Things to Do

5 Fun Ways to Experience DC’s Cherry Blossoms That Don’t Involve a Trip to the Tidal Basin

Access to the National Mall blooms will be limited this year. Here are some great alternatives.

Spring has sprung, cherry blossoms are blooming, and the National Park Service is anticipating people will behave badly and pack the Tidal Basin (again) in the midst of a global pandemic. So, to avoid a Miami Beach-like state of emergency, NPS announced it’ll limit vehicle and pedestrian access to the area once the blooms are here.

But that doesn’t mean your spring has to be cherry blossom-less! There are other parks, and other ways, to enjoy the pretty pink flowers. Here are a few suggestions.

Visit cherry blossoms in other parts of the city (or Maryland)

Sure, the Tidal Basin has the most famous cherry trees gifted from Japan in 1912. But it’s not the only place to view the beautiful blooms. The National Arboretum boasts more than 20 varieties of cherry trees. In DC, you can also check out parks like Oxon Run Park in Southeast, Anacostia Park, Stanton Park on Capitol Hill, and Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. In Bethesda’s Kenwood neighborhood, visitors can view 1,200 trees—walking or driving—planted by some savvy developers in the 1920s (to avoid crowds, which are frequent at peak bloom, go at an off hour). For more of a hidden gem, check out Brookside Gardens (located within Wheaton Regional Park), where you’ll find nearly 30 cherry trees, a Japanese-style garden, and a tea house.

If you’re looking for more organized fun, Free Tours by Foot offers a Cherry Blossom tour around the Southwest Waterfront that explores the Wharf and East Potomac Park. Per tour guide Canden S. Arciniega: “Guests will discover the oldest townhouses in the city, visit lesser-known memorials, delve into Black history, learn about the Wharf’s Bloomaroo, and experience the beauty of our iconic Japanese Cherry Blossom trees.”

Potomac Paddle Pub
Jack Walten and Jack Maher aboard their paddle boat. Photo courtesy Potomac Paddle Club.

Get out on the water

One of the more fun places to view the blossoms is from the Potomac River. Of course, due to Covid, the big Cherry Blossom cruises are on hold this year. Small groups and families can check out Potomac Paddle Club, which is offering private 90-minute “paddle pod”  tours of the cherry blossoms for eight to 16 guests ($45 to $55 per person, plus fees). Up to ten guests can pedal the paddle pub boat, and all alcohol and food is BYO. If you have a strong arm, Thompson Boat Center and Key Bridge Boathouse around Georgetown offer reservations for kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and more and you can cruise past the blossoms (reservations are slated to open around April 10, depending on water temperatures).

Cherry Blossom spa treatment
Image via iStock.

View them virtually

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has a lot of virtual events planned this year, from virtual outdoor runs to virtual dinners. If you’re just in it for the flowers, check out the 24/7 BloomCam (now live!), provided by the Trust for the National Mall in partnership with the National Park Service and EarthCam. The livestream shows the Tidal Basin trees in all their phases, from peduncle elongation to puffy white and on to peak bloom.

Artechouse DC, the multimedia art space that was making virtual cool before virtual was life, has opened a new cherry blossom-inspired exhibit: Renewal 2121 (March 15-September 6). The exhibit explores a futuristic world 100 years from now. Per the website, visitors “will traverse through a cyberpunk cityscape, an interactive market, bustling alleyways and an abandoned rooftop, finding nature blooming in the most unexpected places amidst this industrial future.” Tickets are $12 to $24.

Join the Petal Porch Parade

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has asked DC-area residents to deck out their front porches and lawn in beauteous blossom themes, March 20 through April 11. You can join in the decorative fun, or take a walk and check out what neighbors have done with the help of this map (no surprise, people are getting very crafty).

Wunder Garten will deck out its outdoor areas for Cherryfest. Photograph courtesy of Wunder Garten

Go to a blossom-filled outdoor bar

Sure, it’s not quite the same as seeing the cherry blossoms. But, silver lining: good drinks and fun decorations. Hook Hall in Park View is transitioning from a wintertime Viking Village to a beautiful, Japanese-inspired Celebrate the Blossoms theme for spring, complete with decorative cherry trees. Guests can book private “tea houses” with themed food and drinks for groups of various sizes, outdoor garden tables, or seats inside a huge hall (more details soon).

Over in NoMa, outdoor beer garden Wunder Garten is hosting a two-week Cherryfest from March 26 to April 11. Small groups can book private beer garden cabanas, and there’re a whole lineup of activities and specials planned, including a collaborative cherry blossom beer with Red Bear Brewing, sake flights, Japanese whiskey flights, a ‘Pretty in Pink’ party, and more.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.