News & Politics

Forbidden Peak Bloom: Remembering the 2020 Cherry Blossoms

People crowded the Tidal Basin until authorities stopped pleading and closed the roads.

Photograph by Evy Mages
Coronavirus 2020

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Peak bloom occurred on March 20, 2020, a week after the coronavirus pandemic caused normal life in Washington to jolt to a halt. Despite pleas from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and local health officials, people nonetheless spent the previous weekend crowding into bars and restaurants. Bowser closed nightclubs and announced restrictions on bar seating that Sunday. Maryland shut down restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms. Even the White House Easter Egg Roll got canceled.

The National Park Service put up signs urging pedestrians to social distance. Authorities hoped people would take the hint and not crowd the Tidal Basin for peak bloom. Please, they said, stay home and watch the trees on your computer. Metro reminded people that the transit system should only be used for essential trips. “We’ll do cherry blossoms another time,” it tweeted.

Yeah, that didn’t work. “You know how people are supposed to be six feet apart right now? A lot of these folks didn’t even have six inches between them,” Josh Rosenthal reported for Fox 5 DC on Friday, March 20, as footage of hundreds of people communing with the trees played. Some clown even broke a tree by climbing on it. (Don’t worry, Stumpy was fine.) One man, summoning more DC energy than seemed humanly possible, strapped a speaker attached to a microphone on top of his car and drove around town, loudly and politely imploring people to follow the rules.

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On Saturday, the Park Service tried again. Using a universal signal of distress—a tweet with a screenshot of a message written on an iPhone’s Notes app—it wrote, “We strongly urge anyone considering a visit to see the cherry blossoms to reconsider.” They did not reconsider.

The next day, DC police and the National Guard closed roads around the Tidal Basin to cars. Pedestrians and cyclists were banned, too. That resulted in tactically deployed snowplows, far fewer visitors, and this spectacular video of the “Tidal Basin Mission”:

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Local hero José Andrés pledged that if people stayed away, he would cook “a huge Paella for thousands of Washingtonians.” A representative of the José Andrés Group has not yet replied to a query from Washingtonian about what happened with that paella.

A few days later, the U.S. National Arboretum closed because frustrated cherry blossom fans went there instead.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.