I am absolutely fascinated by cherry blossoms, those pink-white flowers from the Japanese cherry tree (also called Sakura).
For one, I love everything from Japan, one of my favorite countries in the world and one of the few places that can still surprise me in the most subtle ways.
Then there is the whole transient nature of the cherry blossom– at peak bloom for only a few days of the year (and nearly impossible to predict very far in advance)– it’s the kind of beauty that you can only enjoy in the moment. Miss it by only a day or two and the blossoms are completely gone. Not everything is meant to last forever.
And of course there is something just visually spectacular about seeing rows of cherry blossom trees in full bloom, their branches heaving with white and pink flowers against a blue spring sky.
If you can’t get to Japan, the next best place to see the cherry blossoms at peak bloom is in Washington DC at the Tidal Basin. Other places might have more actual trees (Newark, New Jersey’s Branch Brook Park has nearly double the amount) but none can match the iconic setting of the Tidal Basin, with the backdrop of the national monuments over the water.
A Cherry Blossom Weekend in Washington
I feel like I’ve been chasing the cherry blossom’s peak bloom forever. Even though I lived in DC for a few years while studying at Georgetown, class schedules and university life never seemed to coincide with bloom peeping. Over the years since, it seems like something always interfered with getting back to DC for peak bloom. But this year, the timing seemed to work out perfectly, so I hopped a late night Amtrak train from New York to Washington.
See the Cherry Blossoms at Washington’s Tidal Basin
Planning to see the cherry blossoms at peak bloom requires ample flexibility and frequent checking of peak bloom forecasts (which change often). Fortunately, the tidal basin has an “indicator tree” which blooms about a week in advance of the other trees, so it can be a pretty reliable forecast of peak bloom.
While visiting during peak bloom is critical to get the full on blossom experience, you may also want to factor in the crowds. If you don’t mind shuffling along side-by-side with tourists and baby strollers, by all means visit mid-day on a Saturday, when the crowds can be positively crushing. I decided it was worth taking a day off work to visit on a Friday and hope for smaller crowds. The forecast for my planned morning was grim– showers and high winds. Fortunately, the rain mostly kept away (and the threat of bad weather kept the crowds eerily small).
Still, the overcast skies and blowing trees didn’t make for ideal photography conditions, so I didn’t bother taking many photos. On the plus side, less focus on getting the best shot made viewing the cherry blossoms all the more an “in the moment” experience.
Cherry Blossoms Cocktails
This year, one of my favorite places for drinks, Zatinya, had a cherry blossom drink special. I’m not exactly sure what was in it (the list of artisan ingredients was way too long) but it was tasty and pretty, topped with a real bloom. While dinner at Zatinya is also excellent, for a true DC experience– and perfect for a romantic weekend– you can’t go wrong with the classic 1789 in Georgetown (get a table near the fireplace).
Cherry Blossom Souvenirs
I planned to suggest scooping up some fallen cherry blossoms, pressing them back home, and creating something worthy to hang on the wall. But after extensive googling, the few pressed cherry blossom projects I found weren’t all that impressive and seemed like a lot of trouble (if you have a great idea for pressing blossoms, please send it to me!).
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an arts and crafts expert to bring home the cherry blossom experience. The White House gift shop (there are several, but I recommend the one on H Street behind Lafayette Square) has a tasteful display of several cherry blossom souvenirs, including hand painted china, lacquer boxes and Christmas ornaments.
Or, like the blossoms, this can be one experience where you skip the souvenir and just appreciate the transient nature of the blossoms. While I enjoyed the perfection of the cherry blossoms at their peak, as they slowly fell from the trees it seems they were meant to be left behind. And I did just that as I climbed back aboard the train to New York.