Washington, D.C residents wait all winter to see the cherry blossoms blooming across the city. This is the first time that visitors and residents alike start to believe spring is finally on the way. While the Tidal Basin gets all of the love, and for good reason, the National Arboretum is also worth a visit if you want to avoid the crowds. The DC cherry blossom season is truly a magical time to explore the city.
Washington D.C. Tidal Basin
There is no denying the beauty of the Tidal Basin in full bloom. Ever since the Japanese gifted the city these cherry trees in 1912, visitors have flocked towards the MLK, FDR and Jefferson Memorials for a stroll under the gorgeous pink blooms. I found out the wet way that the best time to see the blooms is when it is pouring rain; not hard to do since full bloom takes place during the rainy season anyways!
Parking near the Tidal Basin when it rains is easy, because most people aren’t bothering to pop down. Parking when it is sunny can be a huge pain and next to impossible depending on the time of day you visit and what else is happening in the city that day. Take the Metro whenever possible, but avoid the metro during rush hour travel times so you aren’t squashed in with the tired government workers. Walking from your hotel or grabbing one of the Capital BikeShare bikes to get to the Tidal Basin is also a good option, unless you have kids. Sadly, the bikes do not have child seats on the back.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to get gorgeous light across the city. If that isn’t an option, just avoid high noon—early morning and late afternoon light is the best for capturing the blooms.
U.S. National Arboretum
If you want to get away from the crowds, but still see cherry blossoms when in Washington, DC, you can head to the National Arboretum on the east side of the city. This massive garden, filled with woods and grassy lawns is perfect for families with smaller children; less crowds and more room to run. There is also a driving loop for anyone who has trouble walking.
I was lucky enough to go to the Arboretum as the cherry trees grew into peek bloom season (when more than 70% of the blooms are open on a tree). Unlike the Tidal Basin, the trees are spread out across acres of fields and woodlands. It was easy to escape the minimal crowds on a weekday, although plenty of families and bloom enthusiasts do show up on the weekend. We grabbed a cherry blossom guide and map that told us where the cherry blossoms were located throughout the arboretum. An impromptu scavenger hunt ensued!
Why the U.S. National Arboretum?
The Arboretum is better known for its azalea festival, which is why this part of the city isn’t as popular as the Tidal Basin. There is enough space for everyone to spread out to get their photos with their favorite trees without crowds in the background. Parking and admittance to the arboretum are free, which makes this an ideal spot for a low-key date or picnic on the lawn. You can run or enjoy a leisurely stroll on the trails throughout the arboretum. A spot that most people don’t think to look in the arboretum is the Asian Gardens Collection, which is in bloom at the same time as the big trees next to the visitors’ center.
National Cherry Blossoms Festival
Last but not least, you need to check out the National Cherry Blossoms Festival. This celebration lasts a month and is held to remember the friendship between Japan and the U.S., and the gift of the trees the city was given. Most daily events are free, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the Blossom Kite Festival, and the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival.
No matter where you wander in DC there are likely trees in bloom. It’s easy to get caught up in the crowds and excitement of the Tidal Basin, but remember, there are other great spots to see the blooms. Every year a descendent of the Tidal Basin trees are being planted at schools and other spots across the city. Visit the Tidal Basin first and then go on a scavenger hunt in search of its’ offspring.
Where to stay during the National Cherry Blossom Festival
- Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC
- The Graham Georgetown
- Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington, DC
Grab the best rates and availability on Washington DC hotels now!
Washington monument via Shutterstock.com
Washington, D.C. Travel Resources
Your Washington, D.C. vacation doesn’t have to be stressful. We’ve got the resources you need to plan your trip and make the most out of your time in the city and surrounding area. If this is your first time to the capital region, check out our Washington, D.C. trip planner and itineraries.
For transportation, check out our D.C. driving guide and our guide on how to ride the metro. For those flying in, you’ll want to read our guides to BWI, DCA and IAD airports.
Dive into our things to do in D.C., which is always being updated and evolving to make sure you have the latest and greatest activities to fill your checklist of things to do. Don’t forget about food, the real reason we all travel, right? Our Washington, D.C. restaurant guide will get you started and lead you into neighborhoods full of delicious treats.
For more resources, check out our pages on Baltimore, Richmond and beyond.
Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.
Budget: When it comes to Washington, D.C. budget hotels, prices vary depending on the season. In the middle of October, a four-star hotel could be under $150, while in December it may be over $400. At any given time of year, though, Hotel Hive is a safe bet for value when it comes to resting your head. If you are looking for a hostel, Hi Washington D.C. Downtown is well located for exploring all of the D.C. museums, restaurants and bars at the fraction of the price of a hotel. Check rates and availability here.
Mid-range: Every USA hotel chain can be found in Washington, D.C., but stay at the St. Gregory Hotel when you want a local touch. The modern, light-filled rooms will welcome you to the city, whether you are in a studio or suite with wraparound terrace. The hotel is walking distance to Georgetown, the National Mall and Embassy Row, making it easy to explore without a rental car. Check rates and availability here.
Luxury: You are spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury hotels in Washington, D.C. We love cozying up at the Graham Georgetown, a sweet little boutique hotel in one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. Check rates and availability here. Major hotel brands like The Fairmont, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons Hotel Washington D.C. and St. Regis Washington D.C. all have outposts here as well. If you want something a bit more historic, we recommend The Jefferson, Washington D.C. Ninety-nine rooms in this luxury boutique hotel bring together an attentive staff, petite spa, and the Michelin-starred Plume restaurant with all of the history you could hope for when you are in the nation’s capital. Check rates and availability here.
Family-friendly: We always gravitate towards the Kimpton hotels whenever we are traveling with kids. Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington D.C., once the General Post Office building, is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood just four blocks off the National Mall near the National Gallery of Art. Price point is mid-range, depending on the time of year you visit. Parents will love the nightly wine events and evening nightcap perks as well as complimentary coffee and a tea bar each morning. Kids will love that they can borrow a fish friend for their stay, and that there is always a treat on hand that they can enjoy, and the robes are just their size. Kimpton also has adult and child-size bikes to borrow so you can cruise around town during your stay. Check rates and availability here.
Planning a Trip to Washington, D.C.? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Whether you are traveling domestically or coming from an international destination, travel insurance is a must for anyone coming to Washington, D.C. You will be exploring both inside and outdoors; hiking may even happen if you get adventurous. You could find yourself on a Segway or bike tour. The city is highly populated and accidents and crime do happen. This is not to scare you, but to prepare you for what could occur when you are checking out the free museums, exploring neighborhoods, finding the best food and learning about the local street art. Should something happen, travel insurance has you covered. Check rates and availability here.
We recommend and use Allianz Travel insurance. Our family is covered under a household plan, but their individual plans are just as robust if you are a solo traveler or a couple looking to get away. I’ve been a customer for more than five years and have always been in good hands with the Allianz team.
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