Fun & Weird

A Local’s Guide to Seeing the Cherry Blossoms in DC

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The cherry trees in DC are predicted to hit peak bloom a few days before the end of the Cherry Blossom Festival on April 13. So if you see cheap fares for DC right after that, you could still get a good show while spending far less on hotels and skipping many of the crowds.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-cherry-blossom-washington-dc-image20757985

But if you will be in town the next week or two, here are some helpful tips from my 10+ years spent in DC:

Getting There

Beware — there’s no quick or effortless way to get there!

The official Cherry Blossom Festival website says it’s within easy walking distance of many metro stops. Don’t be fooled. Even getting off at the Smithsonian, L’enfant Plaza or Federal Triangle, which are closest to the Mall, is still a 20+ minute hike to the Tidal Basin.

Driving will save you effort, but be prepared to sit in traffic for over an hour during peak times, just to make it the short distance around the Potomac Point. And once you’re there, parking could be a problem. Definitely check out Parking Panda to find discounted rates on parking spots and garages nearby.

One wheeled alternative — Big Bus DC’s red line circles the Tidal Basin with convenient stops at the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorial. With the open roof, you can at least enjoy views of the blossoms while stuck in heavy traffic.

If you’re up for a bike ride (or a run) that’s going to be your best bet! The Capital Bikeshare program offers any easy way to rent a bike and return it near the metro.

Escape the Crowds

If you want to be near the Tidal Basin but prefer fewer people, I highly recommend driving/walking/biking out to the tip of East Potomac Park. Even at the height of the blooms at peak hours, there’s usually a free picnic table overlooking the water, gorgeous views, and much smaller crowds. The only trick if you drove is leaving — traffic backs up on the one way road.

If you want to see the blossoms but don’t have to be on the Mall, here are two recommendations:
Note: both charge a nominal entrance fee

Casey Trees also created a map of all cherry trees in DC a few years ago.

Eating

Bringing food or taking advantage of the numerous food trucks and stands that will be scattered about is your best bet. But if you’d prefer some kind of sit down restaurant, here are some affordable options in the vicinity:

Old Post Office Pavillion Food Court — only a few blocks from the mall is over a dozen eating options including Ben & Jerry’s, a salad place, and lots of ethnic options. Much more satisfying and a bit cheaper than the museum options.

Pete’s Diner, 212 2nd St SE — Located by the Library of Congress. Tiny diner with amazing breakfasts and affordable food. Banana Pancakes anyone?

Air & Space Museum McDonald’s — yes it’s a McDonald’s, but last time I was there it was only a dollar or two more than the usual prices, and if you want to eat inside and not have to walk very far, it’s a decent option.

Mitsitam Food Cafe, Museum of the American Indian — the museum may be a big disappointment, but the food court is a hidden gem. It’s not cheap, but it features great examples of regional Indian cuisines in North & South America. I’ve gone there for dinner when I was staying at L’Efant Plaza just because it was so tasty :)

And for my thoughts on which DC museums should top your list, check our my review of what to see and what to miss.

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3 Comments

  1. Daniel

    March 31, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    If you can at all manage to get away for a bit to go eat, please check out the areas with unique eats! A short metro ride from all the tourist spots and you can visit u street, Adams Morgan, Logan circle area, etc. I love the half smokes on the corner outside of work, but there is much better to be had!!!!!

  2. Sheila

    April 1, 2014 at 2:42 am

    If you want to get away from the crowds, go to Dumbarton Oaks and Gardens located at
    R and 31st Sts. NW. Located in residential Georgetown, the 19th century mansion boasts a lovely ten-acre garden with roses, wisteria-covered arbors, cherry trees and magnolias. Garden tours are offered daily at 2:15 p.m. (except Mondays). One of the most beautiful public gardens I have seen so far! Love that place, I can’t wait to go back someday hopefully to a party in their orangery!

  3. Anna

    April 1, 2014 at 6:26 am

    Lots of great tips, and thanks for mentioning East Potomac Park. It’s in my neighborhood (DC resident) but didn’t realize it was a good cherry blossom spot! I also second the recommendation for Dumbarton Oaks—so gorgeous.

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