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Posted at 3:06 PM ET, 04/ 1/2009

Flower Power

By Anne Kenderdine

Today's the beginning of peak bloom for the Tidal Basin cherry trees, says the National Park Service. (Want to see for yourself? Click on over to our Cherry Blossom Festival Guide, where you can see a daily photo from the Tidal Basin and track the blossoms' progress.)

Just like the the Tidal Basin, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna also has a pool of water ringed by gorgeous Yoshino cherry trees. (Meadowlark Botanical Gardens)

I checked out the Tidal Basin's trees and those in Kenwood over this past weekend, and it looked like Kenwood's beauties are just a day or so behind the famous trees downtown. The city deservedly gets lots of attention for those historic and graceful cherry trees by the Tidal Basin. If you've never been to see them, you absolutely should. But there are many other less crowded places to go, too. Read on for some tips for making your visit easier, so you can relax and enjoy the sight of those delicate flowers.

Where do you go to see them?
The most famous cherry trees (first planted in 1912 as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo) circle the Tidal Basin, which is anchored by the Jefferson Memorial. East Potomac Park, a 1.5-mile-long peninsula southeast of the Jefferson, is also lined with trees, including some that are as old as the better known ones at the Tidal Basin.

How do you get there?
Your best bet is to take Metro. The nearest stop is Smithsonian (on the Orange/Blue lines), but you'll want to take the Independence Avenue exit, not the Mall exit. Look for signs on the Metro platform. Coming up onto the street, walk toward that big arch going over the street and keep going in that direction on Independence Avenue. Then take a left on Raoul Wallenberg Place/15th Street to the Tidal Basin. Print this map (PDF) to take with you.

On weekends, you can also get the D.C. Circulator bus, which loops around the National Mall every ten minutes, and makes stops near the Federal Triangle, L'Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian stations. The stop nearest the Tidal Basin is at the Washington Monument, which is just a short walk away.

Have a bike? Ride it all the way to the Jefferson; you can drop it off at the bike valet there. There's another valet lot on the Washington Monument grounds and several bike racks around the Tidal Basin.

Whatever you choose, just be prepared for a lot of walking (the path around the basin alone is 2.1 miles) and know that driving will be a major headache. There's nowhere next to the Tidal Basin to park, you're not going to move too quickly and the exhaust from idling engines really kills the mood for people trying to enjoy nature next to you.

If you are driving, though, there are hundreds of parking spaces available in East Potomac Park. For the second year, the Park Service is running a free shuttle bus that circles Hains Point. Check this map (PDF) for route details; the bus runs between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. There are sure to be lots of people pushing strollers along the Tidal Basin path, too.

When should I go?
The Park Service will tell you that the weekday crowds are completely dependent on the weather. I'd second that, even for some weekends. While kids and parents were gamely swinging kites into they sky by the monument for the kite festival last weekend, I didn't think the path around the Tidal Basin was crowded. Go at off-peak times if you possibly can; for example, a nighttime stroll under the canopy of blossoms is one of the city's most romantic outings.

Where's the nearest food/bathroom?
The Park Service will have food tents set up in the parking lot near the pedal boats, but other than that and some hotdog carts, there is nowhere truly nearby to eat. So either bring a picnic or plan to eat before or after at one of these restaurants that are under a mile away.

As for restrooms, you'll find them at all the memorials: the closest ones are the Jefferson and the FDR Memorial, tucked along the side of the basin. You'll also see 150 extra portapotties set up on that side of the Mall.

What else is there to do besides look at trees?
There are free music, dance and cultural performances every day at the Jefferson Memorial between noon and 5 p.m. National Park Service Rangers lead tours at 10:30 a.m., noon, 2, 3:30, 5 and 7 p.m. every day, and special after-dark tours from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. See our list for a host of other festival events that run through April 12.

The Tidal Basin crowds are too much for me. Where else can I go to see blossoms?
The U.S. National Arboretum has plenty of room for visitors to spread out. Through April 12, you can stop by the administration building there and pick up a self-guided tour of the cherry trees. Many trees are clustered close to the herb garden and bonsai museum.

Kenwood is a neighborhood in Bethesda, between River Road and Little Falls Parkway, where the streets are lined with 1,200 cherry trees and the effect of being surrounded by the Yoshino trees' pillowy blooms is similar to the Tidal Basin. You can drive through slowly or park wherever you find room and then wander the streets. Kids set up lemonade stands and people picnic in a park near River Road.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna has about 100 Yoshino trees clustered near the lake and 50 new ones were added last year. Peak bloom there is a bit later than at the Tidal Basin: it's predicted for April 6 through 11. On April 11 at 10:30 a.m., take a tour of the gardens with its chief horticulturalist. Admission to the gardens is $5 ($2.50 for ages 7-17 or 55 and older) and the park is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. this month.

Read on for more ideas of pockets of cherry trees throughout the area.

Where else do you like to go to view cherry blossoms and what are your tips for visitors to the Tidal Basin? Add your ideas to the comments.

-- Anne

By Anne Kenderdine  | April 1, 2009; 3:06 PM ET
Categories:  Events, Misc.  
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Does anyone know if dogs are allowed around the Tidal Basin? I plan on going really early in the morning (6 am) and leave before the crowds arrive, if that makes a difference. Thanks.

Posted by: capsfan16 | April 3, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

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