The District of Columbia isn’t short on tourist attractions. The Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the museums of the Smithsonian Institution… they definitely needed one more reason — or should I say 3,700 more reasons — the cherry trees of the tidal basin. The original 3,020 cherry trees were a gift of friendship from the Empire of Japan in 1912. The trees were also several different verities, such as 1,800 somei-yoshino, 100 ari ake, 120 fugen-zo, 50 fuku-roku-ju and 20 gyo-i-ko.
I will admit that the when the trees bloom they are pretty, they look like little white and pink clouds settling along the tidal basin and almost make me forget the torturous task of actually picking cherries at in my parents’ orchard. But as they bloom my allergies start to go nuts and so does the city (and the 1.5 million visitors), where the most picturesque trees surround the Jefferson Memorial. The peak of the bloom, a point at which 70% of the blooms are open, will be April 4th according to the National Park Service. This date isn’t a secret, the NPS tells everyone, so this will also be the time when the bulk of the 1.5 million visitors come to town. The basin will be crowded, the traffic will be bad. I tend to avoid these areas of DC at all costs because I have to drive everywhere.
I’ll say it, the Park Service will say it, the city will say it: Take. Metro. The capital has an extensive underground transit system that will get you into the city from the ample parking in the suburbs. You can start and ride your way out in Shady Grove, Springfield, Largo, or Vienna and zip in to Smithsonian Station, the closest stop to the tidal basin.
If you’re coming to the city, please, please abide by the crosswalks and do not cross against the lights. Those of us that drive, including city busses will honk, yell, and make you feel very unwelcome. Third, keep track of your stuff. If you leave your bag, cooler, or diaper bag somewhere as the anonymous lady over the airport loud speaker says, your baggage will be subject to “search, seizure and destruction” as well as have half the tidal basin evacuated and traffic shut down as the police investigate a suspicious package. You will ruin everyone’s day — including mine as I will have to likely skip lunch and watch the police send a robot to blow up your purse, diaper bag, or cooler.
If you’re interested in attending the this year’s festival and its events you really need to check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival website for all the events and activities they have to offer. Plan your trip carefully and keep in mind not all of the events are free and some have a limited number of tickets available.
The best free organized event is the Cherry Blossom Parade, scheduled for Saturday, April 12th along Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th streets. The festival committee has never said this openly, but after attending the parade several times in the last several years I’m pretty sure I know their goal: to be to spring what Macy’s is to Thanksgiving and the Rose Parade is to New Year’s. The parade starts at 10am rain or shine and will feature bands, balloons, floats and dance numbers held right in front of the National Archives, the home to the Constitution and the freedom of expression it asserts.
I would easily say the best free show is the blossoms themselves, the only thing it will cost you to see them is time and patience and, in my case, allergy medication.