Celebrate the arrival of Spring at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC. The official purpose of the festival is to commemorate the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan. In 1912, more than 3,000 cherry trees were shipped on a Japanese ocean liner to Seattle and transported by train to Washington, where First Lady Helen Herron Taft helped plant the first two on the banks of the Tidal Basin.
The National Park Service schedules the festival based on their prediction of when the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin will reach peak bloom. This is typically between mid-March to early April. Each year horticulturists study the trees carefully for months before issuing their predictions, and I think they do a great job each year!
Stroll Around the Tidal Basin
When visiting DC, we prefer to park at the end of the metro line and ride in. I always love that first view of the National Mall when emerging from the Smithsonian station. Looking in one direction you see the Washington Monument, and in the other, the US Capital building. From the metro station, it was a short walk over to the Tidal Basin area where we enjoy the leisurely 2-mile stroll around the tree lined path. Spring in DC is often blessed by beautiful sunny days with temperatures in the lower 70’s.
During the festival, you can enjoy performances like this one by the Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble. They perform dances from Ukraine, Romania, Macedonia, and of the Roma/Gypsy people.
Moving around the Tidal Basin, you’ll see folks on the water in rented paddle boats. Further around the bend, is the Japanese Stone Lantern. The festival also features a Lighting Ceremony. The stone lantern is eight feet tall and weighs six tons. The ceremony includes Taiko drums, Sakura music, and both the American and Japanese National Anthems.
Visit the Monuments
On the western edge of the Tidal Basin, you’ll pass two memorials: one honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and one dedicated to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is one of the newest memorials in the city. The memorial’s official dedication date was August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The street address is 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W., referencing the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. The memorial features a 30-foot-tall relief carving of Dr. King made from a section of granite that stands out from a long wall, which depicts a mountain. An inscription reads “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” which is a line from his “I Have a Dream” speech. The wall also contains dozens of additional quotes from his life. There are a few benches here, built into the beautiful landscaping, giving you a change to relax and enjoy the memorial.
Next is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which features a series of bronze statues that take you on a walk through time as FDR’s four terms in office are chronicled. The statues depict the former president, the first lady, their dog, and a scenes depicting American life during this time period. The memorial also includes dozens of quotes, inscriptions, and interesting moments from his life.
The final stop on this walk is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The rotunda features prominently in the views around the Tidal Basin. Inside the open-air, neo-classical marble memorial chamber is a 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson. There are four quotations from Jefferson’s writings carved into the walls of the memorial chamber. The memorial stands in a straight line with the White House. Take a moment to rest on the steps of the memorial and catch a glimpse of it.
Don’t Forget the Food
As you make our way back to the Smithsonian metro station, don’t forget another festival favorite, the food trucks. They are typically lined up on 14th Street between the Washington monument and the metro station boasting every type of food you can imagine!