Want to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival or avoid it? Apps are your best path.


The cherry blossoms are seen on April, 10, 2013, in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

We’ve all seen them: those gentle souls who walk zombielike through our fair city, heads lowered, smartphones pressed close to their faces, checking out something online while seemingly oblivious to the world around them.

This year, though, the Walking Read may be the ones most in the know about the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

The festival has taken on a decidedly digital cast, as organizers have launched an updated version of the event’s official app and developers have released a series of online tools to help tourists as well as D.C. residents seamlessly steer their way through the next few weeks.

There are apps for dining. Apps for cultural events. A walking-tour app for the most ardent petal philosopher. And even apps for those who want to get away from it all.

To be sure, not all the apps are new — festival organizers have had their own app since 2012 — but this year, there appear to be more options than ever for those who want to amplify their experience at the festival. Here’s a sample:


Selected events during the Cherry Blossom Festival
Festival guide

For the latest updates on festival happenings, the event’s free official National Cherry Blossom Festival app is an essential download. In addition to offering detailed but easy-to-understand schedules of the events and tours, it helps answer the question on every attendee’s mind: How do I find those trees? The “to the blossoms” feature provides straightforward descriptions of how to travel to the Tidal Basin via public transportation, bike, car or water shuttle.

Visitors can also use the app as a virtual guide for a walking tour around the Tidal Basin. The feature, still under construction, will highlight key areas within the 2.1-mile loop where most of the cherry trees are nestled and give visitors a history lesson about the more-than-century-old gift from Japan.

Visitors also can check the festival’s official Twitter feed, @CherryBlossFest.

Getting around

Held in the heart of the D.C. region, the festival is a stone’s throw from most public transportation. Several apps help you make sense of the area’s street network as well as train, bus and car services, while others point you toward the best places to visit when you’re not taking in the trees. With RideScout, just enter Point A and Point B, and the app displays every way imaginable to travel the distance, plus the estimated cost and departure and arrival times for each trip. (Free at iTunes and Google Play. The Android version is in beta.)

If you’re not in a rush, the Washington DC Smart Travel Guide suggests all the potential diversions between a trip’s starting and ending points, helping you build a multistop itinerary. (Free at iTunes and Google Play.) The DC Essential Family Guide lists dozens of hotels, restaurants and points of interest and helpful tips for families accompany many entries. (Free at iTunes; $1.99 at Google Play.)

As the festival winds down in the evening, fire up The Washington Post’s Going Out Guide app to read reviews and commentary on thousands of places to eat, drink and be merry. (Free at iTunes.)

Biking

If you want to take advantage of one of the largest bike-sharing systems in the country, look no further than “Where a bike at? ” All on one screen, this app shows you a map of the closest Capital Bikeshare locations, their addresses, how long it would take to walk to them, and how many bikes and empty docks they have. (Free at iTunes.)

As an even more straightforward option, D.C. Bikes, provides similar information plus a large compass pointing toward the nearest station. (Free at iTunes.)

Transit

As a basic guide to Metrobus and Metrorail travel, the mobile version of the transit authority’s Web site has the essential, easy to understand features: Trip Planner, NextTrain and NextBus. Service advisories are also easy to find.

Although easy to use, the mobile site lacks some of the way-finding features available on other transit apps. (Go to wmata.com on a mobile device and add the Metro site to your home screen.)

The Embark D.C. Metro app offers a tappable map of the Metrorail system to call up trip-planning information as well as a street map that aids in locating sites. (Free at iTunes.)

With 1,500 users, CapitolHop is fast becoming one of the most highly rated transportation apps for the District. It was launched in January by two local men who had transit applications piling up on their iPhones and wanted an easier way of figuring out departure times for the nearest bus or train.

The application uses a smartphone’s GPS technology to find the closest bus or rail stops and Metro data to put arrival times into your hands.

For Cherry Blossom Festival tourists who don’t know where the Smithsonian Metro station is, the application’s mapping shows where you are and where the station is. (Free at iTunes.)

The Post’s DC Rider app features a touch map of Metrorail that takes users straight to the next-train information for any station. It also has a color version of Metro’s Trip Planner that’s simple to use and easy to view. (Free at iTunes and Google Play.)

Parking

Although street parking is scarce in central Washington, many free apps will guide drivers to parking lots and garages. Spot­Hero and ParkWhiz , both free at iTunes and Google Play, are two examples. Linked with your device’s GPS, they display maps showing nearby parking and rates. They allow users to make reservations online. Please don’t use it while you’re driving.

Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
Victoria St. Martin covers breaking news and Prince William County for The Post's Local desk.
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