After a dark, cold winter, few spring sights are greeted more warmly than the pink and white blossoms of flowering cherry trees. Washington, D.C., claims pride of display with the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 to April 14), drawing 1.5 million visitors. The festival honors the mayor of Tokyo’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees in 1912. The cherry blossom is Japan’s national flower, symbolizing both life’s vitality and its brief nature, and the Japanese celebrate spring with ohanami: parties with food and festivities, by the trees.
Today, cherry trees are so popular that you don’t have to go to D.C. to experience this seasonal beauty. Parks and gardens in cities across the country have spectacular displays, and some host unique Japanese cultural events: All make for a festive spring getaway in March or April. Remember that nature controls exactly when trees blossom. If you want to see the cherry blossoms at their peak—which may only last a few days—reach out to festival coordinators to determine the best time to visit.
April 6‒14, 2019
Photo courtesy of the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia
This festival began in 1998 as a daylong celebration, when the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia pledged to plant 1,000 additional cherry trees in 9,200-acre Fairmount Park. It is now a popular multiweek festival with dozens of events that focus on Japanese culture, from taiko drumming to traditional dance to flower arranging. The main park areas with cherry trees are near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River (rent a bike and hop on the tree-lined bike path). Also visit Memorial Hall for the must-see Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and the Horticulture Center.
Many events are free, but the grand finale on Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Sunday at the Horticulture Center costs $15, including a shuttle from Center City. If you want to do more sightseeing, Fairmount Park is near Center City and its historic attractions and museums.
Driving distances: 1 hour 45 minutes from Baltimore, Maryland; Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania; and Newark, New Jersey | 2 hours from Georgetown, Delaware and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco
April 13‒21, 2019, mainly on weekends
Photo courtesy of Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
The city’s historic downtown Japantown neighborhood, one of three remaining Japantowns in the continental United States, has celebrated cherry blossom season and both traditional and modern Japanese culture with a festival since 1968. More than 200,000 people fill the festival area annually to attend events—many of them free—from musical to martial arts performances.
The food bazaar offers a chance to sample Japanese delicacies and street-food favorites from unagi don (eel over rice) to yakitori skewers. A film festival and a large parade are other highlights. Japantown has cherry trees and the Peace Plaza (with its Peace Pagoda), but the cherry trees in Golden Gate Park are a city highlight. In the park’s Japanese Tea Garden, you can enjoy a break in the historic teahouse and wander pathways among traditional plantings and statuary.
Driving distances: 1 hour from San Jose and Santa Rosa, California | 1 hour 30 minutes from Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto, California | 3 hours 45 minutes from Reno, Nevada
Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis
Late March to early April
At this 79-acre botanical garden, a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1859, more than 230 flowering cherry trees create a much-anticipated spring display. Although the cherry trees are spread throughout the garden, the 14-acre Japanese Garden, which is among the country’s largest, should be your first stop. Perfect for strolling, the garden has waterfalls, a lake, islands, bridges, lanterns and a viewing platform, as well as white Yoshino cherry trees and pink weeping Higan cherry trees. It all creates a serene setting for enjoying spring. Photo © St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. All Rights Reserved by photographer Burt Remis.
The garden (entrance fee $12, free for kids under 13) also includes, among other special areas, the Climatron—a geodesic dome used as a conservatory—as well as the Tower Grove House and Victorian district garden. Near the botanical garden, the 1,300-acre Forest Park contains gardens and trails as well as the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo and other sights.
Driving distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Springfield, Illinois | 2 hours from Columbia, Hannibal and Jefferson City, Missouri | 2 hours 45 minutes from Champaign, Illinois and Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, April 6 (Rain Date: April 7)
Photo courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach
This free daylong event in 97-acre Red Wing Park began in 2006 as a way for the Sister Cities Association of Virginia Beach to introduce Japanese traditions to the community and promote goodwill and cultural understanding with Miyazaki, its Japanese sister city. The Japan Education Culture Center’s gift of 150 Yoshino cherry trees created a perfect setting for the festival and spring blossom viewing, and the park has developed a beautiful traditional Japanese garden.
You can bring a lawn chair and blanket and spread out to enjoy Japanese and other cultural musical, dance and drumming performances, and Japanese craft activities let everyone have hands-on experiences. There’s plenty more to see and do in Virginia Beach in spring as well, from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center to First Landing State Park to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
Driving distances: 1 hour from Newport News, Virginia, and Camden, North Carolina | 2 hours from Richmond, Virginia | 2 hours 45 minutes from Rocky Mount, North Carolina | 3 hours from Ocean City, Maryland
International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia
March 22‒31, 2019
Photo courtesy of the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Move over, Washington! Macon’s 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees (compared to D.C.’s 3,800) give weight to the city’s claim to be the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.” Beginning in 1952 after a visit to D.C., local realtor William A. Fickling, Sr., started giving away Yoshino cherry trees and spreading the word about their beauty. Planting continued, and the 1982 festival that began with the principles of “love, beauty and international friendship” has grown into a major 10-day event in this city 85 miles south of Atlanta.
Concerts, exhibits, arts and crafts, food trucks and a fair with amusement rides celebrate mostly American culture. Central City Park activities take place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; admission is $5 per person (free for children under 10). With all those blossoms, you’ll also want to download a driving map and explore the trees and the city’s historic districts on Macon’s Cherry Blossom Trail.
Driving distances: 1 hour 15 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia | 2 hours 15 minutes from Augusta and Valdosta, Georgia | 3 hours 30 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina