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A 2021 Guide to Seeing Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.
Photo by f11photo/Shutterstock The annual cherry blossom blooms create a beautiful backdrop to Washington, D.C.’s iconic landmarks.
Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, viewing Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms this year will look a little different this year. The National Mall, D.C.’s most popular place for cherry blossom spotting, will require face masks and social distancing. The National Cherry Blossom Festival will feature a mix of virtual and socially distanced, in-person events. Travel restrictions are in place for out-of-town visitors. And avoiding crowds will be extra important for those who see the trees in person.
Of course, nature being nature, the cherry blossoms will line the District’s skyline this spring as they do every year. Here’s how to see Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms in 2021, whether in person or virtually.
When can you see cherry blossoms in D.C.?
Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms typically bloom in late March or early April. This year, the National Park Service (NPS), predicts that the city’s cherry blossoms will be in peak bloom April 2–5. However, you can expect to see flowers begin to emerge before peak bloom, which is when 70 percent of the flowers have opened, and “the best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins,” says Julie Marshall of Destination DC.
Can you still see the cherry blossoms during COVID?
Yes, you can see the cherry blossoms during COVID, but with some restrictions. Visitors who want to see the cherry blossoms in person will have to abide by social-distancing protocols, wear masks (which is required on federal property), and—if coming from outside of the District, Maryland, or Virginia for more than 24 hours—provide a negative COVID-19 test unless fully vaccinated.
For those of us who won’t be able to visit in person, there are still several ways to see the cherry blossoms virtually. The NPS has set up several virtual tours and a live stream of the blooms, while the National Cherry Blossom Festival has moved several of its events, including the opening ceremony, online.
Is the National Cherry Blossom Festival still happening in 2021?
Yes, the National Cherry Blossom Festival will still happen in 2021 with a mix of virtual and socially distanced, in-person events, such as:
Opening Ceremony (Virtual)
The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s opening ceremony will take place virtually on March 20 at 6 p.m EST, which includes the annual lighting of the Japanese stone lantern, which was gifted by the people of Japan in 1954 as a symbol of their reemerging relationship with the United States post-WWII. This year, the ceremony will also feature performances by American and Japanese artists, such as the Los Angeles–based percussion group Taiko Project. The entire ceremony will be available for free online.
Art in Bloom (In-Person)
For those who can make it in person, the festival is also hosting a socially distanced, fully outdoor “Art in Bloom” exhibition. Visitors can hunt down 25 different cherry blossom–themed sculptures throughout the District.
The best places to see cherry blossoms
With 3,700 trees surrounding D.C. monuments and landmarks, the National Mall and Tidal Basin are the most popular places to see the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. If you have your heart set on these sites, you can avoid some of the crowds by visiting early in the morning or around sunset. However, there are other, lesser known areas throughout the District where these blooms still put on a spectacular show.
Hains Point Loop Trail in East Potomac Park
Venture away from the crowds at Tidal Basin with a 4.1-mile loop hike on the Hains Point Loop Trail, in neighboring East Potomac Park. Along the loop, which begins and ends at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you’ll find a variety of cherry blossom trees and scenic vistas of the Potomac River, Washington Channel, and Anacostia River.
U.S. National Arboretum
Located in Northeast Washington, D.C., the 412-acre National Arboretum is home to a large botanical collection, including more than two dozen varieties of cherry trees. Each spring, visitors are greeted with an array of pink, white, and red cherry blossoms, all of which bloom at slightly different times.
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As for avoiding crowds, the National Arboretum has two things working in its favor: It’s less well known and also more spread out. Drive, walk, or bike along the Arboretum’s three-mile, self-guided cherry blossom tour to catch the springtime foliage.
The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks
A beautiful (and relatively tourist-free) historic estate in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, the Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks is a small, lesser known destination for cherry blossom spotting at the Garden’s Cherry Hill.
“In addition to the Yoshino Cherry that visitors encounter at the Tidal Basin, Cherry Hill also contains five other varieties, each with nuanced hues and overlapping bloom times,” says Jonathan Kavalier, director of Gardens and Grounds. But true cherries aren’t the only flower on display. “Earlier visitors can see a stunning specimen of Japanese apricot in flower in February, and an allée of double-flowering plums in March.”
Due to COVID-19, the gardens and museum are currently closed and will not reopen in time for the 2021 bloom. However, it’s still worth adding to your list for future springtime visits to Washington.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
An architectural icon at any time of the year, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C. is an extra special sight when its 150 cherry trees bloom each spring. It’s also considered somewhat of a secret cherry blossom viewing spot, making it a great place for avoiding crowds (and also finding parking).
After taking in the trees, head to Busboys and Poets, a nearby café, community gathering space, and bookshop founded by activist and artist Andy Shallal in 2005. It’s one of now seven locations in the D.C. area; stop by for brunch and a dose of activism (two of D.C.’s favorite things) with its book collection heavily featuring political and activist works.
The National Harbor, which sits just outside the Southeast edge of D.C. in Maryland, has more than 200 Okame cherry trees whose vibrant pink flowers tend to bloom earlier than the Yoshinos that line the Tidal Basin. “Because our trees bloom early, we can provide visitors with a longer opportunity to view cherry blossoms in the Washington, D.C. region,” said Jackie Saunders, AVP Marketing at National Harbor.
An official participant of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the harbor is joining in the festivities by hosting one of the 25 Art in Bloom statues as well as a weekly series called Sakura Sunday from March 20 to April 11. Each Sakura Sunday will feature a mix of in-person and virtual activities, such as culinary classes and showcases of Japanese-inspired art.
As for flower-spotting, visitors can see them by boat on the Potomac Water Taxi, which stops at the National Harbor, Alexandria, the Wharf, and Georgetown on an hour-long (one-way) ride along the Potomac. It is currently running and advanced reservations are recommended.
Where to stay in Washington, D.C. during cherry blossom season
Whether you’re planning a trip for this year or next (note that COVID travel restrictions for D.C. are still in place), choose a place to stay that’s close to the cherry blossoms. Even without COVID, navigating parking or public transportation can be a crowded mess, so consider staying within walking or biking distance of the trees.
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Having hosted Japan’s first delegation to the United States in 1860, the Willard leans into its unique history with cherry trees that fill the grand lobby, and Japanese-inspired afternoon tea served in the elegant, cherry tree–lined Peacock Alley hallway. Or order a specialty cocktail with ingredients such as sake, yuzu, and cherry bitters from the Round Robin Bar.
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Overlooking the Tidal Basin, the Mandarin Oriental is the closest hotel to the most popular cherry blossom viewing site. The luxurious hotel’s courtyard has cherry trees planted by the granddaughter of Yukio Ozaki, Tokyo’s mayor who gave the original trees to the United States in 1912.
Canopy by Hilton Washington DC the Wharf
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The Wharf, a vibrant strip along the Potomac River with waterfront dining, shopping, and entertainment, is one mile from the Tidal Basin, the epicenter of the blooms. It’s also home to the Hilton’s first U.S. Canopy location, which gives guests a modern experience infused with local character and nautical charm.
The Graham Georgetown
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Although this small boutique hotel isn’t as close to the main action as others, the Graham Georgetown is near one of our favorite, lesser-known cherry blossom sites: the Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks. With a retro-yet-trendy D.C. aesthetic, rooftop bar, and convenient M Street location, it also immerses guests fully in Georgetown’s historic charm.
If you do want to visit the National Mall and Tidal Basin, it’s an easy three-mile bike ride on a bike path that hugs the Potomac and skirts past some of the District’s famous landmarks.
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Opened in October 2020 by the Viceroy Hotel Group, Hotel Zena offers 191 guest rooms in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood, roughly one mile from the Tidal Basin. This hotel celebrates female empowerment through mischievous art installations and cheeky design details that honor cultural and historical female icons, including an extraordinary mural of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
>>Next: 12 Places to See Cherry Blossoms in the United States
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