The snow totals this winter may have been unimpressive compared to previous seasons, but the winter felt long, and few Washington residents and visitors will be sad to see it go. A sure sign that single-digit temperatures are behind us, at least for a while, is the bloom of the Japanese Yoshino cherry trees along the Tidal Basin. The tiny pink blossoms are iconic and symbolic, representing not only pleasant weather forecasts but also the congenial relationship between the United States and Japan. Their beauty is also an enduring symbol of Washington, D.C., and one of the city’s biggest tourist draws.
The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, running from March 20 to April 12 this year, commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki to Washington. This year marks the 103rd anniversary of that gift, and about 1.5 million will come out to see the flowers and participate in four weekends of related programming.
Cherry blossom fever is hard to avoid. Celebrations of the event are happening all over the nation’s capital, and the frigid weather won’t dampen the delicate but durable flowers, which the National Park Service expects will reach peak bloom at the tail end of the festival. In the meantime, whether you are looking for a luxurious spa experience, a hotel getaway, a blossom-inspired meal or some cultural exposure, there’s something for everyone.
Hotels are offering not just overnight deals, but also spa, food and drink specials:
Willard InterContinental Washington
The hotel that hosted Japan’s first delegation to the United States in 1860 is going all out for this year’s festival. In addition to its annual live cherry blossom display in the lobby, the Willard is offering a Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea (Thursday to Sunday through April 12, from 1 to 4 p.m.; $51 per person, $22 for children up to age 12) in the hotel’s blossom-laden Peacock Alley.
Snack on vegetarian spring rolls made with a teriyaki glaze, orange sesame chicken salad, black tea or cherry scones, green tea crème brulee and sake shortbread — all while a kimono-clad player strums a koto, a Japanese harp-like instrument. The hotel will also display handcrafted Japanese dolls from Akiko Keene’s Washington Japanese Dolls and Crafts School.
Book the Willard’s Very Cherry Blossom Package (available until April 30) and you’ll receive a two-night stay along with complimentary breakfast for two at Café du Parc, or stay three nights and enjoy complimentary Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea for two.
Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC
At this Georgetown oasis, guests can literally bathe themselves in the spirit of spring with the 80-minute Cherry Blossom Champagne Body Treatment ($265 Monday to Thursday; $285 Friday to Sunday) at the Four Seasons Spa. The ritual starts with a dry brushing exfoliation of the body before guests sink into a deep soaking tub. Next, an all-natural champagne and salt scrub is applied, followed by a relaxing body wrap. A body butter seals in moisture at the end of the session.
Cherry blossom-inspired food and drink are also available. During breakfast, Seasons Restaurant is serving French toast made with smashed chocolate croissants served with Nutella, black cherry compote, whipped butter and maple syrup ($17). Bourbon Steak’s Jido cocktail ($16) derives from the Japanese word jidohanbaiki, meaning vending machine. It’s a mixture of Botanist Gin and a house-made version of the popular Japanese vending machine drink Calpis, all served over a hibiscus ice sphere adorned with orange flower water.
Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown
If luxury is your idea of the best way to see the cherry blossoms, try the Cherry Blossom Package (starting at $995 per night through April 12) at one of D.C.’s poshest hotels. You’ll get a two-night stay in a superior room; breakfast for two at the Grill Room; a private Segway tour for two through prime blossom-viewing spots including the Tidal Basin, National Mall, Capitol, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial; and a private professional photography session among the trees. The photos will be framed and packaged, too.
If that’s not enough, Capella’s Rye Bar is serving a Cherry Blossom Sour, made with Copper Fox bourbon distilled in Virginia, house-poached cherries, honey syrup, homemade cherry shrub and soda water with basil.
Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C.
Custom-made for the Ritz-Carlton in D.C., the hotel’s signature scent Sakura, meaning cherry blossom in Japanese, can be found throughout the hotel in the form of candles, oil diffusers and room sprays. Meanwhile, the Westend Bistro is offering a Sakura cocktail, a twist on the D.C. original cocktail, the Rickey, which was created in the 1880s for lobbyist Col. Joe Rickey at Shoomaker’s Bar. Westend Bistro’s refreshing version features a house-made Sakura tea infused with G’Vine Gin, fresh limejuice, club soda and Sakura simple syrup. Or head over to the Lobby Lounge to sample the Sakura tea, punctuated by bergamot and black currant and lush floral notes of cherry blossom, jasmine and lily-of-the-valley, all complemented by soft vanilla and white musk.
kimptonhotels.com/cherryblossom and enter rate code BLOOM
Visitors to any of the chain’s 11 locations in D.C. and Virginia can opt for the Blossoms & Bubbles Package (starting at $169 per night through April 12), which includes a deluxe room, handcrafted cherry blossom soap from nearby Harmony Creek Farm and evening sake celebrations.
Additionally, the Lorien Spa in Old Town Alexandria, Va., is offering a new Cherry Blossom Massage Ritual ($200) that will be available year-round. The 80-minute treatment involves an exfoliation with warming gingergrass and bamboo, a rub of organic rice bran scented with cherry blossoms, a mist of yuzu mimosa sea algae and antioxidant-rich rose camellia, and the application of wild lime silk oil and plum blossom and silk cream.
Park Hyatt Washington
As part of its Spring Cherry Blossom Package (starting at $309 per night through April 26), the hotel is giving guests a pot of cherry blossom green tea from its rare and vintage tea section, breakfast for two at Blue Duck Tavern and a children’s backpack full of sightseeing supplies.
The hotel is also serving a Cherry Quinoa Cocktail ($14) in Blue Duck Tavern and in its lounge during the festival. It’s made with Plymouth Gin, house-made cherry tonic syrup, Bittercube cherry bark bitters, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and club soda.
Embassy Row Hotel
Fresh off a $15 million renovation, this 231-room Washington fixture is offering a Cherry Blossom Hotel Package (starting at $259 per night with code CHERRY) through May 15 that includes two all-day Metro passes, a gift bag and two free cherry blossom cocktails at Station Kitchen & Cocktails, which is opening this spring. The cocktail is called the Pamplemouse and is made with grapefruit-infused rye, lychee and pink peppercorns.
Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner
Metro’s new Silver Line bridges the gap between the area’s biggest mall, Tysons Corner Center, and the area’s most famous Mall, making the blossoms more accessible than ever. Through April 26, the Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Va., is offering the Cherry Blossoms Package (starting at $249 per night), which includes deluxe accommodations, a Metro map and concierge recommendations, two one-day Metro passes, a cherry blossom amenity from the hotel’s pastry chef and a Ritz Sailing Boat Tote with drinks and snacks.
Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C.
The downtown Ritz location is offering the Cherry Blossom Give-a-Tree Package (starting at $399 per night through April 12). That buys you a deluxe guestroom, a cherry blossom-inspired dessert, breakfast for two in the hotel’s restaurant and the National Cherry Blossom Give-A-Tree Card featuring the official artwork of the Cherry Blossom Festival. The National Arbor Day Foundation will plant a tree in a national forest for every card that is given.
If the way to spring is through your stomach, check out what local restaurants are cooking up:
Try a festive take on a classic at this Asian-focused D.C. eatery. The Cherry Blossom Bento Boxes ($21) will come with a choice of California roll, escolar crudo, seaweed salad or two pieces of salmon or tuna and a house-made cherry soda.
A newcomer to CityCenterDC, this Thai restaurant is getting in on the celebration with a red curry ($28) that has cherry glaze and roasted Jurgielewicz Farm duck breast served with plum and apricot.
Sushiko Chevy Chase
This sushi-serving staple in Maryland will introduce a unique dish inspired by this year’s cherry blossom festivities. The Madai Blossom ($18) with kombu jime sea bream, cherry gelée, cucumber, tomato and melon water will be available only during the festival.
An American-themed restaurant with Mediterranean influences, the Oval Room will offer sashimi of stone bass from Japan ($15) with rose water gelée, sweet and sour rice and dried cherries, topped with candied cherry blossoms from Japan. Follow that with cherry-infused ice cream and chocolate cake ($10) garnished with kirsch cherries, candied cherry blossoms and toasted pistachios.
In honor of the festival, this farm-to-table-focused eatery is offering through April 14 the Cherry Almond Buckle, a moist cherry cake topped with almond-brown sugar crumble and served with a scoop of house-made cherry kirsch ice cream.
For those seeking a more active experience, try these special offerings:
Step into Spring Fitness
Work out among the flowers with two free classes April 4 on the National Mall hosted by the National Cherry Blossom Festival. From 10 to 11 a.m., work on your lower half with Belly Butt & Thighs, a two-part class that focuses on those areas. From 11 a.m. to noon, try Inner Vinyasa Flow, a yoga class that incorporates mind and body awareness.
Cherry Blossom Tours with a National Park Service Ranger
Free walking tours take place daily at 2 p.m. through April 12 starting at the Lincoln Memorial. Or take a two-hour nighttime tour by Japanese lantern light on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 11. This group meets at the Tidal Basin Welcome Area at 8 p.m. On Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. through April 11, take a jog among the flowers with a ranger, starting at the Washington Monument Lodge, or on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. through April 12, meet at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for a bike tour. Bring your own bike.
Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival
This free event on April 4 runs from 1 to 9 p.m. It includes live music and kid-friendly activities, cultural experiences and food. Fireworks begin at 8:30 p.m.
Cherry Blossom Family Celebration
The Smithsonian American Art Museum will have free traditional Japanese music and dance performances while guests make tatebanko (Japanese paper dioramas) and fold origami.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Join the thousands of spectators who will line Constitution Avenue on April 11 to watch floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands and celebrity performers during the parade. Tickets for grandstand seats are $20; curbside viewing is free.
Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival
This Japanese street festival, now in its 55th year, is America’s largest one-day exhibition of Japanese culture and the April 11 grand finale to the festival ($10 per person ages 13 and up, free for 12 and under). Along six city blocks from 9th to 14th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, there will be live music and dance performances, Asian and Western foods, two Kirin Ichiban beer gardens, a sake tasting pavilion, martial arts demos and Japanese art.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.