Washington DC

The Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in the DMV Area

From the iconic Tidal Basin to little-known spots that are bursting with color.

National Cherry Blossom Festival
National Cherry Blossom Festival
National Cherry Blossom Festival

Spring in DC means just one thing: cherry blossoms. First planted in the capital in 1912 when the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gifted 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees to the city, the delicately blossoming trees are now synonymous with springtime in The District.

While over a dozen cherry tree varieties grow throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia, the most commonly found is still the original Yoshino Cherry Tree with its iconic white and pink flowers and light almond scent. This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival will mark 110 years since cherry trees were first gifted to Washington, DC, and the first festival in two years due to the ongoing pandemic. The festival, which is expected to draw upwards of 1.5 million people, runs from March 20 through April 17 and this year’s peak bloom (defined by when at least 70% of the Yoshino Cherry Trees are in bloom) is anticipated to be from March 22-25.

While the blossoming trees draw in crowds by the millions, they are absolutely worth the hype and then some. The good news is that cherry blossom viewing doesn’t just mean a shoulder-to-shoulder shuffle with strangers around the Tidal Basin in DC (although that will always be one of our favorite spots to see the blooms). There are pockets of cherry trees in places that are off the beaten path as well. So whether you want the iconic view of trees in bloom around the monuments or want to discover a new spot to view the trees, here are the best places to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom this spring.

National Cherry Blossom Festival
National Cherry Blossom Festival
National Cherry Blossom Festival

Tidal Basin

National Mall
Nowhere in the DMV region is more closely associated with cherry blossoms than the Tidal Basin. And it’s for good reason: The Tidal Basin was the site of The District’s first cherry tree planting over a century ago. Today, the area is home to nearly 4,000 cherry trees (mostly of the Yoshino variety) that line the Basin’s path and spill out onto adjacent National Mall. A stroll around the Tidal Basin to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is an obligatory DC spring walk, but keep going and extend your stroll to pass the Japanese Pagoda, Japanese Lantern, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. A walk here at the height of peak bloom is nothing short of iconic.

US National Arboretum

Northeast
Tucked in on the far eastern edge of DC, the US Arboretum boasts 446 sprawling acres and nine and a half miles of roadways (both cars and bikes are allowed here). The Arboretum is home to several varieties of cherry trees, including three different hybrid varieties that were developed on site. Cherries aren’t the only flowering trees at the Arboretum; visitors this spring will be treated to dogwoods, magnolias, crab apple, and other flowering trees. Find your way among the blooms with the Arboretum’s free app which offers flowering tree guides and maps.

Stanton Park

Capitol Hill
A far more understated place to see the cherries in their prime is Stanton Park in Capitol Hill. The four-acre park may be small, but its walkways are lined with blossoming cherry trees. The park is named for Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and has been a public park since the 1870s. Today, it’s popular with locals out for walks and picnics. While it draws more people when the trees are in full bloom, it’s a good place to admire the blooms while avoiding crowds.

Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Garden

Georgetown
Dumbarton Oaks is an oasis in the city filled with blooms. The 53-acre property and private museum is located at the highest point in Georgetown. While you will need a ticket to go inside the home-turned-museum (tickets are free, but must be reserved ahead), the grounds are open to the public-and what grounds they are! Meticulously cultivated to feature flowering trees and plants throughout the year, there are several spots not to be missed, perhaps most notably, Cherry Hill, located on a remote slope of the gardens and awash in cherry trees. Don’t miss the Prunus Walk (for flowering plum trees) and Forsythia Dell, as well.
 

Hains Point Loop

The Wharf
If you want to avoid tourists altogether, Haines Point Loop, the area at the southernmost end of East Potomac Park, is the perfect destination. Just over four miles, the loop is lined with cherry trees and offers views of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, as well as DC’s Wharf. The park is accessible by foot or bike from the 14th Street Bridge and by car via Ohio Drive.

Congressional Cemetery
Congressional Cemetery
Congressional Cemetery

Congressional Cemetery

Capitol Hill
The cherry trees at DC’s Congressional Cemetery are on a schedule of their own thanks to their unique varietals. The cemetery is home to both Okame Cherry Trees, which tend to bloom up to two weeks before the Yoshino cherries elsewhere in The District, and well as Kwansan Cherry Trees which can bloom up to two weeks after the Yoshinos. The Congressional Cemetery is one the city’s best kept secrets, and now a popular place for dog and their humans to enjoy the fresh air. Stroll through to catch a first or last glimpse of the city’s riot of spring color.
 

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Vienna
The Meadowlark Botanical Gardens offers walking paths through 95 acres of gardens, woodlands, and a lake. The gardens (there are 30 of them!) are home to approximately 100 cherry trees. The trees here tend to reach peak bloom a few days after those at the Tidal Basin. Take them in while enjoying views of Fairfax County’s Piedmont Hills. Make sure to walk by the Gardens’ Korean Bell Garden and visit the restored 18th century log cabin.

Flickr/OscarPeteFan
Flickr/OscarPeteFan
Flickr/OscarPeteFan

Mount Vernon & the Mount Vernon Trail

Old Town Alexandria
The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail is an accessible biking and walking trail that runs from DC to Virginia. The scenic path leads you through waterfront and woods, past Old Town Alexandria, and eventually to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. You’ll find blooming cherries intermittently along the path.

Carlyle House Garden

Old Town Alexandria
Any stroll through Alexandria’s Old Town during cherry blossom season will inevitably lead you past dozens of trees in bloom, but make sure to step into the Carlyle House Garden. This private house museum and gardens in Alexandria is popular for weddings and engagement photos, and for good reason: it’s flush with cherry trees.

Glenstone Museum
Glenstone Museum
Glenstone Museum

Glenstone

Potomac
Glenstone offers 300 acres of art, architecture, and gardens. Snagging a free, timed ticket here is nearly equivalent to an Olympic sport, but should you be so fortunate, make your way here at the first sign of the blossoms. In addition to its indoor museum, Glenstone offers walking paths that wind past sculptures, meadows, and forest.
 

Brookside Gardens

Wheaton
Located in Maryland’s Montgomery Country, Brookside Gardens spans 50 acres of public gardens including an azalea garden (in bloom shortly after the cherry blossoms), rose garden, and a Japanese-style garden. Brookside is home to 26 cherry trees, a mix of Yoshino and the rarer weeping cherry. Notably, admission to Brookside Gardens is free.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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