If it seems like the Tidal Basin is even more crowded than usual, that’s because 2012 is a big year for the blossoms: This is the 100th anniversary of the arrival of 3,000 cherry trees presented to Washington as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo. In 1912, first lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two trees at the northern bank of the basin — and a few dozen from the original batch are still blooming. To celebrate, this year’s fest will run for five weeks, through April 27, with lots of special events, some of which are well worth braving the crush.
The official opening ceremony is at 5 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center. The event is free, but tickets are required. Registration is closed, but more tickets may become available. Check Nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for updates. (Mount Vernon Square)
The Second Annual Bike Ride and Cycle Expo starts at 10 a.m. along the Capital Crescent Trail at the Georgetown Waterfront. Bikers must register at Diabetes.org/cherryblossom. (Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn)
The Blossom Kite Festival lifts off from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. near the Washington Monument. (Rain date is April 1.) (Smithsonian)
The Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival starts at 8:30 p.m. (rain or shine) at the Southwest Washington Waterfront. (Waterfront)
The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. along Constitution Avenue NW, from 7th to 17th streets. Grandstand seats are $20 (through Ticketmaster.com); standing room along the parade route is free. (Archives or Federal Triangle)
March 30-April 29
Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800) features a 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings by the Edo period Japanese artist, lent by the Imperial Household to the National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-737-4215 (Archives). It’s the first time the paintings are on view in the U.S.
Recent mild temps have already coaxed the trees into early bloom, and the National Park Service predicts the blossoms will peak Thursday and Friday (though the flowers should hang around for another week or more). You can also check out the official Cherry Blossom Webcam at nps.gov/cherry.
Timing Your Trip
Whether you’re biking, jogging, walking the dog or having a sunrise picnic, the early bird catches the awesome photo op at the Tidal Basin — and gets the waterside walks all to herself.
Lay of the land: Start at the Jefferson Memorial (open 24 hours a day, but rangers aren’t there until 9:30 a.m., so be mindful of your surroundings) and work your way around the path along the basin.
Why it’s awesome: Watching the sun rise over the nation’s capital is a pretty inspiring way to start your day. You’ll feel like an extra-productive member of society as you observe the morning tourist crowds pouring in.
Minor drawbacks: It’s too early to buy food from any vendors, so bring your own breakfast.
How to prepare: Sunglasses are essential. And don’t forget your camera — if you’re getting out of bed this early, your reward is to tease all the lollygaggers on Twitter and Facebook with brilliant photos of what they’re missing.
What to look for: Artists, athletes and taxi drivers all flock to the basin in its “off-peak” hours. You might even catch a lovely photo shoot for an engagement or wedding.
Taking a nighttime stroll is a wonderful way to see the blossoms. It’s romantic, if you’re into that. Plus, the relative peace and quiet lets you appreciate how beautiful the trees — and our city — really are.
Lay of the land: Though the public path around the Tidal Basin doesn’t offically close after dark, you’ll still find far fewer tourists there than during daylight hours.
Why it’s awesome: The Tidal Basin is just lighted enough that you can find your way, but not enough to distract from the white flowers, which take on an extra-beautiful, moonlit glow.
Minor drawbacks: Pay attention to where you’re walking. Sometimes the reservoir floods across the pavement, and suddenly, you’re wading.
How to prepare: We recommend bringing a friend, for safety and because it’s nice to have someone to talk to besides a bunch of trees. We suggest a post-happy-hour group trip.
What to look for: The FDR Memorial maze is a nice break from the roundabout of the Tidal Basin. And you can contemplate how cool Eleanor Roosevelt was.
Getting There: Parking is extremely limited near the Tidal Basin, but the Smithsonian Metro stop will get you close to the action.
Event Info: For the full schedule of events — and details on getting around — go to Nationalcherryblossomfestival.org, call 877-442-5666 or download the official app for iPhone and Android.
Written by Express’ Katie Aberbach, Kristen Page-Kirby and Fiona Zublin