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Peak Time in DC: The 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival

DC at its peak last year

DC at its peak last year

How appropriate that the first day of spring also marks the start of the 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival. If only the weather would follow suit. But I digress…

This is one of my favorite times of year in DC. Between the gorgeous flowers complementing the scenery around the National Mall and the many unique events that come along with the Festival, it’s a superb time to be here. Sure, the crowds descend on the city to ogle the blooming trees, but to me that’s a testament to what a beautiful, dynamic, and exciting place Washington is, a sought-after destination for travelers from all over the world.

The official start of the Festival is today, but the events that are open to the public — many of them free — begin this weekend. I’ve pared down the lot to make one easy list of the best for families. If it looks familiar, that’s because much of it is the same as last year, just with updated dates and details. Happy Spring!

Family Days at the Building Museum
Where: National Building Museum
When: Saturday & Sunday, March 23-24
Admission: Free
Kicking off public festival events for the 8th consecutive year, this program at the National Building Museum offers kids of all ages (and that means the kid in you, parents!) all kinds of hands-on activities inspired by Japanese culture as a tribute to the trees gifted by them. Build Cha-shitsu tea house structures and Soji screens, construct a paper torii gate, make wafuku-clothed paper dolls, and design a cherry blossom tree from popcorn. There will also be exciting performances that celebrate spring and explore Japanese arts and design, Nen Daiko taiko drummers, Kaution Dance Kru, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and youth arts groups from D.C. and across the country. And be sure to bring a camera along for photo ops with some of kids’ favorite characters like Snoopy and The Lorax.

Kites of Asia Family Day
Where: National Air & Space Museum
When: Saturday, March 23, 10am – 3pm
Admission: Free

Get ready for the Blossom Kite Festival and celebrate the unique start of the National Air and Space Museum’s collection — the first aviation-related objects acquired by the Smithsonian were a group of Chinese kites, donated in 1876. At this annual Family Day, experience the artistry and beauty of Asian kites, see indoor kite flying, and make your own kite.

Blossom Kite Festival
Where: Washington Monument Grounds
When: Saturday, March 30, 10am – 4:30pm
Admission: Free

Go fly a kite! Seriously. The Kite Festival is, in my humble opinion, the best event during cherry blossom season (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 even for me as a 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. 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.

Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival
Where: Southwest Waterfront, 600-900 Water Street SW
When: Saturday, April 6, 1-9pm
Admission: Free

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.

Arts for Families: Koinobori
Where: Textile Museum
When: Saturday, April 6, 2-4pm
Admission: Free

This session of the Textile Museum’s free monthly program for families celebrates the Cherry Blossom Festival: In Japanese folklore, the carp is a symbol of determination and vigor, overcoming all obstacles to swim upstream. Families can drop in to the museum to explore pattern and texture as you create your own colorful paper koi mobiles.

Lantern Making Family Day
Where: Yards Park
When: Saturday, April 13, 10am – 2pm
Admission: Free

Bring the whole family to construct Japanese lanterns at the Capitol Riverfront park. There will be two sessions of the activity, at 10am and 12pm, both followed by a parade through the Yards. Martial arts and a moonbouncing will also be happening throughout the event for kids to enjoy. Sushi and other Japanese foods will be available for purchase or BYO — either way it’s a great place for a picnic.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Where: Constitution Avenue, 7th – 17th Streets NW
When: Saturday, April 13, 10am – 12:30pm
Admission: Free
The pinnacle of cherry blossom festivities is, hands-down, 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 pretty spring day.

Sakura Matsuri
Where: 12th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
When: Saturday, April 13, 10:30am – 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.

ImaginAsia Art Activities

Where: Freer-Sackler Galleries
When: April 6,7, 13 & 14
Admission: Free
The National Museums of Asian Art will host a a couple of activities for families during the festival’s run, both of them hands-on. Kids can create Japanese book based on folios featuring cherry blossoms and scenes and activities related to springtime. There will also be anime-focused exhibitions and activities.

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