DC Travel Guide  |  Things to Do

Cherry Blossom Festival 2012: Can't-Miss Festival Events

We narrowed the field to 19 National Cherry Blossom Festival must-dos.

Catch the official Festival parade on April 14. Photograph by Flickr user SPakhrin.

With more than 150 daily Cherry Blossom festival events, it would be impossible to participate in every blooming moment of fun. To make your visit as stress-free as possible, we narrowed the schedule down to our 19 favorite can’t-miss activities.


Signature Events

Sample the crème de la crème of Washington dining during the sixth annual Pink Tie Party fundraiser at the Renaissance Mayflower on March 20 from 7 to 11 PM. Dress in your best pink spring attire, mingle with Washington elite, and enjoy blossom-inspired cuisine and cocktails. There will also be a silent auction, during which you can bid on everything from weekend getaways to Japanese-themed jewels. This year’s kickoff to the Centennial Celebration will be hosted by renowned chefs José Andrés and Roy Yamaguchi. Tickets ($200) can be purchased here.

Mark the Centennial Celebration with a day of family fun at the National Building Museum. The seventh annual family festival on March 24 and 25 opens the cherry blossom season with hands-on activities for the pint-size celebrators, including a Peter Max coloring contest, a pop-up architecture station, cherry blossom popcorn-tree making, and the chance to try on a real kimono. Saturday’s events run from 10 to 4:30, and Sunday’s go from 11 to 3:30. Admission is free.

Go fly a kite on the Washington Monument Grounds during the second annual Blossom Kite Festival. Bring your own kite or make one at the activity station (while supplies last), with the theme of 100 years of friendship to honor the centennial celebration. The festival includes numerous demonstrations and competitions, such as the Hot Tricks Showdown (master kite flyers have 30 seconds to show off what their kite can do), a kite-making competition (broken down into three age categories), and the Rokkaku Battle, where flyers battle it out to be the last kite in the air. The fun starts at 10:30 AM on March 31, and is free to all. If it rains, expect the festival to be pushed back to April 1.

Cheer on 15,000 runners as they compete in Washington’s only world-class running event during the Credit Union Cherry Blossom ten-mile run and 5K run-walk on April 1. The race is free to spectators, and the course takes a tour of the best blossoms around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park. The race starts at 7:30 AM.

Don’t miss the annual Southwest Waterfont Fireworks Festival on April 7. Jam to live performances during an all-day (2 to 9 PM) concert that includes family-friendly water activities and cherry-inspired cuisine. Shop in the Very Cherry Marketplace for arts and crafts, and catch a stunning fireworks show, with special fireworks imported from Japan representing peace between Japan and the US. This fun-for-all-ages event is free and occurs rain or shine. 600 Water St., SW.

Marvel at the energetic and dynamic showmanship in the annual Festival parade on April 14. It starts at 10 AM and runs along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets, Northwest. While the featured performers have yet to be announced, the parade typically includes grand floats, blossom-shaped balloons, bursts of spring color, marching bands, and lively performances. Grandstand seating is $20 (purchase tickets here), but standing along the parade route is free. Arrive early for the best views.


Arts and Culture Events

Catch the Oscar-nominated flick The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom at the AFI Silver Theatre on March 17. Director Lucy Walker‘s film tells the true story of life after the tsunami and the role of Japan’s beloved flower in the country’s rebirth. Tickets range from $7 to $11.50 (buy here). The show starts at 7:45 PM.

Experience seven views on the centennial celebration through music at the Kennedy Center’s Overtures concert series, presented by the S&R Foundation. Each of the prominent artists will perform an existing composition that they have repurposed to focus on the gift of the Cherry Blossoms. All concerts will take place in the Terrace Theater, which itself was created in the ’70s as a bicentennial gift from Japan to the US. Tickets are $20 (buy here), and concerts run April 4 through 12.

Take a jaunt into the world of garden photography as David Cobb leads a free hands-on workshop. In the US Botanic Garden you will learn from a professional photographer how to shoot garden landscapes down to the smallest bloom. Classes run from 6:30 to 8 PM on March 29 and 9 AM to 1 PM on March 30. Pre-registration is required; click here.

Listen to the melodic sounds of former child prodigy and world-renowned Japanese violinist Midori, who will perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Two concerts will be performed on March 31 and April 1 at 8 and 3 PM, respectively. Tickets (buy here) range from $40 to $75 for adults and $10 to $75 for students, and are $5 for kids under 18.

View the most acclaimed work of one of Japan’s most famous artists, Katsushika Hokusai, as the Freer and Sackler Galleries presents “Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji” (March 24 through June 17). One of two major Japanese exhibitions opening in March to celebrate the centennial, the collection showcases all 46 prints in the series, including early, rare paintings with unusual coloring. Discover the artistic method and meaning behind these depictions of Mt. Fuji for free. Stop by on March 24 between 11 and 5 to enjoy Edo period music, craft cherry blossom origami, and snack on bento boxes as part of the Japan Spring Opening Day Ceremony.

Participate in one of Japan’s oldest cultural traditions with a tea ceremony at the Japanese Embassy on April 11. From 12:30 to 2 PM, you can learn the history and current state of the tea ceremony to better understand Japanese culture. Participation is free.

Live a spy’s life for a night at the International Spy Museum on April 13. The Spy at Night program explores the history of the elusive, often misunderstood ninja spy. A ninja performance by Mie Prefecture, JAPAN will be followed by a variety of challenges to test your spy skills, including coded message deciphering and spy trivia. Tickets ($14.95 to $27.95; buy here) include a complimentary signature cocktail. No ticket is needed for the ninja performance.

Relax to soothing jazz as you take in the cherry-blossom-filled view from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Starting at noon April 19 through 22, you can enjoy free performances from local and regional musicians while overlooking the picturesque Tidal Basin.

Soak up the rich cultural history of samurai warriors at the National Geographic Museum. From March 7 through September 3, visitors can study the evolution of the samurai from warriors to cultural ambassadors, and view swords, suits of armor, and the photography of Eliza Scidmore, who first had the idea to plant cherry trees in Washington. Tickets ($8 adults, $4 children) can be purchased here.

Don’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of Japan’s most renowned cultural treasures, the 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings by Ito Jakuchu titled “Colorful Realm.” They will be on display at the National Gallery of Art for one month only (March 30 to April 29), the first time that all 30 scrolls, which date back to 1757, have been seen in the US. The exhibition is free, and will be housed in the West Building.


Fitness and Health Events

Get your ride on with a two-hour blossoms-by-bike guided tour or a three-hour ride along the river. Pedal the sea of pink and white starting at three different locations on weekends, March 24 through April 15. Snag tickets ($25 to $42) here.

Take a walk among the flowers and discover the stories of Washington’s most coveted tree. The Blossom Secrets Stroll Walking Tour will allow you to find out why they are planted along the Tidal Basin and learn about the woman with the original cherry blossom vision, Eliza Scidmore. On March 31, April 7, and April 14, tours run from 2 to 4 PM, beginning outside the Smithsonian Metro station’s Independence Avenue, Southwest, exit. Tickets ($15) can be bought in advance here or at the door.

If the crowds become too much, stop by the Art and Drama Therapy Institute on March 22 for a free lesson in stress relief. From 1 to 3 PM, Dr. Sirkku M. Sky Hiltunen will be teaching ancient meditation using haiku poetry writing. 327

Check the NCBF website for a full listing of festival events.


See our Cherry Blossom Festival 2012 Guide here.