In the Washington, D.C., area, spring gets an extra-special welcoming party: Thousands of cherry blossom trees that sprinkle their pastel confetti across the city. Every year, this dazzling petal-palooza brings with it a vibrant festival that celebrates the arrival of a hopeful new season and honors the history of the blooms. The pink-studded affair commemorates an enduring friendship between the U.S. and Japan that dates to 1912 when Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted D.C. with more than 3,000 cherry trees.
What started as a modest three-day event has evolved into a multiweek extravaganza. These days the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws more than 1.5 million blossom lovers from around the globe. (If you’re averse to camera-toting crowds, we suggest heading to the Tidal Basin midweek or during nonpeak hours.) This year, the 103rd Festival — themed “Celebrating Our Natural World” — spans three weeks and four weekends, giving residents and visitors plenty of chances to paint the town pink between March 20 and April 12.
So how to enjoy the fanfare? We recommend checking out events like the Opening Ceremony on March 21 (you can reserve free tickets in advance); the Cherry Blast multimedia arts extravaganza; the Blossom Kite Festival on the Washington Monument grounds; Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival; downtown’s Sakura Matsuri block party and parade; and the inaugural Anacostia River Festival on April 12.
Throughout the festival you can also take advantage of free, ranger-led excursions, flower-themed tours for bikers, boaters and shutterbugs, and fitness programming that brings free exercise classes to the National Mall. Group yoga surrounded by monuments and blossoms? We’ll certainly roll out our mats for that.
Japanese culture also reigns at area theaters, museums and restaurants. Throughout the festival, Zentan at D.C.’s The Donovan, prepares tasty Cherry Blossom Bento Boxes ($21), to be savored on-site or enjoyed picnic-style under the branches near the Tidal Basin. The boxes are brimming with California rolls, escolar crudo, seaweed salad, or salmon and tuna pieces, accompanied by a housemade cherry soda. (For other picnic options, find takeaway sandwiches and salads at spots like SUNdeVICH or Taylor Gourmet.)
There’s no doubt D.C.’s cherry enthusiasm has a contagious effect, and our 11 regional hotels get in the spirit, too. The “Blossoms & Bubbles” Package (offered March 20 through April 12) means goodies like handcrafted cherry-blossom soap and complimentary sake poured during the nightly wine hour. Visitors also score a $25 room credit per day, and kids get a bubble surprise at check-in.
And, as the ultimate treat after all that wandering and sightseeing, Lorien Spa in Alexandria, VA, helps folks unwind with an 80-minute Cherry Blossom Ritual treatment (throughout the festival and beyond). During the stress-melting session, guests get exfoliated, soothed and hydrated thanks to exotic ingredients — from warming gingergrass and yuzu-mimosa sea algae to plum blossom and silk cream. Ah. Welcome, spring; we’re so glad you’re here.
Banner image, Jefferson Memorial and parade photos courtesy National Cherry Blossom Festival