One of the best times to visit Washington, DC, is spring, when the cherry blossom trees bloom in a sea of pink and white. If you're lucky, you'll catch the grandest of Washington’s annual events, the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Held in mid-March to mid-April, with the beautiful blooms as a backdrop, the month-long festival celebrates spring’s arrival with hundreds of performances and special exhibitions, plus paddle boat rides in the Tidal Basin, evening walks by lantern light, cultural fairs, a parade and a final fireworks extravaganza.
Aside from the gorgeous blossoms themselves, the highlight of the National Cherry Blossom Festival (www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/) is undoubtedly the one-day Japanese Street Festival (www.sakuramatsuri.org), the nation’s largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture. Kimono-clad dancers, taiko drummers, martial-arts masters and dozens of food vendors draw big crowds. Centered on M Street and New Jersey Ave, SE, the festival takes place in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood and has an entry fee.
If you prefer your blossoms rushing past in a riot of pinks and whites, sign up for the 10-mile run (cherryblossom.org) held during the festival. All the proceeds go to the Children's Miracle Network, an international organisation that helps to treat millions of children across the U.S. and Canada. The race loops up into Rock Creek Park then along the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, and top winners receive cash prizes. There’s also a 3-mile (5km) run/walk and a 1km children’s run. Registration begins in December (and fills up quickly for the 15,000 spots).
The Blossom Kite Festival is another signature event, when kites of all shapes and sizes are flown on the Public Field, in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Some kite fliers travel from far and wide to participate in the full day that includes kite ballets, a kite makers’ competition, a hot tricks showdown, a show kites demo and more.
This four-week event commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo’s Mayor Yukio Ozaki to the city of Washington in 1912. On the 27th of March 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, famously planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin. First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson accepted 3,800 more trees in 1965. Thanks to the support of some civil groups in the city, the Cherry Blossom Festival expanded in 1935, by which time the cherry blossoms were already a trademark for the city. Today, more than 1.5 million people attend the festival.
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This article was originally published in 2011. It was updated most recently in April 2017 by Barbara Noe Kennedy.