Peak bloom time for cherry-blossom-watching this year around Washington D.C. will be March 26 to 30. Before scurrying for travel arrangements in that tight window, you should know that the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 14) has grown into a four-week affair that is stuffed with seasonal happenings around the city. Check out the top events, restaurants and hotels that show the nation’s capital in all its springtime splendor.
What to Know
While the delicate pink blooms are beautiful to look at, they also have a much deeper meaning. In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo presented the city of Washington, D.C. with 3,000 cherry trees to signify the close relationship between Japan and the U.S. The first “festival” was held in 1927 and has been a big part of springtime in D.C. ever since, attracting more than 1.5 million people each year. This year, the National Park Service predicts the peak bloom period will be between March 26 and March 30.
During cherry blossom season the entire city gets into the spirit, from museum exhibits and special performances to pink lights shining bright on some of Washington, D.C.’s famous sights such as the Southwest Waterfront and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Bus tours are great ways see the blossoms (they begin on March 15), with tour guides explaining the history of the trees and pointing out the prime spots for photo ops. Taxis and storefronts are adorned with commemorative blossom decals, and getting a free Petal Pass through Capital One Bank assures you discounts at places such as Pinkberry and Georgetown Cupcake, where you can pick up a cherry blossom cupcake, a classic Madagascar bourbon vanilla cupcake baked with fresh cherries and topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting and a fondant cherry blossom.
What to Do
Chef Lorena Garcia—of Top Chef Masters fame—will host the seventh annual Pink Tie Party to kickoff the festival season. The event is at the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel, and guests will be treated to cherry blossom-inspired dishes from more than 30 different D.C. restaurants, including Founding Farmers, Masa 14 and Vidalia. This event is sure to sell out, so purchase your ticket before it’s too late. March 20, 7 p.m., 999 9th St. NW, $200.
For a bit of exploring, embark on the Capitol Hill Cherry Blossom Food Tour. Your guide will verse you in the history of the Hill—the old stomping grounds of American composer John Philip Sousa and former F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover—while taking you to three local restaurants for convivial bites. Nosh on pork tenderloin with a dried cherry stone fruit chutney at Zest American Bistro, and chocolate truffles with a cherry reduction at Cava Mezze, and then wash it all down with a cherry-infused margarita at Las Placitas. March 20-April 14, Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m. and Monday, Wednesday 3:30 p.m. Tours start at Eastern Market Metro Stop, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, $49.
Returning after a two-year break, Taste of Japan will be back in full swing on April 4. The event at Carnegie Library pays homage to the original home of the cherry trees gifted to the U.S. more than 100 years ago. Various Japanese restaurants throughout the city plan to participate, including KAZ Sushi Bistro and Yo! Sushi, allowing guests to sample authentic Japanese fare. Be on the lookout for sake and craft beer from Japanese brewers, too. April 4, 7 p.m., 801 K St. NW, $100 to $150.
Hit the National Mall for a variety of free events during the festival. Guided tours with National Park Rangers, pet-friendly walks, food tents, live stage performances and even a ranger-led bike tour and night walk around the Tidal Basin will be part of the free activities at the National Mall. March 13-April 13.
Where to Eat
Brasserie Beck, a Belgian restaurant in McPherson Square, will be serving a whole slew of festival-appropriate plates. Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s cherry-centric menu features dishes such as grilled gulf shrimp with baby arugula, toasted hazelnuts, barrel-aged feta and cherry balsamic vinaigrette, as well as a traditional German chocolate cake with cherries spiked in brandy and Chantilly cream.
More than 90 restaurants participate in Cherry Picks during the festival season, where chefs concoct cherry-inspired dishes for patrons. Order up duck confit with foie gras cream and cherry compote at 1789 Restaurant, a classic Georgetown eatery outfitted with American antiques and historic art.
Head over to Park Hyatt Washington’s Blue Duck Tavern to sip The Blossom cocktail made using cherry blossom syrup, Heering Cherry Liqueur, Prairie Vodka, honey vinegar, lime zest muddled with Amarena and maraschino cherries, and a splash of soda. You can also attend the interactive “Cherries & Chocolate” cooking class that’s part of the restaurant’s Masters of Food & Wine series. Hosted by pastry chef Peter Brett and local chocolatier Zoe Tsoukatos of Zoe’s Chocolate Co., you’ll celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival in true culinary form.
Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. is getting into the spirit with two special packages: Sakura and Cherry Blossom Give-A-Tree. The Sakura package ties in with the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s creation of a signature scent for the festival using bergamot, black currant, cherry blossom, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, vanilla and musk. Aside from a four-course dinner for two on The Ritz-Carlton Suite’s terrace featuring cherry-inspired dishes, you’ll find cherry-scented room amenities in the form of a candle, reed diffuser and room spray. You’ll also be treated to a chauffeured tour of the powdery pink cherry blossoms and monuments in a luxury sedan. The Cherry Blossom Give-A-Tree package includes overnight accommodation in a deluxe guest room, breakfast for two at the hotel’s Westend Bistro and a cherry blossom welcome amenity in the form of a special card—adorned with official artwork from the festival. The National Arbor Day Foundation will plant a tree in a national forest for every card that’s given.
Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C., another Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel, is offering the Cherry Blossom Bloom package. Guests can indulge in a buffet breakfast for two at Sou’Wester, and cherry-themed treats and a 20 percent discount on a cherry blossom treatment at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star spa. The special treatment begins with a warm exfoliating cream made with cherry blossom rice powder, followed by an exfoliating massage, foot massage and full-body massage using melted Shea butter.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-drnadig