If Washington, DC were a pedigreed dog, it would never take Best in Show. Apart from a few historic enclaves (i.e., Georgetown and Kalorama), the nation’s capital is pretty drab. Except, that is, during the four weeks in spring when the city’s three thousand cherry trees are in full flamboyant bloom, and the streets and tidal basin are bedecked with pink flowers. It’s the all-too-fleeting high point of spring, and it is eagerly anticipated not only by residents, but by the million strong tree-fanciers who visit the nation’s capital in April. They come for the cherry blossoms and for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 2000 cherry trees from the Japanese government to the city of Washington, DC. Although the festival runs from March 20th to April 12th, the first weekend of April has an especially strong line-up of events. Here’s how to achieve cherry blossom nirvana without leaving the East Coast.
Friday, April 3
6:00 p.m. Check in at The Line, an ultra-fashionable boutique hotel with a youthful vibe, in the trendy Adams Morgan district.
8:00 p.m. Walk to dinner at Sushi Taro near Dupont Circle while admiring the cherry blossoms along the row house-lined streets. A DC institution, Sushi Taro is the perfect restaurant for a business dinner, a birthday celebration, or a meal to mark the flowering of the cherry trees. Make sure to book a table well in advance. www.sushitaro.com
Saturday, April 4
9:00 a.m. Breakfast at Brothers and Sisters in the lobby-dining room of The Line. The set menu includes roasted fish, pickled vegetables, rice soup, steamed egg custard, fruit salad, and choice of coffee, tea, or juice — heaven.
10:00 a.m. Stake out your position along Constitution Avenue for the Petalpalooza Parade. Expect pink floats, giant helium balloons and marching bands. You can opt to stand along the parade route (free) or watch the pageant from the comfort of a grandstand seat. (Tickets start at $20). To buy tickets, visit nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.
12:30 p.m. Feeling peckish? Wander over to the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival (Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, between 3rd St. and 7th St.) which commences right after the parade. Billed as “the largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture in the United States,” the fair is a showcase for Japanese musicians, dancers, martial artists, craftspeople, and, oh yes, food. On the latter front, try the Osaka-style okonomiyaki — a savory pancake that is typical Japanese street fare — or the onigiri, seaweed-wrapped rice balls filled with spicy flaked salmon. You can also take in a bonsai exhibition, observe a master calligrapher at work, and sample green tea. (Tickets $15 at the festival, $10 if purchased in advance through Eventbrite.)
3:30 p.m. Contemplate cherry blossom masterpieces at the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, both on the National Mall. The galleries, which comprise the National Museum of Asian Art, are home to world-class collections of art from Japan. Don’t miss the Hokusai exhibition, “Mad About Art.”
7:00 p.m. Because one can’t live on rice balls alone, dine on quail and Yorkshire pudding at The Dabney. The whipped lardo on grilled ciabatta with pickles and herbs might hit the spot, too. If you can’t get a reservation, arrive early and eat at the bar. www.thedabney.com
Sunday, April 5
9:00 a.m. Visit the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park to admire the Yoshino cherry trees — and the city’s ephemeral beauty! — before heading home.