The Washington Monument is seen through cherry blossoms on… (JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/Getty…)
Even as they turn 100, Washington's cherry trees in full bloom remain as wondrously beautiful as ever — which explains why more than a million people are expected to come gaze at them over the next five weeks.
D.C.'s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, perhaps the most welcome harbinger of spring anywhere in the U.S., begins Tuesday (the first day of spring) and runs through April 27 (Arbor Day). Expanded from its customary 19 days in celebration of the trees' 100th anniversary, the schedule includes fireworks, a parade, live music, visits from Japanese dignitaries and entertainers, and even a commemorative stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.
But best of all, it includes the flowering of some 3,700 cherry trees — including about 100 of the original Yoshino cherry trees presented to the U.S. by Japan in 1912. Every year, crowds flock to Washington to walk along the Tidal Basin under the trees' vibrant pink canopy.
In all, Washington's cherry trees encompass some 12 species. But it would take an expert to really spot the difference.
"I doubt that the average person could walk up and really notice," says National Cherry Blossom Festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente. The older trees, she notes, may appear a little more gnarled, but their blooms are just as pretty.
The festival opens with Tuesday's sixth annual Pink Tie Party, a festival fundraiser featuring spring- and cherry-inspired cuisine prepared by 35 of the D.C-area's top chefs. The event runs from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Tickets are $200.
Other events spread out over the five-week celebration include the March 25 opening ceremony, featuring Sara Bareilles, Denyce Graves-Montgomery, Hideki Togi, the Washington Ballet and others (free, but advance registration is required); an April 7 fireworks display, courtesy of the Japanese city of Nagaoka; the April 14 National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; and the first Jazz at the Jefferson music festival, running April 19-22.
Information on these and other Cherry Blossom Festival events is available at 877-44-BLOOM (25666) or nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.
As for the trees themselves, the peak blossoming time should run from March 24-31 — a little earlier than usual, thanks to the warmer weather, Piacente says. Visitors will find the trees along the Tidal Basin and on the Washington Monument grounds; the older trees are in a grove near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.
To avoid the crowds, Paciente suggests visiting a group of trees along Hains Point, with access off Ohio Drive. The trees don't much mind all the people, but some visitors might.