We may be several weeks away from the cherry blossom peak — as of now, it’s expected April 11-14 — but the big annual event celebrating them begins in just a few days. The 2015 National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place March 20 – April 12. And while most of it may not overlap with the best of the bloom, there are plenty of activities offering peak fun, many of them prime for kids. Here’s where you can enjoy the best of the fest.
Family Days at the Building Museum
Where: National Building Museum
When: March 21, March 28, & April 4
The National Building Museum is switching things up a bit this year and spreading out the Cherry blossom Festival family fun. Instead of the usual larger single festival day to kick off the celebration, they’re hosting a series of workshops. Tokyo Picnic Club invites families to picnic in the Great Hall on March 21, Zen Gardens offers a lesson in Japan famous Zen rock gardens and an opportunity for participants to design and build one of their own on March 28 (prepaid registration required). The Paper Tube Shelter Challenge on April 4 welcomes guests to design, model, and build shelters with recyclable paper tubes (prepaid registration required).
Kites of Asia Family Day
Where: National Air & Space Museum
When: March 21, 10am – 3pm
Get ready for the Blossom Kite Festival and celebrate the artistry and beauty of Asian kites. See kites on display and in the air, discover the diversity of kites from across Asia, and learn how kites helped the Wright brothers develop the first airplane. Guests can fashion a Chinese Dragon puppet, color a Thai-style kite, and make a Philippian leaf kite at hands-on stations. There will also be kite-themed storytimes — see the website for times and details.
Make an Okinawan Textile Craft
Where: GW Museum & Textile Museum
When: March 22
Celebrate the (re)opening of the Textile Museum since its merger with GWU and the Cherry Blossom Festival! The museum will host an exhibition on textiles from Okinawa and welcomes guests of all ages to learn about and make artwork inspired by brightly colored bingata, traditional Okinawan cloth made using stencils and resist dyeing.
Blossom Kite Festival
Where: Washington Monument Grounds
When: March 28, 10am – 4:30pm
Go fly a kite! Seriously. The Kite Festival is, in my 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.
Cherry Blossom Celebration
Where: Freer-Sackler Galleries
When: March 28
The galleries dedicated to Asian art are celebrating the 2015 National Cherry Blossom Festival with a day full of Japanese art, anime and manga films, and family activities. The museum shop is hosting a trunk show of vintage Japanese garments as well as a signing of the newly released book Cherry Blossoms, featuring artworks from the Freer and Sackler collections.
Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival
Where: Southwest Waterfront, 600 Water Street SW
When: April 4, 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.
Cherry Blossom Family Celebration
Where: 8th & G Streets, NW
When: April 4, 11:30am – 4:30pm
Celebrate Cherry Blossom season with the Smithsonian American Art Museum! Enjoy traditional Japanese music and dance performances while you make tatebanko (Japanese paper dioramas) with guests from the Freer | Sackler. Fold origami birds and learn about preparing your garden for the spring from Smithsonian Gardens.
Lantern Making Family Day
Where: Canal Park
When: April 4, 10am – 2pm
Bring the whole family to construct Japanese lanterns at the Capitol Riverfront area park. There will be two sessions of the activity, at 10am and 12pm. Moonbouncing and Japanese cultural activities will also be happening throughout the event for kids to enjoy.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Where: Constitution Avenue, 7th – 17th Streets NW
When: April 11, 10am – 12pm
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.
Where: Pennsylvania Avenue, 9th – 14th Streets NW
When: April 11, 10:30am – 6pm
Admission: $10/ages 13 and up, free for 12 and under
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.