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5 Cities to View Cherry Blossoms Across the U.S.

These fragrant blooms don’t last long, so make your plans now


Nothing says spring like cherry blossoms. After the cold bleakness of winter, the arrival of the fragrant flowers signals that warmer temperatures and longer days are just around the corner. We rounded up five places across the U.S. to take in the trees’ beauty — some of which have elaborate festivals built around the blooms. These harbingers of spring generally bloom from early March to early April, but each year is different. Be sure to check weather and blooming forecasts for the area you want to visit. Though Washington draws quite the crowd, we included other cities to consider. (All locations are at least partially accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and all can accommodate wheelchairs in some areas.)

Washington

Cherry blossoms have been synonymous with our nation’s capital since 1912 when 3,000 cherry trees were gifted to the city by the mayor of Tokyo. The blossoms can be found in a number of locations, including the National Mall, National Arboretum and the popular Tidal Basin, where visitors can stroll or bike under the blooms or enjoy them from the water on public or private boat tours. Diana Mayhew, president of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 to April 14), suggests heading out early to avoid the crowds. “[Sunrise] is a beautiful time to come,” Mayhew says. 

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The National Park Service says peak bloom, when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms are open, is from March 23 to 26. 

The festival offers numerous free events, including Petalpalooza — a full day of live music and activities at the Capitol Riverfront. Parking for the festival and blossom viewing is limited, so Mayhew recommends using public transportation or ride-share services. Or ditch the car altogether, and enjoy the view from a bus tour. Check out the festival’s live BloomCam to plan your visit.

Nashville, Tennessee

The city known for country music is also becoming known for its abundance of blossoms, says Ginger Byrn, festival director of the free Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival on April 13 in Public Square Park. Peak season used to be early to mid-April, but more recently, the flowers have been blooming in mid-March, Byrn says. The festival, which celebrates spring and Japanese culture, commences with the 2.5-mile Cherry Blossom Walk. Families can enjoy entertainment, vendors and (depending on the weather) blooms. There’s parking available downtown for the festival, as well as public transportation, and those who ride a bike or scooter can enjoy free, secure valet parking.

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Though Public Square Park is the center of the action, Centennial and Shelby parks also have masses of cherry trees that bloom throughout the season. But don’t limit your viewing to city parks. “We actually have cherry blossoms in a lot of places in Nashville. A lot of neighborhoods and homeowners have planted them because they do really well in our climate,” Byrn says.

Athens, Ohio

Each spring, throngs of people visit the campus of Ohio University to enjoy the blossoms of the cherry trees, originally gifted by Chubu University in Japan. The fragrant trees line two grassy areas along the Hocking River, where visitors can stroll, bike or just lounge under the canopy of blooms. “It really is an ideal setting,” says Gillian Ice, interim associate provost for global affairs at Ohio University. “Not only because of the beautiful trees, but it’s a lovely river to sit by. And it’s a welcoming environment, very community-oriented.”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the partnership with Chubu, the university built a Japanese-style pavilion and held a dedication ceremony last November for 50 new cherry trees gifted by Chubu. There are parking lots adjacent to the trees and the bike path, with metered parking and free accessible parking. To plan your visit, check out the Cherry Blossoms at Ohio University website, where blooming updates are posted.

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San Francisco

When one thinks of the City by the Bay, cherry blossoms don’t immediately come to mind, but each spring, Gardens of Golden Gate Park is awash in blooms. The 1,017-acre park is divided into various gardens, and a free shuttle transports visitors to the most popular destinations. Cherry trees can be found throughout the main park, and visitors can head to the oldest operating public Japanese garden in North America — the Japanese Tea Garden (free 9-10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday; other times $15 for adults, $7 for 65-plus) — where blossoms complement the picturesque pagodas, bridges, koi ponds and a zen garden. Wander in silence as you contemplate the beauty, or cap off a 60-minute walking tour with a relaxing cup of tea at the Tea House. Just remember to bring a sweater, says Steven Pitsenbarger, garden supervisor for the Japanese Tea Garden. “A lot of tourists come from all over the country thinking, Oh, it’s California, it’s sunny and warm. Spring is actually a good season for us. It’s usually nicer. We get a lot more sun, but we could get rain during that time.”

Portland, Oregon

The largest city in the state, Portland has a few places to enjoy cherry blossoms. Adjacent to the Japanese American Historical Plaza, Tom McCall Waterfront Park (known to locals simply as Waterfront Park) is lined with 100 cherry blossom trees next to the Steel Bridge. The public riverfront park boasts 36 acres and a 1.5-mile paved path that can easily and safely accommodate walkers, bikers, skaters, wheelchair users and service animals, says Anna Fox, public relations manager at Travel Portland. There’s parking (with accessible spaces) across the street, and visitors who don’t want to fight the traffic can enjoy the blooms from the MAX Light Rail line, which passes the park. 

West of downtown is the 410-acre Washington Park, where cherry blossoms can be seen throughout, as well as along the 12 miles of trails of Hoyt Arboretum inside the park, both of which are free. The Portland Japanese Garden ($21.95 for adults, $18.95 for 65-plus), also inside the park, delights visitors with both Yoshino cherry and weeping cherry trees along streams, tranquil walkways and a sand and stone garden. The fragrant blooms also flank the glass-walled Umami Café. The garden’s cherry blossom watch page starts posting photos of the trees in mid-March.

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