When we moved to Washington DC in 2000, Wendy and I knew we were moving to an area rich in tradition, history and culture. We grew up in an area where we had an annual fair or festival that we might celebrate with our friends and neighbors, or family traditions that we took part in every year, but there were very few events that people from all over the country or even the world would flock to in Cleveland on an annual basis.

Upon our arrival, we vowed to be more than just residents of the city, but to also enjoy the things and events that make Washington, DC and its metro area a tourist destination.

One of the annual traditions we have grown to love is the springtime bloom of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms around the tidal basin and National Mall.

Yesterday on my way to work, I played tourist in my own town. Rather than take my usual route, I hopped off the bus early for a slow stroll to take in the sights of this year's centennial bloom. I took a whole bunch of photos and want to share them, as well as some of my sightseeing tips, with you.

This year marks an extra special milestone in the tradition of this yearly bloom as it's the 100th anniversary of the gift of a number of cherry blossom trees from the Japanese Emperor.

April 9, 1928 - Japanese Ambassador and his family
Photo Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS

Prior to seeing it for the first time, I really didn't know what to expect. I thought, "Trees are trees and flowers are flowers, what's the big deal?" That thought fell by the wayside the first time I looked out over the tidal blossom while the trees were in their delicate "full bloom."

At their peak, the blossoms form a nearly consistent line around the rim of the tidal basin.

Resembling a mix of freshly spun cotton candy and a gently hued bag of cotton balls, the collection of trees rest on a backdrop of light green buds from the surrounding vegetation waiting for spring's arrival.

Some of the cherry blossoms are large, mature trees with gnarly haggered trunks that hoist their canopy up and over the gawkers and allow their flowers to spill gracefully into the water.

While others are new saplings, planted to fill a void or to replace a tree that had been damaged or had reached the end of its life.

Looking at one lone tree is beautiful...

...but the combination of hundreds in an unbreaking line brings me back year after year.

Through my years of trips to the Jefferson Memorial during this time of year, I've learned a few very useful tips that I will freely pass onto you.

Get there early. You'll rarely find a more consistently crowded event, but it seems like everyone comes out to see the blossoms after 11:00am. If you go in the morning, you'll be able to have a leisurely walk without competing with the big groups and tours. You'll also be able to bring your camera along and take some photos without someone standing in every single shot...pointing at a blossom.

Ok, so maybe that's just a friend of mine, but you get the idea.

Go off the beaten path. Though the trees surrounding the tidal basin and along the basin's walkway are some of the most plentiful and well trafficked, some of the most amazing trees are just beyond this area, and are often overlooked by most.

Take my favorite collection of trees, for example. 

Situated along the Potomac River in the shadow of the 14th St. Bridge, these trees are large, tall, and sweeping. 

Just a stones throw from the tidal basin, the grass is green, the trees unblemished, and the flowers hang over the ground looking closer to a weeping willow than your typical cherry blossom.

Respect the trees. All too often I see people climbing, hanging, pulling branches, picking blossoms, etc. The trees won't last forever, but we can all do our part to make them last as long as possible. The Park Service has placed a few friendly reminders to help us remember to be kind to this most delicate flowering tree.

Remember the other sights. The cherry blossoms are the main attraction for a few weeks, but there are a few great monuments all around them. While you're visiting the trees and taking in all of their beautiful blooms, don't forget to stop by the various monuments that you pass along the way. From the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial, there are several wonderful things to see all around the tidal basin and in the adjacent areas.

Pay attention to the weather. If you see a nice day near or during peak bloom, take advantage of it. The blossoms are fragile, and if a rain or wind storm comes through during an evening, there's a good change a lot of the blossom petals will end up on the ground before you get to see them. If you have a sunny day that's a little on the cool side, be sure to wear warmer clothes. Since you are next to water and the Potomac, the temperature around the tidal basin tends to be a few degrees cooler.

Where to park. Oh, the subject of elusive parking. Parking around the tidal basin is very limited. There are a few small lots off of Ohio Drive, but these fill up rather quickly. The street parking along the Potomac gets packed too. When we drive down, it's typically during a weekend period, and we like to park along the 10th-13th Street area by the USDA building. This area usually has some metered parking available, and the walk to the tidal basin from this location really isn't that far.

The peak bloom period of the cherry blossoms is currently underway right now, so if you're nearby, or can make a short trip to DC during the week, it's the best time to see some of these beautiful blooms. 

If you do make it down, here are my four favorite spots to wander.

  1. The inlet of the tidal basin on Ohio Drive and the Potomac River
  2. Just south of Independence Avenue and north of the tidal basin
  3. Around the Lincoln Memorial
  4. Just northeast of the Washington Monument in the small cherry blossom grove near Constitution Avenue

There are several other spots all around the area. Some are lesser known and have far fewer people around them. For a complete list, see the Parks Service Cherry Blossom Guide.

For more information on the festival, as well as updates on the events and peak bloom period, be sure to see the official National Cherry Blossom Festival website.

I hope you've enjoyed my photos, and I really hope the tips I've provided will prove quite useful if you're taking a trip down to see the blooms. If you have any good tips or viewing spots you particularly enjoy, or just a story about your trip to see the Cherry Blossoms, be sure to share them with us. Though we've been going for 12 years, I know we've not seen all there is to see.

Comments 10


3/20/2012 at 12:35 PM
What a beautiful sight! I'm off to google and see if these will grow where I live...haha.
They may only bloom like this for a week, but they sure are pretty. The rest of the time they're just normal trees.
3/20/2012 at 3:52 PM
Thanks for this post. The cherry blossoms are probably one of the things I miss most about living in that area.
If we ever moved away, I think I'd need to seriously fight the urge to come back at this time each year.
3/21/2012 at 8:22 AM
Wow. These pictures are beautiful! What a lovely way to start your day.
Thanks! It absolutely set the tone for the rest of the day. If only every morning could start that way.
threadbndr (Karla)
3/21/2012 at 9:14 AM
Lovely pictures, thank you for sharing them. I wish that my son had re-enlisted, since his next duty station would have been at Quantico and I would have had a chance to be an occasional tourist in your area.

We don't have many cherry trees here in the midwest, but Bradford pears thrive here. We have several right outside my office. The hard rain last night left a carpet of the white petals all over the parking lot like a spring snowfall.
I know what you mean with the petals. We'll have them everywhere in the next few days.
3/21/2012 at 10:58 AM
East Potomac Park (Hains Point) is also a good option for parking. Lots of spots and a nice walk (even if you're parked half a mile to a mile away from the basin.
3/21/2012 at 3:43 PM
I was also going to point out that Hains Point is a great spot to find parking and for cherry blossom viewing. Also, if they happen to be eager, the Park Police can hand out citations for climbing on or picking blooms off trees (I think it is $10, but most of the time the officers can't be bother to issue it).
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