The National Cherry Blossom Festival is the kickoff to spring in Washington, DC. The festival begins on the first official day of spring (March 20th) and runs through mid-April. In this episode of the Trip Hacks DC Podcast, Rob is joined by Nora Strumpf to talk about visiting Washington, DC during cherry blossom season.
Nora is the Communications Coordinator for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the not-for-profit organization that organizes the festival in DC each year. She has been with the NCBF since 2015 and is a DC-area native.
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The National Cherry Blossom Festival (NCBF) is a non-profit organization that puts together the wonderful festival in Washington, DC each spring. There are 13 full-time year-round staff members, additional support in the spring and hundreds of volunteers. If it seems like the festival comes together on its own it speaks to how well the organization does its job! Nora recommends volunteering for the festival to get a cool behind-the-scenes experience and meet great people. You don’t have to be a local either, visitors are encouraged to volunteer as well. Check out the NCBF volunteer website for more information.
The most important thing to know about the timing of the blossoms is that the bloom is notoriously difficult to time. The blossoming period is dependent on the weather and environmental factors. The blossoms typically come out at some point during the month-long festival, but they aren’t fully in bloom the entire time. Bookmark the Bloom Watch page on the NCBF website for up-to-date information about bloom dates.
Coming during peak bloom is a magical experience, but Nora recommends planning your trip around the events, rather than the bloom. There are great events happening every week. The “Signature Events” are the big ones that happen mostly on Saturdays during the Festival.
1.Pink Tie Party. Pink is the official color of the Festival and this party is the kickoff the spring in Washington. Guests dress up in their best pink cocktail attire and gather downtown at the Ronald Reagan building. There’s awesome food and open bar. While many of the Festival events are completely free, this party is a big fundraiser for the organization. Buying a ticket helps support the Festival this year and in future years.
2. Opening Ceremony. See performers from the U.S. and Japan welcome spring to Washington, DC. Opening Ceremony is a seated performance that celebrates the historic friendship between the two countries. This event has performances from the traditional to contemporary music, dance, light shows, and other great entertainment. Tickets are free (plus a small processing fee) or you can get premium seating by making a small donation to the festival. Tickets sell out so get one early if you want to attend!
3. Blossom Kite Festival. The Kite Festival is a longstanding DC tradition dating back over 50 years. Held on the grounds of the Washington Monument, it’s a site to see – thousands of kites flying on the National Mall. Photos of this event do not do it justice, you really must see it yourself. You can fly your own kite, purchase a special commemorative kite or watch professionals fly. This is a family friendly event that keeps kids interested more than most events. If you want a souvenir kite check out this year’s Festival artwork to see what it will look like.
4. Petalpalooza. A great event for all ages, this event runs all day and ends with fireworks after dark. There are multiple stages of live music, a beer garden and fun for kids. Petalpalooza takes place at the Wharf. Before the Wharf opened in 2017 the event was called the Southwest Neighborhood Fireworks Festival and has evolved over the last few years along with the development in that area of the city. Trip Hack: you can get a great view of the fireworks from East Potomac Park since the fireworks are launched from a boat on the Washington Channel.
5. National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Perhaps the signature of all the signature events, see floats, balloons, marching bands, famous singers and other entertainers. The parade is one of DC’s biggest spectator events. The route is along Constitution Avenue with monuments and famous DC landmarks in the background. The parade is free and you can stand along Constitution Avenue or buy tickets to sit in the grandstand. Nora also suggests sitting in the telecast area, the spot where TV cameras film the parade. Rob recommends checking out the performers as they are practicing and warming up beforehand on the National Mall.
In addition to the signature events there are over 50 total events. The Festival works with partners throughout the region to produce programming that celebrates Japanese culture and other fun springtime events. Check out the full list events on the NCBF website.
A few practical tips from Nora: be patient and don’t be intimidated by crowds. Plan your trip around the events and don’t try to plan around peak bloom. Take Metro and don’t try to drive if you can avoid it.
More practical tips from Rob: The heaviest crowds are on the Tidal Basin but you can see blossoms all over the city don’t be afraid to explore other areas! Check out East Potomac Park and consider a bike ride if you’re physically able – there are a huge concentration of trees in the area. Also be kind to the trees and listen to Paddles the Beaver.
Thank you again Nora for sharing your insider knowledge of the Festival!