Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Cherry Blossom Festival, Downtown DC

The Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual spring event in Washington, D.C. It commemorates the 3,000 cherry trees that were given to the city of Washington in 1912 by Tokyo’s Mayor Yukio Ozaki, as well as symbolizes an ongoing relationship between Japan and the United States. 

The National Park Service gives a nice description of the cherry tree varieties. The Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees are now the most dominant varieties from the 12 original types gifted in 1912. The Yoshino cherry trees are seen around the Tidal Basin and near the Washington Monument, while the Kwanzan may be found mostly in East Potomac Park. The cherry trees range in color from soft white to bubble gum pink to deep rosy blush. The festival highlights the trees blossoming, of course, but for those interested also has a calendar full of events lasting several weeks. Activities range from a parade and fireworks to a Japanese Street Festival and sake tastings, and you can find them all at

Tourists flock to the National Mall, the Tidal Basin, and surrounding areas of downtown Washington, D.C. to see these flowery trees in bloom. According to the festival website, 1.5 million tourists, in fact, travel to the Cherry Blossom Festival each year.

There are always plenty of articles about the top tips for visiting and photographing the cherry blossoms, and I often agree with them: go at dusk or dawn, wander at different times of the day to catch varied light, plan an agenda to take in some of the festival events, etc.

But local residents also like to venture down to help usher in spring. You might be able to swing a visit at any time, as well as get to the special events. However, I am realistic enough to recognize that, particularly for locals (and especially locals living outside the beltway), you may have to work, run errands, fight beltway traffic, or keep pace with any multitude of daily activities that impede with your ability to get to the Cherry Blossom Festival at those optimal times.

That’s exactly why I ended up gazing at cherry blossoms in the middle of a gorgeous Sunday afternoon right smack in the middle of gobs of people. In other words, great weather + weekend + mid-day = extra crowded. Add to that, the trees hadn’t even peaked yet, which meant everyone was vying for camera space under the same trees, finding the one tree every hundred some feet that had already opened up. But you know what? It was still fun! It was fun because I’ve learned some “any-time tips” for cherry blossoming and think they’re worth it. Happy snapshot-ing!

My any-time tips for enjoying the cherry blossoms:
  1. Be patient. There will be crowds, there will be people stopping in the middle of your path, there will be traffic police blowing shrill whistles in your ears, and area restaurants will have long waits. If you haven’t exercised patience in the past, now is the time to start.
  2. If you plan to get off at an alternate metro stop, such as Farragut or Arlington Cemetery, and walk a ways, it can be much more pleasant than battling crowds at the Smithsonian stop.
  3. Embrace the photo-bombers. It is highly likely that you’ll get a few heads in your photos. With a little patience (yes, sorry, the patience word again), you can slide in for unimpeded views and close-up petals. On the other hand, rather than detract, the human experience can just as easily add to the story.
  4. Don’t fall in the Tidal Basin. Okay, this one is just a suggestion, but since the Tidal Basin walkway might be the only place in all of the U.S. where there is a drop-off and no guardrail, it seems like a good reminder. And the water is probably cold.
  5. Get off the beaten path a bit for food, find a place that takes reservations, and try to eat at slightly off times. We got reservations for a table in the street-facing room of Annie’s in the Dupont area (a few blocks and a really short cab ride) north of the National Mall; there we enjoyed our window seats and people-watching over burgers, sandwiches, and giant salads alongside a fried calamari appetizer and drinks like a pomegranate mimosa and blueberry lemonade.
  6. Finally, brush up on your monuments and memorials identification skills. This is a great chance for you to not only see the beautiful cherry blossoms but also all of the nearby DC sites. It’s okay if you don’t know all of the history; there are plenty of placards to help you increase your knowledge. However, it’s probably good not to be the (clearly American) person I overheard saying, “we’re over by the big pencil-looking thing.” That pencil-looking thing, folks, would be the Washington Monument….

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