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Grand Dames

Our nation’s capital puts her best face forward in April
during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Bringing recognition to the ancient tradition of hanami (flower viewing), a Japanese legend recounts the story of an old man and his wife who discover the beauty, fragility, and mystery of the sakura (cherry trees). They find that, just like the blossoms, the beauty and mystery of life are fleeting. The centuries-old ritual of hanami, once practiced by Japanese nobles, is today celebrated all over Japan and throughout the world. Spring is heralded by clouds of pink blossoms and elaborate feasts. Picnics and parties take place beneath canopies of blooming cherry trees.

Jefferson Memorial

Above: Cherry blossoms frame the Jefferson Memorial at sunrise. steheap/Fotolia.com photo

Below: Festival parade is fun during blossom time. Downtown DC photo

parade

A simple act of friendship brought the tradition to the U.S. when, in 1912, Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, gifted 3,000 flowering cherry trees to the citizens of Washington, D.C. Today, the trees are the centerpiece of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, where thousands visit the nation’s capital for a slate of activities and perhaps even a picnic or two beneath the flowering sakura.

Peak Bloom

Timing a visit to Washington for optimum viewing is no exact science, and peak bloom dates vary from year to year, depending on weather. The main bloom date (defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are open) typically takes place the first week of April, and the festival is timed to coincide with peak dates. This year’s festival, March 20 through April 13, leaves ample time for getting in the best views of the city in bloom.

Though the festival is centered on the cherry trees that circle the Tidal Basin, the celebration is a citywide event, with activities taking place all over the D.C. metro area. Popular events include:

• the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, with hundreds of entries, including marching bands, colorful balloons, international performers, and cherry-inspired floats making their way down Constitution Avenue.

• the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival, a daylong event featuring stage entertainment, demonstrations, food vendors, and a spectacular fireworks display over the Washington Channel

• the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, stretching across six blocks and showcasing Japanese martial arts and musical and dance performances, as well as cultural exhibitions and dozens of vendors selling Japanese products and food.

Around the National Monument, visitors will also find festival kiosks and tents with food vendors, stage entertainment, souvenirs for sale, and National Park Service information and maps at the ready. The NPS offers daily ranger-led programs that meet at various memorial and monument locations and feature themed talks, lantern walks, and bike tours. There are also photo tours, where experts lead visitors to prime shooting locations and the opportunity to capture the best light, view, and fleeting beauty of these fabled Japanese cherry blossoms.

Jill Carstens-Faust is senior/photo editor of Home & Away magazine. She is based in Omaha, Neb.

Jan/Feb 2014 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information on the National Cherry Blossom Festival, go to www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org and www.washington.org. The festival, as well as many events, is free.

AAA Travel offers tours to Washington, D.C. Go to AAA.com/travel for more information, or call (877) 510-8702.

For independent travelers, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.


 


 
we also suggest  

The national zoo

Admission to this national treasure is free, and daily programs feature zookeeper talks and feeding demonstrations. The popular Asia Trail includes the Giant Panda Habitat, and the new Conservation Carousel highlights the significance of endangered species with custom-carved animals that include Komodo dragons and cheetahs.

Right: Mei Xiang is one of the Giant Pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Mehgan Murphy photo

panda

paddling the tidal basin

Two- and four-passenger paddleboats can be rented by the hour and make for a great vantage point for viewing and photographing the cherry blossoms. Reservations can be made in advance and are especially recommended during festival weeks.

Right: Paddleboats by the Jefferson Memorial Destination DC photo

paddling

Tour Georgetown

This iconic D.C. neighborhood is a funky blend of college town, 18th-century historical district, national diplomacy, and urbane entertainment epicenter. Home to multiple embassies–including those of France, Sweden, Thailand, Venezuela, and Ukraine–Georgetown also lures visitors to the popular restaurant and shopping district along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Spring is a perfect time to visit the neighborhood’s trove of historical attractions, too.

Right: Busy M Street in Georgetown. Destination DC photo

Georgetown

 

Tips for getting around Washington, DC

With all of its hustle and bustle, Washington, D.C. is surprisingly easy to navigate. Visitors have a variety of options that can move them around neighborhoods, attractions, and monuments.

A favorite with locals and tourists, the DC Circulator bus travels along five specific routes, including Georgetown. Buses arrive at stops every 10 minutes, and the fare is just $1.

Metrorail and Metrobus routes blanket the District. Many hotels are located near Metro stations. Friendly to the environment, Metrobuses use compressed natural gas or a hybrid electric drive system. You can purchase a one-day ticket for $14, which allows you to ride as many times as you’d like. Tickets can be purchased by cash or credit cards from vending machines located at the stations. Station managers are on hand to assist you in purchasing your tickets.

Of course, there’s always a taxi to hail if you need a ride from a hotel to a restaurant or attraction. In fact, D.C. has one of the highest taxi-to-citizen ratios in the country with more than 6,000 taxis serving the city.

One of the best ways to see D.C. is on foot. Wide sidewalks meander past inspiring monuments and museums found on the National Mall. Several walking tours are available, some with a specific focus, such as ghost stories.

Bike and Roll offers daily, three-hour guided bicycle tours of the monuments with stops at all of the major attractions along the National Mall.

– Information courtesy Destination DC

metro
Destination DC photo

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