Last week, as Washington D.C. welcomed spring, I learned two new Japanese words, “sakura” and “hanami.”
“Sakura” is Japanese term for flowering cherry blossom trees, while “Hanami” is the traditional Japanese custom of welcoming spring and enjoying the beauty of the blossoming flowers. The practice of “hanami,” although centuries old, is today a call for family and friends to enjoy a picnic under the cherry blossom trees and appreciate the beauty of these short-lived, unique pink flowers.
This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced the cherry blossoms, it wasn’t even my second. I moved to the suburbs of D.C four years ago, and every spring I feel like a kid in a toy store at the thought of exploring the blossoms. So when I learned these two words, they seemed familiar – I had been practicing hanami for the last few years, unbeknownst to me. This year, I set out around D.C. on a specific mission to look for the perfect spots from which to photograph the cherry blossoms.
Every March,I start keeping an eye on the weather forecast and the National Park Service’s peak cherry blossom forecast. As the forecasted bloom date gets closer, I make sure to visit D.C. every weekend to check on the blossoms. In the past four years, the trees have blossomed to their peak anywhere from mid-March to mid-April, so it’s important to do your research before planning a trip to D.C. Even after the snow storm that enveloped D.C. this March, the cherry trees didn’t fail to amaze me and the hordes of people who flock the city in spring for this single reason.
The Tidal Basin has to be my favorite spot to photograph cherry blossoms. The neatly lined area around the Tidal Basin, with iconic monuments and memorials in the background makes for some especially dramatic shots.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The newly built MLK Jr. Memorial offers some unique opportunities to photograph cherry blossoms. I researched how the trees made the long journey from Japan to the U.S. and found that, in 1912, Japan gifted 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the United States to celebrate the friendship between the two nations. Those trees were planted around the Potomac Park and National Mall area in Washington D.C.
The Japanese Tea Lantern, which is lit annually for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, is located near the MLK Jr. Memorial and the cherry trees around this lantern offer an added depth to your shots.
Franklin Roosevelt Memorial
I love the area around Roosevelt memorial as it offers great views of both the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial with blush cherry trees linings the foreground. With the desire to capture a postcard-worthy sunrise this spring, I decided to hike down to the Roosevelt Memorial in the Tidal Basin in the wee hours of the morning. As I was location scouting for a good place to mount my tripod, the colors changed from blue to orange to pink in no time at all.
Tidal Basin Paddle Boats
This was the spot that I visited while searching for the cherry blossoms during my very first year in D.C. I often photograph from the paddle boats rental point at Tidal Basin since it offers the front view of Jefferson Memorial.
It’s also an easy walk from all the other attractions in the National Mall area and I have fond memories of coming to this spot as a new D.C. resident. I always try to include the paddle boats in my shots to incorporate a human element. I’ve never tried to get a shot from inside one of the boats — but perhaps next time I will try hopping into a paddle boat for a different perspective from water!
The area near the Washington Monument is perfect for picnicking and relaxing under cherry blossom trees, as opposed to the crowded areas near the Tidal Basin. I love photographing in this part of DC for the people watching. From people singing songs under the trees to children running around playing hide and seek to tourists taking their perfect selfies with the blossoms, I have observed all kinds of people here.
Hains Point Park
Many of the iconic locations around D.C. tend to get heavily congested, and rightfully so, with tourists and locals alike crowding into the city in the spring. So while hunting for a quieter, scenic spot to enjoy cherry blossoms this year, I stumbled upon Hains Point Park. Located about 20 minutes from the Jefferson Memorial, this park offers gorgeous views of the Potomac River with beautiful blossoming cherry trees. This place was exactly what I needed and I was able to read a book under the shade of cherry blossoms and do a fun photoshoot with my friends without fighting the crowds.
All that’s left is to choose which time of day to photograph the cherry blossoms … Not an easy feat!
Sunrise at the Tidal Basin features pink skies to match the color of the cherry blossoms, while daytime brings out the contrast of the blush-colored flowers against bright a bright blue backdrop., Sunset provides an explosion of colors in the sky to complement the trees. The best option is to spread your visits across multiple days and enjoy the beauty at all hours!
As the saying goes, “happiness lies in small things,” something I remember every spring as these tiny cherry blossoms bring immense happiness and positivity in my life.