Alas – it’s spring!
Pack up the parkas, throw out the sweaters, and dress into flowery attire. Not only does spring mark the time of fun holidays and amazing Instagram photos, but also the emergence of beautiful, picturesque flora that tourists can’t wait to see. One of the most popular moments during the vernal season is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.
This year, the festival will last from March 20 to April 11, which leaves cautious travelers the chance to explore the numerous flowers that decorate the nation’s capital. Despite the wonderful views, the mass of tourists is still a major concern for anyone interested in visiting the area. As a former DC intern who has lived in the city (as well as the surrounding states), my number one advice is to wait until next year, as much of the sites may either be closed or may even be dangerous during COVID season. If you’re already in the area, however, here’s an inside look at the best – and safest – cherry blossom locations.
When the cherry blossom festival comes into mind, everyone’s first thoughts are often the Jefferson Memorial. Seen on numerous postcards and calendars, the memorial is surrounded by cherry blossoms outlining the Tidal Basin, a walkway that also connects the MLK and FDR Memorial. Tidal Basin itself is a great path for those who’d like to have the complete experience of flowers draping over their heads as they walk alongside the basin – however, this #1 attraction is flooded by tourists (many who don’t wear masks as the site is outdoors). You will be closely surrounded by others, so double-mask and bring a lot of hand sanitizer with you.
If you’re just trying to get to Jefferson Memorial and are okay with avoiding the flower paths, the safest option is to find the bike paths that are located across from Tidal Basin’s walkways (just mind the cyclists that occasionally cycle through). If it’s not too busy, you can even rent a bike using Capital Bikeshare, which has a bike port right behind the Jefferson Memorial. Once you arrive, you’ll realize that there are fewer tourists near the backside of the memorial. My boyfriend and I found this spot to be so remote, we even had the chance to have a safe picnic there!
Lastly, if you’re ever looking for a bathroom (which is an absolute must-know because Jefferson Memorial is a 20-minute walk from everything), most people don’t realize that there’s a restroom, gift shop, and mini-exhibit at the back-left entrance of the site. This entrance talks more about Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, but most tourists are too busy walking through the front of the memorial. Although still a bit busy, you’ll be able to cut the outrageous lines that can be found in the bathrooms at Washington Monument. Plus – cherry blossom souvenirs!
The Washington Monument is usually one of the top picks for sightseeing during the Cherry Blossom Festival. You’ll find that cherry blossom trees are lined around the monument before the green fields begin, making it a great picnic and activity area for families. Unfortunately, this brings crowds to every available tree, making the Washington Monument a not-so spacious place during the pandemic.
Most notably – do not bring a bicycle through this area during the festival. Unless you find a separate, sparse bike path, you’ll find yourself walking alongside the crowds. My piece of advice is to avoid walking within the Washington Monument completely and try approaching the corners of the monument area, where most people get tired of walking towards.
The best “quick-and-go” picture area is a cluster of cherry blossom trees on the opposite side of the public restrooms on Independence Ave and Raoul Wallenberg. If you avoid those long bathroom lines, you’ll be able to snag a few good shots and be on your way.
Hains Point Loop Trail
Something that can only be admired from afar this year is the Hains Point Loop Trail, a well-known spot for tourists to bike around the cherry-blossomed trail behind the Jefferson Memorial. Although closed this year due to COVID-19, travelers should take note – and maybe far-away photos – of the wonders this trail provides. In the end, the best way to admire those flowers is through NPS’s live cam.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
With a heavy heart, I must admit that I have not visited the MLK Memorial this year! From afar, I saw how absolutely beautiful it was to see the memorial surrounded with fresh, pink cherry blossoms that marked signs of beauty and hope.
What I also saw, however, were massive crowds; the same as in Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. At this point, I gave a “nope” to my agenda and decided to return home.
MLK memorial in general is a wonderful sight to see. The setup of the statue, stones, and quotes engraved are beyond words to compare. The closest piece of advice I could give to this is, I guess, arrive early to the memorials in general.
Let’s just say that 4 pm is a great time for traffic.
Local Cherry Blossom Sites
Yes, these trees are an absolute gift, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find them outside of the national sites. Through personal experience, I’d say that the #1 safest and best option to see cherry blossoms during the pandemic is to find local areas… with cherry blossoms!
Here’s the list:
- The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
- The National Arboretum
- Dumbarton Oaks Cherry Blossoms
- Stanton Park
Some of the best and safest regions can be found in the most unlikely spots, from the Congressional Cemetery to the National Institute of Health. This is where my boyfriend, an NIH postbac, and I found our time well spent – literally at the front gate of where he works.
We spent the rest of the evening totally to ourselves taking the most amazing photos during sunset – not a single soul photobombed our tree-hugging moment. After that, we were able to rent bikes and merrily cycle home.
So it depends! It’s all up to you. If you had never seen the monuments, discover the cherry blossoms at the monuments. If you’ve already traveled around DC before, dig around the listed, local areas to find hidden cherry blossom gems.
In the end, it all depends on how safe you feel and how prepared you are when having fun. Good luck!