WASHINGTON — As the temperatures warm up, cherry blossom lovers are warming up for their big moment.
Blooming blossoms will lure locals and out-of-towners to the National Mall and Tidal Basin during this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20–April 15).
The crowd size could be a bit more humanity than you’re accustomed to. The good news is you have several options for getting around there. Whether it’s four wheels, two wheels, trains or boats, you have flexibility. Here’s some guidance so you can strategize accordingly.
Yes, it has its problems, and service cuts (combined with fare hikes) haven’t helped. But it’s still a terrific option for the traffic-wary.
The best stops to view the blossoms along the Tidal Basin are the Smithsonian, Foggy Bottom and L’Enfant Plaza stations. Fare costs vary depending on time and length of travel. Find information about fares, train schedules and more on Metro’s website.
Note: No weekend daytime track work will be scheduled during the festival.
Driving there (and parking)
If you’re planning to make the drive in yourself, be advised of a few things.
Like clockwork, traffic around the Tidal Basin will become heavier and heavier as the cherry trees reach peak blooms. The roads around the Tidal Basin, Independence Avenue Southwest and Maine Avenue Southwest may be scenic park roads, but they are also busy commuter routes that ferry drivers from Rock Creek Parkway to the Southwest Freeway.
When visitor and commuter traffic combines, traffic often slows to a crawl on these routes.
That congestion is often compounded by “diginecking,” as tourists take photos out of the windows of slow-moving vehicles. Curbside drop-offs by ride sharing and taxi services further slow the pace. All of these little stops add up when traffic is heavy.
As for parking, organizers encourage you to book your spot through SpotHero, especially if you’re looking to drive in for the parade. Parking for people with disabilities is also available on West Basin Drive at the FDR Memorial, and on southbound Ohio Drive Southwest on the Washington Boundary Channel side of Hains Point, north of the intersection with Buckeye Drive Southwest.
Parking anywhere near the Tidal Basin and Hains Point is at a premium during cherry blossom season. The areas off Ohio Drive Southwest in West Potomac Park will be full most days around peak bloom. The paddle boat parking lot off Maine Avenue Southwest will likely close for Park Service staff, so don’t expect to park there during the height of the festival.
DC Circulator bus
The Circulator’s National Mall bus route hits most of the major National Mall landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial and U.S. Capitol.
It costs a dollar to ride, but with a SmarTrip card, you can get on and off the bus as much as you want during any two-hour time period. Buses are scheduled to arrive every 10 minutes.
Check out the full DC Circulator system map.
Taxi and car services
Need a taxi? There will probably be plenty in downtown D.C. that you can hail directly off the street. And the D.C. Department of For-Hire Vehicles (formerly the D.C. Taxicab Commission) has a new smartphone app that allows you to hail a taxi using your smartphone.
Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft operate in D.C. and are additional options for downtown travelers.
The Capital BikeShare program offers more than 3,700 bicycles at more than 440 stations throughout the D.C. region. Check a bike out at one station and return it to any station near your final destination. The Capital BikeShare station map shows you where you can find available bikes.
The cost is $2 per trip and $8 per day. You can purchase a three-day pass for $17. You can find more information about pricing and signing up on the Capital BikeShare website.
Several dockless (i.e., free-standing) bike services have brought their fleets of bikes to the area as well: Mobike, LimeBike, Jump DC and Spin. Download an app, set up your payment info, and you’re good to go.
If you really want to beat the crowds on the streets near the Tidal Basin, you could get a view of the cherry blossoms from the Potomac River instead.
The D.C. Water Taxi offers Potomac cruises that provide views of Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Kennedy Center and other sights. Riders can board in Georgetown or near the National Mall by the FDR Memorial.
Service begins March 26. Tickets are $22 for adults and $10 for children and must be purchased in advance. You can find more information on the D.C. Water Taxi website.
New bike and boat options blossom in 2018, with the opening of The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront.
The Wharf has 1,500 underground parking spaces for bicycles. The Wharf Jitney operates between the District Wharf pier and East Potomac Park-Hains Point.
The small, electric-powered ferry is free, pet- and bike-friendly, runs twice an hour and makes the trip in about three minutes.
The Potomac Riverboat Company also provides water taxi service between the District Wharf and Old Town Alexandria.
There are a number of hotels in D.C., and a number of sites through which to book. The National Cherry Blossom Festival features hotels with special rates and packages through its website.