjoyable:

Gear & Accessories

  • Light-weight backpack: I’m always surprised to see people lugging around gigantic, heavy backpacks or bags at the Tidal Basin. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking and carrying that much weight can be tiresome. Give yourself a break by bringing only what’s necessary.
  • Umbrella: Rain is a regular threat during spring in Washington, DC. Prepare for it by bringing along an umbrella.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen is always your friend, no matter what the temperature. Make sure to lather on before you leave for the Tidal Basin and re-apply throughout the day.
  • Video recorder: I take my GoPro with me everywhere. There are just some events (like peak bloom of the cherry blossom!) that are difficult to capture on photo alone. Check out my video of the cherry blossoms here!
  • Decent camera: Most phones take very good pictures now. But if you’ve been thinking about upgrading to a point and shoot or DSLR camera, do it before visiting the cherry blossoms. The blooms are great for practicing new photography skills.
  • Portable charger: You’re going to be using up a lot of battery with all the pictures you’ll be taking. But you won’t find many outlets around the Tidal Basin. Pack a portable charger to recharge your devices on the go.
  • Refillable water bottle: You’ll find some water fountains around the Tidal Basin. Take advantage of them by bringing a refillable water bottle.
  • Snacks: There aren’t a lot of food options around the Tidal Basin. Bring snacks like granola bars and fruit so that you don’t run out of energy too early.
  • Lots of patience: At the Tidal Basin, you’ll encounter a lot of people, taking lots of pictures, all walking around the same narrow path. You’ll need a lot of patience to navigate the Tidal Basin during peak bloom of the cherry blossoms.

Clothing

It’s usually pretty chilly for some of the days when the cherry blossoms are in peak bloom. Plan on bringing some cold-weather attire for your trip.

  • Warm jacket: During the spring, I like to wear packable coats like this one so that I can easily pack it down into my backpack as it warms up over the day.
  • Warm hat: A warm hat does amazing things when it comes to keeping you warm. Make sure to bring one along.
  • Sunglasses: The sun can be pretty bright around the cherry blossom trees, especially reflecting off the Tidal Basin. Bring some shades to give your eyes some relief.
  • Gloves: You’re going to be taking lots of pictures. Bring some touchscreen-friendly gloves so that you don’t have to take off your gloves to take pictures.
  • Comfortable shirt: Wear a shirt that will be comfortable under a warm coat and also comfortable on its own as the day starts to warm up and you shed the coat.
  • Warm pants: These fleece-lined leggings were total game changers for me. The comfort of a legging, but warm enough to wear on their own in the winter? Sold!
  • Comfortable shoes: You’re going to be doing a lot of walking to see the cherry blossoms. Wear shoes that you’ve already broken in and that you know are comfortable.
  • Comfortable boots: If your feet tend to get cold, wear comfortable boots instead of shoes so that you’re warm throughout the day.

What should you leave at home?

Space is very limited on the walkways around the cherry blossoms. Leave behind things that take up a lot of space, like big strollers or bags. You may find it difficult to get to certain places if you’re navigating with these bulky items.

You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so leave anything that isn’t a necessity back at your hotel or at home.

What transportation options are available?

  • Metro: The Smithsonian Metro station is the closest Metro station to the Tidal Basin. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the station to the Tidal Basin. Walk past the Washington Monument to see cherry blossoms there before heading to the Tidal Basin.
  • Circulator Bus: The Circulator bus is one of the best ways to get around the Tidal Basin area. It’s clean, runs on schedule, and only costs $1 for adults. You can see the bus route here.
  • Bike Rental: There are several places where you can rent a bike around the Tidal Basin and the monuments. Check out a map of bike rental locations here.
  • Uber/Lyft/Cab: The Tibal Basin attracts a big crowd during peak bloom and with that crowd comes a lot of traffic. If you opt for an Uber, Lyft, or cab ride, get dropped off at the Washington Monument. The remaining 5-10 minute walk to the Tibal Basin will be faster (and more enjoyable) on foot.
  • Scooter Rental: When you visit Washington, DC, you may see several people on rented electric scooters. If you’re interested in using electric scooters, download the apps for the Lime and/or Bird scooters. The apps will let you know if there is an available scooter near your location.
  • Driving: Driving should be your absolute last option for getting to the Tidal Basin. Parking is very limited and the streets to get to the parking lots are very congested. If you do decide to drive, there are parking lots (that fill up quickly) in East Potomac Park.

What else should I know?

My last piece of advice: Watch out for low-hanging branches.

I’ve fallen victim to these suckers before. You’re looking down at the ground or at your camera and WHAM!, right in the noggin. Don’t make the same mistake I’ve made.

I hope you have an incredible experience visiting the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC!

Looking for more inspiration? Check out my video of the cherry blossoms below!

Cherry Blossoms
As a Washington, DC resident, I look forward to the cherry blossom\'s peak bloom every year. Read my insider tips for an amazing cherry blossom experience. #cherryblossoms #washingtondc #spring

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