There’s a reason the Tidal Basin is the epicenter of Washington’s cherry blossom madness: About 3,800 trees there, mostly of the Yoshino variety, create a shimmering, pink-cloud effect that’s quite nice — if you don’t mind the 999 people angling to get close to each one. Those who prefer a slightly more Zen experience can choose among an array of alternatives when peak bloom descends (supposedly) in early April. Here are six spots around the region that deliver a quieter, less crowded cherry blossom experience.
Cherry Hill is, in a word, magical: a slope that’s tucked away in a remote corner of this 10-acre Georgetown historic estate and that, in bloom, is reminiscent of a pastel forest. Unlike at many botanical gardens, there are no identification labels and no signage about the history of the trees, which helps create a relaxed environment.
“It’s a serene, parklike atmosphere where you can intimately enjoy the trees,” says Jonathan Kavalier, Dumbarton’s director of garden and grounds. “I love to watch how visitors use the space, and this garden is much more experiential. People will find a spot they like and just take it all in.”
Visitors often bring blankets and spend hours reclining among the various species of cherry trees, both on Cherry Hill and elsewhere on the grounds. Before heading out, explore Dumbarton Oaks Museum, where a new exhibition highlights ancient Chinese art from Mildred Barnes Bliss’s collection. Post-visit, duck into the nearby Bistrot Lepic and Wine Bar (1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW). The French menu includes snails baked in garlic butter and mushroom risotto with fried Brussels sprouts.
Dumbarton Oaks, 1703 32nd St. NW. $5-$10.
This federally run garden/research institution has the most diverse selection of cherry trees in the region. There are more than 70 varieties, and collection standouts include Awanui, a flowering cherry from New Zealand that’s rare in the United States, and Kojo-no-mai, known for its twisty branches. Some species were created by the scientists who work at the arboretum. In one research plot, “there’s every shade of pink you can think of, and some you’ve never thought of,” says Scott Aker, head of horticulture and education. “Every spring, it amazes me.”
The arboretum tends to have a longer blossom season than other local spots, with more early and late bloomers. Pick up instructions for a self-guided tour at the visitors center, and then wander the 446-acre property. Afterward, head to Supreme Core Cider’s taproom (2400 T St. NE), next to the residential entrance to the arboretum, for a flight or pint — perhaps the “cherry bloom” cider, which returned to the menu this month, blending sweet and tart cherries with Champagne yeast.
National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. NE. Free.
This grassy urban oasis is tucked among the historic rowhouses on Capitol Hill about half a mile from the Capitol. It’s named for President Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, although the statue in the center honors Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathanael Greene. The perimeter of the park is lined with cherry trees, and most visitors won’t have trouble snagging an unoccupied bench. Since it’s a 10-minute walk from Union Station, Stanton Park is a good choice for those passing through town who want to steal a quick peek at the blossoms.
While you’re in the neighborhood, pop into Ambar (523 Eighth St. SE), which is one of the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Cherry Picks restaurants — eateries that are offering special spring cocktails, entrees and desserts through April 8. Try the Visnja Sour: cherry-infused rakia and simple syrup, lime juice and a spritz of absinthe, garnished with, of course, a cherry. Or celebrate the season with a cherry blossom doughnut at District Doughnut (749 Eighth St. SE): It’s a gooey combination of vanilla bean dough, cream cheese glaze, cherry pie filling, pie crust crumble and cream cheese drizzle.
Stanton Park, Fourth and Sixth streets NE. Free.
More than 1,200 cherry trees — the largest concentration in any neighborhood in the area — line Kennedy Drive, Dorset Avenue, Kenwood Avenue and other streets in this in Bethesda enclave. Branches heavy with blossoms stretch from one side of the road to the other, creating a fairy-tale feel. Savor the blooming trees at their peak, and then return a few days later to walk a dazzling pink carpet of fallen petals.
Parking in the residential neighborhood can be a challenge, so consider taking Metro’s Red Line to the Bethesda station and then walking the mile and a half to Kenwood. Or hop onto the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown and bike to the neighborhood: The six-mile route delivers riders directly to Dorset Avenue.
While ambling through Kenwood, stop by the snow-cone and lemonade stands operated by young residents, and then celebrate the blossoms’ heritage at Yirasai Sushi (5110 Ridgefield Rd.). Lunch options at the small Japanese cafe, a neighborhood favorite, include sushi, sashimi, rice bowls and udon.
Kenwood, between Little Falls Parkway and River Road, Bethesda. Free.
This 95-acre park in Vienna lights up with about 200 cherry trees of assorted varieties, including the Yoshino blossoms that the Tidal Basin is known for. Many of them surround Lake Carolyn, where visitors are likely to spot koi fish and snapping turtles. There’s also a cluster near Meadowlark’s Korean Bell Garden.
Peak bloom typically occurs a day or two after it does downtown, says park manager Keith Tomlinson: “What I tell people is, if you’re a cherry tree enthusiast, go downtown, and then a couple days later, come here.”
Mosey about the grounds, then head to Clarity (442 Maple Ave. E), which Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has called “a one-of-a-kind dining experience in Northern Virginia.” The menu at chef-owner Jon Krinn’s modern American restaurant changes daily and has included such dishes as braised lamb ragout with hand-rolled fettuccine, followed by bittersweet flourless chocolate cake and cocoa-nib ice cream for dessert. The cherry blossoms are, after all, a special occasion.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna. $3-$6.
Don’t let the total of only three cherry trees dissuade you from this bucolic estate located on the banks of the Potomac in Alexandria. What River Farm lacks in quantity, it makes up for in atmosphere and serenity. The property, once owned by George Washington, is the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. Commune with the trees, and then explore the children’s garden, the orchard — ripe with apple, pear and Japanese persimmon trees — and the Osage orange tree, which is 200 years old and recognized as one of the largest in the country.
Peak bloom is expected to coincide with the explosion of 14,000 bulbs — daffodils, tulips and other radiant flowers planted across the property, says Dan Scott, AHS’s associate director for horticulture and River Farm. Bring a lunch to enjoy in the four-acre meadow, which is dotted with native grasses and wildflowers, and if you’re inspired by Washington’s legacy, continue the tour at nearby Mount Vernon (3200 Mount Vernon Hwy., Mount Vernon).
River Farm, 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria. Free.