Reagan might have proclaimed the rose as the national flower of the U.S., but every Spring the Japanese cherry blossoms paint the country pink and draw millions to the largest cherry blossom festivals around the country. From D.C. to Newark to New York to San Francisco, crowds pack into botanical gardens and state parks to watch the cherry blossoms bloom, to take pictures and to experience the parties and parades that celebrate the flowers. In 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki sent Washington, D.C., a gift of 3,000 cherry trees as a symbol of friendship. Today, cities celebrate the trees across both countries. These are the best places to in the U.S. to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
You've no doubt heard about the U.S. Capitol's annual cherry blossom festival, fittingly called the National Cherry Blossom Festival Cherry Blossom Festival. It's the most famous celebration of the flowers in the country and draws thousands to the shore of the Potomac. This year, early warm weather followed by severe snowstorms caused many flowers to bloom early that couldn't survive the storm, but the trees will still be pink and the festivities a go through March and April. Fireworks and live music are happening April 15, with a Japanese jazz series continuing until the 20th. There is really no bad time of day to see the blossoms, but avoiding the crowds will mean avoiding the midday sun (and weekends). Check out hotels featuring special cherry blossom discounts to plan your trip to the Tidal Basin.
Sakura Matsuri: Cherry Blossom Festival
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, NYC
Visit the Botanic Gardens at Prospect Park for a weekend-long cherry blossom party at the end of April. On April 29 and 30, the New York City park will host its annual festival and reveal its cherry trees at peak blossom for two days of celebration. The event also features art galleries and a flea market offering Japanese specialties. There's also a tea room, samurai sword demonstrations, live music and dancing. It's a New York City party at what's allegedly the largest collection of cherry trees outside of Japan. Members get in for free but everyone else probably won't have much difficulty convincing themselves that $30 is worth it.
Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival
Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ
Newark's beautiful Branch Brook Park is home to over 5,000 cherry trees (according to some sources, this is the largest collection outside of Japan. You'll just have to take a train from one to the other and decide for yourself.) along its winding paths and sloping greens. It's two-week Cherry Blossom Festival runs until April 23 and includes a long list of activities besides the stunning photo backgrounds offered by the park. A bike race, a 10K run (as well as shorter runs), Bloomfest (featuring the Cobu Taiko Drum & Dance Troupe), a Family Day and more await visitors during the festival. Over 20,000 people visited the park on one Sunday, alone, but it's long paths spread out the crowds and with 5,000 trees—there are plenty to go around.
Cherry Blossom Day
State Capitol Park, Salem, OR
Salem, Oregon's 3rd Annual Cherry Blossom Festival took place on March 18 but that doesn't mean the trees aren't still in bloom. The event at the Capitol Park, in what used to be called Cherry City, is free (free parking, too) and features kite flying demonstrations and kite building kits, Taiko drumming, Koto music, a musical performance from the Cherry Blossom Theatre Festival and many more activities for families. A 5K run preceded the festival and while the activities might be over, there is still time to visit Salem's Capitol lawn lined with hundreds of pink blossoms.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco's Japantown hosts over 200,000 people every year during its Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, happening this year on April 8-9 and April 15-16. In addition to food stands, live music, martial arts performances and more, the Grand Parade will take place on Sunday, April 16 at 1pm. This is the festival's 50th year, so it promises to be a spectacular event. You can RSPV on the event's Facebook page and explore the full schedule on its website. Check out the scavenger hunt, film festival and Sakura 360. Just don't forget, during all of the festivities, to look around at the inspiration for the celebration—the city's blooming cherry blossoms!