Japan’s seasonal ritual of hanami (flower viewing) has proven to be one of its most successful cultural exports. Consider that America’s most famous collection of cherry trees, around Washington DC’s Tidal Basin, began with a gift of 3,000 specimens from Japan – and swells with locals and visitors each spring. The country’s capital is only one of many cities in the US that eagerly anticipates the arrival of cherry blossoms and their promise of warmer temperatures and longer days. Blooms reach their peak for only a week or two, a reminder of the value of seizing the moment. Here’s where to embrace hanami, American style.
After an ill-fated attempt to plant cherry trees in 1910 in Washington DC, the Japanese government tried again by sending some 3,000 trees in 1912. Those successfully took root around the Tidal Basin, quickly charming the capital’s residents. In 1934, a three-day festival coinciding with the blossoms was inaugurated, followed in 1940 with a pageant, complete with the crowning of a Cherry Blossom Queen. Nowadays the National Cherry Blossom Festival (20 March-20 April 2020) includes live music; a Japanese street fair with food stalls and cooking demonstrations; and the Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall. On the first day, a Pink Tie Party makes a stylish send-off to winter with entertainment and gourmet dishes provided by a number of DC’s leading restaurants.
Blooms typically peak in late March to early April
Brooklyn, New York
The most popular cherry blossom celebration in New York takes place in Brooklyn, where the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s 26 different varieties of cherry trees mean that the season is relatively long, stretching out over six weeks. The garden’s Sakura Matsuri festival (25-26 April 2020) includes musical performances and enthusiastic Brooklyn residents in costume. Added bonuses of a visit to the garden is its magnolia plaza – the trees’ citrus-scented blooms usually emerge at the same time as the earliest cherry blossoms – and its Japanese garden, among the oldest in the country, dating back to 1914. The larger New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx also has a collection of some 200 cherry trees.
Blooms typically peak from late March to mid-May, depending on the cherry variety
In New England, winters are often long and harsh, making the arrival of the first blossoms in Boston each spring especially anticipated. A favourite place for hanami is near the bandshell on the Charles River Esplanade, the promenade that runs along the southern side of the Charles River Basin that separates Boston from Cambridge. The cherry trees were, like those found in many American cities, a gift from Japan – the ones here were given to the people of Massachusetts in 1985. While there isn’t any dedicated festival to celebrate the flowering of the cherry trees on the Esplanade, it’s a good place for a stroll, a picnic or even a kayak ride when the blossoms are on the branches.
Blooms typically peak in late April
Cherry blossom season arrives a little earlier in Texas than some of the states further north. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s collection of around 150 trees is usually at its peak from mid- to late-March. Most of the trees here are white-flowered yoshino cherries, planted along the garden’s central promenade, the Paseo de Flores. The celebration usually takes place on a Sunday afternoon when visitors are invited to bring picnic lunches, find a place under the flowering branches and enjoy performances of Japanese music. The hanami afternoon falls during the arboretum’s longer Dallas Blooms Festival (which runs from 29 February to 12 April 2020). Even if you can’t time your visit to the arboretum to coincide with the cherry blossoms, you can still see some of the garden’s 500,000 tulips, its flowering peach trees and local wildflowers.
Blooms typically peak mid- to late-March
Unlike some cities, Nashville’s cherry trees are not concentrated in any single park. Instead the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival, first held in 2009, has pursued a goal of planting 100 cherry trees each year throughout the city. In 2018, organisers successfully reached their target of a total of 1,000 trees – and counting. One of the best places to admire them is in the Sylvan Park neighbourhood, where yoshino cherry trees line many streets. (Dogwoods, an iconic tree of the southern US, are also common in Nashville and bloom around the same time, providing a floral double hitter.) The festival takes place in Nashville Public Square on 4 April 2020 and kicks off with a short walk led by the city’s mayor.
Blooms typically peak in mid-April
San Francisco, California
The most popular place to admire cherry blossoms in San Francisco is, appropriately, the Japanese Tea Garden, a small two-hectare corner of Golden Gate Park which traces its history back to the 1894 World’s Fair. As well as its tea house, pagoda and moon bridge, the garden is famed for its flowering cherries, azaleas, camellias and a variety of dwarf species of trees. (Note that the height of cherry blossoms typically coincides with the floral display at the park’s Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden.) The official cherry blossom celebration, Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from 11 to 12 April 2020 an from 18 to 19 April 2020 at the Japantown Peace Plaza, a 15-minute drive from the tea garden, and hosts a crowded program of events including musical performances, cooking demonstrations and workshops on bonsai, Japanese calligraphy, martial arts and more.
Blooms typically peak mid-March to mid-April
What do you get for a country celebrating its bicentennial? Japan decided the perfect gift in 1976 was to send 1,000 cherry trees to Seattle – and those followed an earlier donation of some 3,500 trees in 1929. Among the best places to experience hanami in Seattle is at the University of Washington: the yoshino trees on the main quad are showstoppers while some 175 cherry trees are planted along the arboretum’s Azalea Way. You’ll find flowering cherry trees, however, throughout the city, from the trees sourced from Mount Fuji in Japanese-inspired Kobe Park to those planted along Cherry Blossom Walk, near the entrance to Seward Park marked by a traditional torii gate. Seward Park was long the home of the Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival until the event outgrew the space. It will be held 24-26 April this year in the Seattle Center, and features dance, music and other performances along with a selection of food stalls selling everything from curries and noodles to Japanese sweets.
Blooms typically peak mid-March to early April
This story was originally published in February 2019 and was updated in February 2020.