Tag Archives: Cherry Blossom Festival


11 Mar

Team work!

The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the gift of cherry trees—that now line the Tidal Basin—from Japan in 1912. Even if you don’t give a rat’s patootie about blooming cherry trees, you should very much care about the number of tourons that will soon be descending  upon DC. Been meaning to go see a new exhibit at a local museum? Do it immediately because it’s going to get substantially more crowded in another week or so, and then from there it’s class trips and then it’s summer and the crowds won’t cease until fall.

Despite the tourists, I actually enjoy going down to the Tidal Basin, I just have to mentally prepare myself for the crowds. Taking Metro in particular requires a good amount of patience. Not only are there long lines to board the train, the people in those lines are totally clueless. But let’s take a deep breath and embrace the season!

Currently the “peak bloom period” is anticipated to be March 29 to April 3 (though it can change with the weather). I’ve been to the Tidal Basin both during peak bloom and a few days after, and it really does make a difference. In addition to walking around the Tidal Basin to take photos, a variety of events are planned, including a parade and lantern walks. This year the popular Cherry Blossom Street Fair will charge a $5 admission, which will hopefully help with the crowds.

A popular way to see the cherry blossoms is to take a paddle boat tour. You can reserve a boat in advance for times between 10 am and 12 pm, but reservations fill super quickly. If you get to the Tidal Basin, the long line for paddle boats can be intimidating, but I’ve found that it only takes an hour at the absolute most. And if it’s a nice day out and you’re with people whose company you enjoy and you can ignore the children climbing on the trees around you even though there are signs that specifically ask that people not climb on trees, then it’s not bad at all.

Cherry Blossom Advice

  • DO NOT DRIVE. Trust me on this one. In fact, don’t drive anywhere near the Tidal Basin during the entire cherry blossom season.
  • Try to go on “off hours”, aka in the morning, during sunset and on weekdays.
  • Even if you’re not a photo person, bring your camera.
  • Tickets to events sell out, so plan accordingly.

Insider’s Tip: Can’t handle the idea of crowds? Then might I suggest going to the National Arboretum instead, which has cherry trees as well. There aren’t as many and they’re more spread out, but it’ll be less of a hassle and you’ll get to enjoy the other parts of the arboretum as well.

Friends you haven’t met: Volunteer

1 Feb

Michelle Obama volunteering at Miriam's Kitchen.

With so many non-profits, museums, theaters, monuments, etc., DC is a fantastic place to volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, and it looks good on your resume. Some volunteer programs are better than others, so if you find one that’s disorganized and frustrating, don’t give up! Here are just some ideas:

I volunteered for the Natural History Museum’s Sant Ocean Hall as a docent for about a year and a half. There was an extensive training program: two full Saturday’s and two Tuesday nights. I eventually stopped volunteering because I didn’t feel that useful as a docent, or that good at it, but I’m so happy that I had the experience. Most of the other volunteers were retired, so I didn’t have high hopes for meeting peers, but I actually ended up meeting my boyfriend who was a contractor for the museum at the time, so you never know!

Visit the Smithsonian website to find out more about volunteering. Other museum volunteer programs you might want to check out are The Newseum, the Holocaust Museum, National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

I’ve never volunteered at a hospital; I imagine it’s draining but incredibly rewarding. Walter Reed Army Medical Center has recently ended their volunteer program because they’re moving, but they give a list of other organizations on their website. You can also be a Red Cross volunteer at the National Navy Medical Center  in Bethesda.

Animal Shelters
I volunteered for about three years at the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL). It’s a fantastic facility with a pretty organized volunteer program. You can volunteer to walk dogs, socialize the cats or participate in adoption events (a great way to spend one-on-one time with an animal). Other possibilities are the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, the Washington Humane Society and Alley Cat Allies.

Soup Kitchens
Help DC’s homeless population get a good meal by volunteering at a soup kitchen. Some options are the well-known Miriam’s Kitchen, DC Central Kitchen and Loaves and Fishes.

Hodge Podge
I’ve recently started volunteering for Greater DC Cares, and I LOVE it. Each month they have a calendar of volunteer opportunities on their website. You find one you like and sign up. There’s no long-term commitment and it’s a great way to try different things until you find one that fits you. GDCC also has leadership opportunities: You can take a short-training program to become a Project Coordinator or take a Disaster Preparedness Training. A similar organization is One Brick.

Special Events
DC has loads of special events, and most of them need volunteers to help make them happen. A few examples include the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Passport DC (when all the embassies hold open houses) and the National Book Festival.

What the gripe: Tourons

27 Oct

I hope despite the fact that this photo is blurry, you can see that this family--which I saw at the Natural History Museum--is wearing matching outfits.

People in DC love to complain about tourists (as Joel Housman wonderfully illustrates on How to use Metro and How to use an escalator). The District seems to be the number one destination for “family’s first vacation.” I don’t know why you’d take a bunch of babies and toddlers to museums and monuments, but a lot of people do. And tourists don’t think twice about traveling during rush hour or standing in a big group in the middle of the sidewalk. The worst times of year are summer, spring break and during the Cherry Blossom Festival. You’ll want to stay away from museums during these times of year–at least on the weekends. Fall is a popular time for European visitors, but you usually won’t even notice them because, amazingly, they often blend in better than tourists from the States.

Tip: If you’re heading to the Metro and you see a huge mass of people wearing matching T-shirts also heading to the Metro … run. Seriously, run to get ahead of them, otherwise you’re going to be stuck behind them on the escalator, at the turnstiles and on the platform. And if you’re low on patience, avoid the Smithsonian and National Archives Metro stations at all cost.