I was going to save this post for later this week, but with the National Park Service’s recent announcement of new, earlier peak bloom dates, March 20-23, for DC’s famous cherry blossoms, I thought I would bump up my schedule, too. The timing actually works out better, since the start of the peak coincides with the official start date of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Some might complain about the massive crowds the blossoms and festival draw, but the optimist in me wins here. I love this time of year in DC. Not only is the city at its prettiest, but there is ample entertainment and activities associated with the festival, including some of my personal favorites.
And this year is extra special, as its the centennial celebrations of the blossom; it was 100 years ago that Japan gifted DC with the cherry trees as a symbol of friendship. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Cherry Blossom Festival will last for five weeks this year, from March 20 – April 27. That means even more blossom-related recreation for folks of all ages to enjoy. And good news for you: I’ve already found the best for families to help your blossom experience peak.
Family Days at the Building Museum
Where: National Building Museum
When: Saturday & Sunday, March 24-25
Kicking off festival events for the 7th consecutive year, this program at the National Building Museum has been expanded to two days in honor of the special centennial celebration. On Saturday 10am – 4:30pm and Sunday 11:30am – 3:30pm, kids of all ages (and that means the kid in you, parents!) can drop in to enjoy hands-on activities — make kokeshi dolls, construct origami teahouses, color at the Peter Max art station, and more. There will also be exciting indoor and outdoor performances that celebrate spring and explore Japanese arts and design, including taiko drummers, the Washington Ballet, and DC youth arts groups among them. And be sure to bring a camera along for photo ops with some of kids’ favorite characters like Snoopy and The Lorax!
Blossom Kite Festival
Where: Washington Monument Grounds
When: Saturday, March 31, 10:30am – 4:30pm
Go fly a kite! Seriously. The Kite Festival is, in my humble opinion, the best event during cherry blossom season. Heck, I’ll go out on a limb and call it one of the best in DC all year. (When the weather cooperates, anyway. ) The sight of thousands of kites in all colors, shapes, and sizes soaring around the Washington Monument is truly a sight to behold. It’s absolutely magical for my kids, and also for this jaded adult. The sails you see flying at the Festival each spring range from simple to pretty darn creative. Dragons, sharks, butterflies, giant soccer balls, even some that look like intricate works of art actually outnumber your basic diamond. And anyone can go fly their kites, so be sure to bring one, or your kids will (and you) will be pretty bummed. There’s a competition aspect to the event, too; expert kite enthusiasts will wow crowds with cool stunts, and prizes will be awarded to winners of various categories such as most beautiful, funniest, and aerodynamics.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Where: Constitution Avenue, 7th – 17th Streets NW
When: Saturday, April 14, 10m – 12:30pm
The mac daddy of cherry blossom festivities is definitely the parade. Thousands of people line Constitution Avenue every year to watch the spectacle of lavish floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, and a variety of performers travel down Constitution Avenue. Tickets for grandstand seats are available for $20, but you can stake out a spot along the curb for free. Plan to arrive early to get a good view — the crowds come out for this one, especially if it’s a nice day.
Where: 12th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
When: Saturday, April 14, 11am – 6pm
Admission: $5/ages 13 and older
Immediately following the Cherry Blossom parade, many folks head right over to Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Street Festival that is America’s largest one-day exhibition of Japanese culture. Stretching down six city blocks from 9th to 14th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, there will be live music and dance performances, all kinds of Asian and Western foods, martial arts demos, Japanese art, and more. Be prepared for a crowd.
Live Entertainment on the Canon Performance Stage
Where: Sylvan Theatre, Washington Monument Grounds
When: Throughout the Festival
In the shadow of the Washington Monument, this is the Festival’s primary stage. Enjoy recognized and diverse talent from around the region, country, and world, including varied genres of music and dance, martial arts exhibitions, marching bands, and more. Free performances can be enjoyed from 12-5pm on Monday thru Thursday, and 12-6pm Friday thru Sunday.
Children’s Films at the NGA
Where: National Gallery of Art
When: Throughout the Festival
The National Gallery is adding some Japanese movies to its Children’s Films program on March 31, April 7, April 21, and April 22 in honor of the National Cherry Blossom Festival . Visit the website to read descriptions of the films, and be sure to check the age recommendations of each. All films are shown in the East Building Auditorium. Programs are free, and no registration is required. Seating is offered on a first-come, first-seated basis.
Japanese Art-Inspired Activities
Where: Freer-Sackler Galleries
When: Througout the Festival
The National Museums of Asian Art will host a variety of activities for families during the festival’s run, many of them hands-on. Kids can create mini dioramas of Japanese landscapes inspired by the 36 Views of Mount Fuji exhibit. There will also be anime-focused exhibitions and activities, and later in April a workshop where guests can create their own block prints. For even more activities from the museum, including cultural performances, go here.
Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival
Where: Southwest Waterfront, 600-900 Water Street SW
When: Saturday, April 7, 1-9pm
A fun family event happening along the water is the annual fireworks show at the Southwest Waterfront. It’s an all-day and part-evening affair with free live music and family-friendly festivities, including water-related activities, cultural experiences, and delicious foods. The grand finale will begin at 8:30pm when the National Cherry Blossom Festival Fireworks Show lights up the night sky. See the schedule of events and music line-up here.
Lantern Making for Families
Where: The Yards Park
When: Saturday, April 21
The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID) will be hosting its 2nd annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Lantern Making Family Day. Kids and adults can make their own Japanese lanterns at 10am and 12:30pm, with both sessions followed by a parade through the Yards Park. Hapumudo will also perform a variety of martial arts throughout the event on the boardwalk and a moonbounce will be set up for children to enjoy. Sushi and other Japanese foods and Pinkberry frozen yogurt will be available for purchase for picnics in the park. So, we went to this last year, and it was a bit of a bust, because it was a cold and windy day. (Remember cold? Yeah, I can’t either). But I have high hopes for it this year — not only do the activities sound cool, it’s happening at one of my favorite outdoor locales.
Cherry Blossom Regatta
Where: Washington Sailing Marina
When: Saturday, April 21, 11am
Admission: Free to spectate
Young boat enthusiasts will love watching sailboats from Daingerfield Island Sailing Club (DISC) and Potomac River Sailing Association race near Hains Point and East Potomac Park on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. You can get a good view of the boats from Hains Point and possibly the Yards Park during the Family Day. And if you want to get on the water, some of the boats will be offering rides to spectators for a fee.