Every city is beautiful in spring, but I can’t help but think that spring in Washington, D.C. is something extra special. Besides the cherry blossoms that bloom in the Tidal Basin and National Mall, there are so many other lovely places to see flowers throughout the city. In this Washington DC Cherry Blossom Guide, I’ll share the best tips from a local on where to see cherry blossoms in DC, how to get the best DC cherry blossom photographs, how to use public transportation to get around, the best hotels and areas to stay, plus other places to see spring flowers in the city!
Don’t miss the maps of Washington DC cherry blossom locations, Metro stops, parking, and memorials in this guide and be sure to pin it for planning your own trip.
Washington DC Cherry Blossom Guide by a DC Local
Each year, more than 1.5 million tourists visit the U.S. capital for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s also not uncommon to see folks in suits taking a lunchtime or after-work stroll among the blooms. And after more than 10 years of living in Washington, D.C. myself, I still get up at dawn at least once to see cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial. So I’ve got pro tips for you on how to experience DC’s cherry blossoms like a local!
Jump ahead in this guide on where to see cherry blossoms in DC:
- Where is the Best Place in DC to See Cherry Blossoms?
- DC Cherry Blossom Locations Map
- When Is Cherry Blossom Season in DC?
- National Cherry Blossom Festival: March 20 – April 12, 2020
- How to Get to Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms
- Tips for Photographing DC’s Cherry Blossoms
- Other Blossom Spots in Washington, D.C. Great for Photos
- Planning Your Trip to DC
- Best Places to Stay for DC’ s Cherry Blossom Season
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Where is the Best Place in DC to See Cherry Blossoms?
The best place to see cherry blossoms in DC is the Tidal Basin, a partially man-made reservoir in West Potomac Park near the National Mall. You’ll get the best views by walking the 2-mile Tidal Basin Loop Trail that circles the basin. Here you can also take photos of many of DC’s most famous monuments framed by cherry blossoms. Since the trail is adjacent to the National Mall, you will have beautiful views of the flowers against a backdrop of the Washington, Jefferson and MLK Memorials.
I’ve marked this map below with where to see cherry blossoms in DC. Click on each pin around the Tidal Basin to see info on memorial locations, great views, Metro stops, restrooms, the closest restaurants, and parking. There’s also a pin for East Potomac Park, where you can find a grove of Kwanzan cherry trees that typically bloom about 2 weeks after the Yoshino cherries.
More info on other cherry-spotting locations (and other places for DC spring flowers) later in this guide!
DC Cherry Blossom Locations Map
When Is Cherry Blossom Season in DC?
This answer is different each year! Cherry blossom “season” in Washington, D.C. really means the days of “peak bloom,” which the National Park Service defines as being when 70% of the Tidal Basin’s Yoshino cherry trees bloom. Most commonly, cherry blossom season occurs between the last week of March to the first week of April. Peak bloom usually lasts about 10 days. The earliest peak bloom occurred on March 15 (in 1990), and the latest on April 18 (1958).
The National Park Service states that it’s almost impossible to predict peak bloom more than 10 days in advance, though. And sometimes late weather can affect the blooms — in 2017 we had a late frost that caused the loss of half the cherry blossoms. Another year we had strong winds that meant our cherry blossoms didn’t hang around long!
Check out this table from the National Park Service showing the historical dates of each stage of the bloom.
When Should You Plan to Visit DC to See Cherry Blossoms for 2020?
Every year, it’s difficult to predict when to plan a visit. Those of us that live in the area are lucky.
However, it’s worth noting that there are many locations other than the Tidal Basin to see spring blooms in Washington, D.C. And because of the different bloom cycles and area topography, those flowers often bloom before or after the cherry blossoms!
The Washington Post meteorologists known as the Capital Weather Gang issue their prediction in early March. (I will share a link here as soon as they issue their 2020 prediction!) The National Park Service and Cherry Blossom Watch also post their own predictions which they update regularly.
These are the best local resources for predicting when the DC cherry blossoms will bloom. I recommend keeping an eye on all three of those sites and their FB pages (links below).
Weekday mornings will be less crowded. After work and on weekends, locals mix in with the visitor traffic and it gets extremely busy.
Best “When To Visit” Tip From A Local:
If you plan to be in DC around the typical start of peak bloom, you have a good chance to see cherry blossoms in other parts of the city too. Plus you could see magnolias, flowering plums, forsythia and other gardens in bloom. If the Yoshino cherries bloom early, I’ve got tips on where to see later-blooming Kwanzan cherries and tulips!
Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom History
People lucky enough to have visited DC during spring usually know that Washington, D.C.’s first cherry blossoms were a gift of friendship to the city from Tokyo. But few know that it was a lifelong mission of a local resident, writer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, to see Potomac Park planted with cherry trees.
Having visited her brother in Tokyo, where he worked for the U.S. Consulate, Eliza returned to the U.S. in 1885 wanting to share her appreciation for Japanese people and culture, and most of all their cherry trees. Over the next 24 years she presented her idea to many people until eventually she wrote to to First Lady Helen Taft. The First Lady agreed, and when it became known that the First Lady wanted to order trees for the Tidal Basin, a gift of 2,000 cherry trees was sent from Tokyo in 1910.
Unfortunately, the original 2,000 trees were diseased and had to be destroyed, but another shipment of 3020 trees was graciously sent. In a ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two of these trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin. These two trees still stand, marked by a plaque near the Japanese lantern which is lighted each year during the festival.
National Cherry Blossom Festival: March 20 – April 12, 2020
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual spring event in Washington, D.C. Its dates are set ahead of time, and are not dependent on peak bloom, although sometimes it coincides. This year the National Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from March 20 – April 12, 2020.
Family-friendly activities, events and fundraisers occur throughout the festival. The major events include:
- Pink Tie Party (Friday, March 20) A stylish event to kick off the blossom season! Tickets are required.
- National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Opening Ceremony (Saturday, March 21) Tickets are required for this, so be sure to book early if you want to attend the event!
- Cherry Blossom Kite Festival (Saturday, March 28) Held on the Washington Monument grounds, this is another great photo opportunity, with the kites against the backdrop of the monument.
- National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (Saturday, April 4) This event occurs on Constitution Ave. and features floats, balloons, marching bands and performers.
- Petalpalooza (Saturday, April 11) Music, family events and fireworks in the Capitol Riverfront close out the festival.
How to Get to Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms
Taking Public Transportation to See the Cherry Blossoms
To see DC’s cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, I recommend taking the Metro (subway/rail) and then the DC Circulator.
The best Metro stop for cherry blossoms is the Smithsonian Station. By Metro, use the Blue, Orange or Silver lines and exit at the Smithsonian stop. From there, it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the Tidal Basin Welcome Center at 1501 Maine Avenue SW. The Archives station is also nearby (Green, Yellow Lines). Or you can catch the Circulator at either Metro stop to the Tidal Basin.
Click here for route information on the Circulator including a downloadable map. On the map, get on at stop 13 or 3 closest to the Smithsonian and Archives Metro stops. Get off at stops 6, 7 and 8 around the Tidal Basin. A ride is just $1 with a SmarTrip card or exact change.
Metro has info for new riders here which includes details on buying a SmarTrip Card. With a SmarTrip card, you can transfer from the Metro to the Circulator for free within 2 hours of your Metro trip. You can also download or order a visitor’s kit or find the full Rider Guide here.
Driving and Parking: Not Recommended, But Here’s My Tips
If you plan only to photograph at sunrise for a few hours, it’s possible to find street parking near the Tidal Basin. I usually park along Ohio Drive SW behind the Jefferson Memorial. Important: this road becomes 1-way traffic going clockwise around the tidal basin during cherry blossom season. The left side of Ohio Drive (across from the West Potomac Park Sports Fields here) still allows parking. Most likely your time will be limited to 2 hours in this zone.
Download the Parkmobile app to pay for parking using your phone and get alerts to remind you when your time expires. Parkmobile can be used throughout the city.
Other than sunrise photos, I do not recommend driving to see cherry blossoms. Driving in Washington, D.C. can be very confusing and gets especially busy in the early afternoon. When I first moved here, I got stuck in Dupont Circle (a busy roundabout) and drove around crying until I eventually was able to get out.
If you really need to drive, keep in mind that the Tidal Basin parking lot will be closed for the Festival (so DO NOT plan to park here by the paddle boat landing). Instead, there are pay lots on Ohio Drive Southwest here and here. There is also paid underground parking near the Washington Monument at the Reagan Building, which can be a good location to see other National Mall sights too. Guards will briefly inspect your car here before you are permitted to drive in, and the cost is currently $35/day.
Bikeshare and Scooters
Other transportation options include Capital Bikeshare and dockless scooters. Capital Bikeshare has many stations around the Tidal Basin and National Mall area.
The chance of finding a charged scooter during cherry blossom season might be low – and DC is reducing its number of scooter companies starting April 1 – but you can find the current list here if you want to download their apps. Starting April 1, only four operators will be in DC:Jump, Lyft, Skip, and Spin.
Uber and Lyft
Of course, Uber and Lyft are also great options to help you get around town. Keep in mind, though, that traffic can get really bad in the afternoons, and it could be difficult for a driver to reach you through the traffic. If you need a dropoff point for arriving at the Tidal Basin, there’s a bus loading zone at the Jefferson Memorial that could be a good quick spot to hop out without holding up traffic.
I came across this adorable “wedding photo shoot” at the Tidal Basin one year!
DC’s Big Bus Tours, a hop-on hop-off bus, is a way to get around while adding in other area sights. Or there’s even a Cherry Blossom Segway Tour!
Getting Around & Tidal Basin Crowds
The Tidal Basin area gets very crowded during peak bloom, especially in the afternoons. The loop trail pathways are narrow and need repair in areas.
Getting through the crowded paths with a stroller can be difficult when the frenzy of peak bloom begins. Kid carrier backpacks are great if you have one!
Restrooms and Restaurants Nearby
Be sure to check my Tidal Basin cherry blossom map for restroom locations. There are restrooms at each of the monuments, plus there are port-a-potties set up for the Cherry Blossom Festival at the paddle boat dock landing.
In the map I’ve also marked the closest food options to the Tidal Basin. The closest restaurants with seating are in the US. Holocaust Museum Cafe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cafeteria. Both are open to the public, but check their websites for hours and holiday closures.
For a quick bite, check out the food trucks along 14th Street marked on the map.
Tips for Photographing DC’s Cherry Blossoms
This is the case where the early bird gets the worm! I prefer to wake up early and get sunrise shots of DC cherry blossoms with less people around. For photographers, the best times for taking photos of cherry blossoms are in the “golden hours”: the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. The “blue hour” 20-30 minutes just before sunrise and after sunset can also yield stunning shots.
Generally, it’s best to avoid mid-day when the sun is right overhead and gives the harshest light. But truly, the cherry blossoms are beautiful any time of day. And the best time to photograph them is when you’re able to get there!
Basic Photo Tips for Cherry Blossoms:
- Clean your camera lens of dust and fingerprints, especially if you’re using a camera phone.
- Cherry blossoms look striking framing the monuments. Try shots with the blossoms in focus, monument in focus, and vice versa.
- Does your camera have a “portrait” setting? This will blur the background of your photo, which works great for close-ups of blooms.
- Take shots from different heights and angles, not just shots from chest level. If you’re photographing kids or pets, always kneel or take shots at their eye level.
- Use reflective surfaces like puddles to your advantage. If it’s a still morning, the water of the tidal basin is gorgeous reflecting the blooms in the morning light!
- From a distance, people in your shots can give interesting perspective.
- Editing your photos just a little bit makes a big difference. Even using the auto feature on your iPhone will punch up a photo to make it look better for Instagram.
- The best shots of the Jefferson Memorial at sunrise are from West Potomac Park from the FDR Memorial to the MLK Memorial. Get shots of the Washington Monument framed by blossoms here too.
- After sunrise, you can get a pretty shot of the Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry blossoms from near the tidal basin paddle boats.
There are some DC photography groups that meet up to take photos of the cherry blossoms each year. If you’ll be in town and want to shoot with fellow photographers, follow IGDC on Facebook for event updates or Shutterbug Excursions on Meetup.
Other Blossom Spots in Washington, D.C. Great for Photos
These other spring bloom locations are great additions to your Washington, D.C. cherry blossom itinerary. At the end of this section, I’ve pinned them all to a map that includes the descriptions. Click on the links below to visit the garden’s website and for detailed directions.
The Martin Luther King Memorial has forsythia that bloom before the cherry blossoms.
This small garden blooms with a “library” of tulips in April. You can get a low-angle shot of the Washington Monument framed by tulips.
Rawlins Park is another early blooming spot in DC! It’s a small park located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, a few blocks from the National Mall. In mid-to-late March, the saucer magnolia trees that line the park bloom.
Enid A. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle
The Enid Haupt Garden has blooms throughout the seasons, starting with magnolias in mid-to-late March. Then expect to see cherry blossoms, tulips and sweet-smelling hyacinth among many other flowers. Don’t miss the section called the Moon Gate Garden, for lovely reflections of the Smithsonian Castle and early-blooming paper bush that smells amazing! Located on the National Mall here.
Dumbarton Oaks is one of my favorite places in the city! This former private home in Georgetown is now a museum, research facility and garden. The garden with gorgeous terraced areas and rambling park space is open each day from 2-5pm. Dumbarton blooms throughout the seasons, but in spring (mid to late March) you’ll see forsythia, plum, magnolia and cherry blossoms among many others. Find prices and bloom info here and a map here. Be aware that Dumbarton can get very busy with locals trying to avoid other touristy parts of the city, and only street parking is available.
The National Arboretum is a joy to visit any time of year, and has cherry blossoms, azaleas, and many other blooms spring through fall. Don’t miss the bonsai museum and National Capitol Columns! It’s located here and is accessible by bus or car (parking is available).
Washington National Cathedal’s Bishop’s Garden
The National Cathedral’s Bishop’s Garden is another favorite DC spot. To the right of the Washington National Cathedral is a small gate to the Bishop’s Garden. This garden has star magnolias and weeping cherries that bloom in mid-to-late March, and you can get an amazing shot of the Cathedral framed by blossoms from the bottom of the garden. Tulips, iris and other flowers bloom from spring through summer here. Pay to park in the Cathedral lot or find a spot in the neighborhood sidestreets.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington Cemetery is just over Memorial Bridge from DC, so I’m including it as a DC cherry blossom spot as well. Arlington Cemetery is a moving place to visit, and beautiful in all seasons. The cemetery is large and has about 400 cherry trees throughout its 624 acres. Some of them bloom later into May as well.
Map of Other Places to See Cherry Blossoms
Planning Your Trip to DC
Cherry Blossom Season Weather
In early spring in Washington, D.C. the weather will be cold, windy, rainy, sunny, and hot, probably all in the same day. Wear layers and bring rain boots if you have them – the Tidal Basin is in need of repairs, and some parts can get muddy after rains.
Cherry Blossom-Themed Foods & Activities
Some DC restaurants get in on the blossom frenzy and add themed items to their menu! I will post links as I see local news. There’s often a blossom-themed pop up bar too!
Where to Stay for Cherry Blossom Season
Washington, D.C. has a ton of great neighborhoods to explore. For a visit to see cherry blossoms, I’d recommend that you stay at a hotel within relatively easy access of the Tidal Basin. The best budget hotels will be close to a Metro station either in DC or Arlington, Virginia which is just across the Potomac River. I would recommend avoiding Georgetown and Adams Morgan, because those neighborhoods don’t have Metro stops.
Prices for hotels in DC can increase dramatically during the spring and summer tourism seasons. Hotels also book up early, so I’ve tried to give lots of options in different price ranges.
Keep in mind that parking at hotels in Washington, D.C. can get pretty expensive – be sure to check this on each hotel listing if you will have a car.
Best Hotels for DC’s Cherry Blossom Season
Washington Court Hotel is located in Penn Quarter, a few blocks from Union Station where you can catch the Circulator bus right to the Tidal Basin.
The Mandarin Oriental is the closest hotel to the Tidal Basin, about a 10-minute walk.
Capitol Hill Hotel is located in Southwest DC less than 5 minutes’ walk from the Capitol South Station on the Blue Line. This is a best pick since you won’t have to change lines to get off at the Smithsonian stop.
Oakwood Crystal City is 5 minutes’ walk to the Pentagon City Metro on the Blue Line.
The Holiday Inn Washington Capitol is a few blocks from the DC Circulator route where you can catch the Circulator or walk to the Tidal Basin.
The Hotel Harrington is a 2-star budget hotel which makes my list for its great location, a few blocks from the Circulator route. It’s also a DC landmark (I stayed here on my first-ever trip to DC with my high school class!).
More Downtown DC hotels
The Kimpton George Hotel is a stylish boutique hotel a short walk from Union Station, where you can catch the Circulator. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Capitol Skyline Hotel is in SW DC about 10 minutes’ walk from the Navy Yard Metro Station on the Green Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Hyatt Place National Mall is a few blocks from the National Mall, where you can catch the Circulator. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Club Quarters is a few blocks from the Farragut Metro (Blue Line). Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Days Inn Connecticut Avenue is located 5 minutes’ walk from the UDC- Van Ness station on the Red Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Kalorama Guest House is 10 minutes’ walk from the Woodley/Zoo Metro on the Red Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Embassy Row Hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Dupont Circle Metro Station on the Red Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Arlington and Alexandria, VA
*Be sure to take the Blue Line and not Yellow at these stations, so you don’t have to change lines to get off at the Smithsonian stop.
Holiday Inn Crystal City is 15 minutes’ walk from the Crystal City Metro on the Blue Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Hilton Garden Inn National Airport is a 5-minute walk from the Crystal City Metro Blue Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Americana Hotel is 10 minutes’ walk to the Crystal City Metro on the Blue Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
The Hampton Inn Alexandria Old Town is a few minutes’ walk to the King Street Metro on the Blue Line. Check rates and availability here on Booking.com.
Ready to see some cherry blossoms?
I love living in Washington, D.C., and after more than 10 years here, I’m really excited to share my best tips for experiencing spring in our nation’s capital. If you see me at the Tidal Basin or other gardens, be sure to say hi!
Pin this guide for reference when planning your trip and for access to my map of cherry blossoms in DC when you get here!