Each spring, the Washington DC area erupts in colorful flowers. Cherry blossoms are the most famous, of course, and everyone waits with bated breath for the National Park Service to announce when peak bloom is expected. But there are plenty of other flowering trees and pretty petals to get excited about. From magnolias and eastern redbud, to tulips and wisteria, this guide shows you where to find the best Washington, DC spring blossoms.
The Tidal Basin is a man-made reservoir that helps control tidewater from the Potomac River. Though, lately, the rising water levels are getting harder to control. Its banks are home to the Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr memorials, as well as several thousand cherry trees. The trees were a gift to the United States from Japan, and every spring that friendship is celebrated with the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Come March and April, the footpath ringing the Basin can get as busy as the Beltway during rush hour. To beat the crowds, it’s best to go early on a weekday. A helpful “BloomCam” shows how the buds are developing, and is a nice way to enjoy the scenery when you can’t make it there in person. The beauty of all those trees blooming at once is simply astonishing.
Just off the Tidal Basin is a small garden called the Floral Library. It is home to 100 types of tulips, with 10,000 bulbs flown in annually from the Netherlands. The garden was first planted in 1969 by Lady Bird Johnson as part of her Capital Beautification Project. She aimed to inspire a better world through nature, saying that “where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
The National Mall stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, with the Washington Monument standing proudly in the middle. This landscaped park is a fantastic place to enjoy a bounty of spring blooms. Cherry and eastern redbud trees frame the Washington Monument. Several wisteria trees enliven the wall surrounding the National Museum of American History. The Enid A. Haupt Garden is packed with towering magnolia trees. On the Capitol grounds you’ll find magnolias as well as several large weeping cherry trees.
Head northeast from the Washington Monument towards Foggy Bottom, and you’ll come to Rawlins Park. This square is dedicated to General John Rawlins, a Union commander of the U.S. Civil War. It might not sound like something worth seeking out, but there’s a magnificent number of magnolia blossoms framing the general’s statue.
George Washington University
According to legend, six-year-old George Washington cut down a cherry tree with a hatchet. When confronted by his father, young George declared that he could not tell a lie. So it’s only fitting that the university dedicated to America’s first president should be planted with cherry trees.
In-the-know locals flock to this neighborhood near Howard University for its show-stopping cherry blossom display. Several large trees surround a decorative wrought-iron gate standing on the corner of 6th and T streets. This also marks the beginning of the LeDroit Park Heritage Trail, a self-guided walking tour of the historically Black neighborhood. Duke Ellington and Rev. Jesse Jackson are two of the area’s most prominent former residents.
Another springtime gem is the Congressional Cemetery. This 35-acre burial ground is the final resting place for important political figures including U.S. Senators and Representatives, military commanders, and Native American chiefs. People who have made important cultural contributions are also interred here, such as journalist Cokie Roberts and composer John Philip Sousa. It’s a lovely place for a stroll any time of year, but is extra special when the cherry blossoms burst forth. The trees line one of the main walking paths through the cemetery and form a photogenic pink canopy over the tombstones.
Those with #wisteriahysteria will enjoy wandering around Georgetown, which is swathed in fragrant purple blooms. Dumbarton Oaks’ façade is the most Instagrammed, but there are several other large trees growing around the historic neighborhood. Homeowners accentuate their posh properties with well-tended gardens filled with tulips and dogwood trees (the official state tree of Virginia). Sweet little Book Hill Park shines with hot pink azaleas. Make the climb early in the season before the trees fill in, and get a very nice view at the top.
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal church sitting high on a hill in northwest DC. In addition to serving the community’s spiritual needs, it hosts formal services for presidential inaugurations and funerals. Next to the cathedral sits the Bishop’s Garden. This walled terraced garden is a place of peaceful reflection, with many benches situated around the medieval-inspired space. It is planted with native flora as well as biblical plants that can be found in the Holy Land. The star, though, is the massive weeping cherry tree with delicate pink blossoms draping over the garden.
Local insider tip: head south from the cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue to Bryce Park. This green triangle is overflowing with magnolia trees. It’s possible to frame the cathedral towers through the blossoms.
No spring season would be complete without a stroll through the National Arboretum. This beloved park showcases all the best flowering trees, from cherry and magnolia to eastern redbud and dogwood. And thanks to the variety, you’re sure to see something blooming throughout the season.
One of the best places to see cherry blossoms in DC is actually across the border in Maryland. The Kenwood community in Bethesda is home to 1,200 Yoshino cherry trees. When they collectively reach peak bloom, there are clouds of frothy white petals hanging over the streets. The neighborhood is open to the public, though parking is extremely limited. As a result, caravans of cars cruise the streets at a snail’s pace, with passengers taking photos and videos out the windows. I went on a weekday morning and managed to snag a parking spot on one of the back streets. But no matter if you walk or drive through, please be respectful of the residents.
The Netherlands Carillon is a steel bell tower sitting on a hill in Arlington, Virginia. It was a gift to the people of the United States from the Netherlands in the 1950s, in thanks for service in World War II. Each spring, 10,000 tulips adorn the grounds in front of the carillon. It’s situated between the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The view of Washington, DC over the blooms is quite impressive.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
If you’re up for a bit of a drive, the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna make a wonderful springtime excursion. A wide array of cherry blossoms and colorful perennials brighten a landscape of rolling hills and serene lakes. Walking trails wind around the 95-acre park, and there are plenty of benches just calling out for an afternoon reading session. I only wish picnics were allowed on the grounds.
For more information on parks and gardens across the DC metro area, click here.
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