A secret cherry blossom spot in DC that’s less touristy

Mar 29, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

You would think that strolling through a grove of cherry trees would be a perfectly delightful way to spend some time outdoors this spring — safely practicing social distancing — while communing with Mother Nature. But, somehow, in the crazy world that is 2021, travelers that visit Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin year after year to ooh and ahh over the delicate blooms may be disappointed right now.

The National Park Service is limiting access to the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, all is not lost if you want to see the city’s beautiful cherry blossoms now through April 4, the predicted peak of the blooming season. In fact, there are reasons why you may want to skip the Tidal Basin — even on a normal year. It’s not always fun navigating among thousands of camera-toting tourists, which you’d normally have to do unless you arrive at dawn.

TPG is happy to share that there are more tranquil cherry blossom spots in Washington, D.C. where tourists do not tread — or tread lightly.

Here’s our secret tip.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

(Photo by Alberto Buzzola/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Alberto Buzzola/LightRocket/Getty Images)

As a D.C. native, one of my favorite cherry blossom-spotting spots is far away from the typical tourist trail: the U.S. National Arboretum.

The National Arboretum is largely unknown, even to most locals. On the eastern edge of D.C., the arboretum is not Metro-friendly and it’s not near anything else. You have to make an effort to get there (the drive is about 20 to 30 minutes from downtown) but your effort will be rewarded with stunning blooms and little competition to see them.

Related: 5 tips for planning the perfect cherry blossom trip to Washington, DC

Crowd-free blossoms

The arboretum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Christmas, and admission is free. Last year, I visited the National Arboretum at 10 a.m. on a Tidal Basin peak-bloom Sunday and still had entire portions of the arboretum to myself. Here, you’ll find 9.5 miles of paths snaking over more than 400 acres and the 1,000-plus trees are much more spread out than those at the Tidal Basin. People with mobility limitations can drive between various groves, but I found the three-mile walk on paved roads easy and stroller-friendly.

There are more than 30 varieties of cherry trees in the National Arboretum, and they bloom over a much longer period of time than those at the Tidal Basin. The trees at the arboretum begin blooming at least two weeks earlier, and you can still see flowers well into May. The extended blooming season means you can visit in two separate months and experience peak bloom. It also means the National Arboretum is a great Plan B if you’ve booked a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms but the blooms on the Tidal Basin refused to cooperate.

Related: Planning a trip to the Washington, DC cherry blossoms based on averages and guessing

cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum
(Credit: @DCGardens on Flikr)

Viewing tips

The Arboretum is chock-full of blossoms, and different sections of the park bloom at different times. I’ve visited March through May the past couple of years and there have always been blossoms.

Start at one of the groves — whichever one is in bloom at the time. The grove located where Valley Road crosses Meadow Road (a mix of magnolias, azaleas and cherry blossoms), is a truly scenic spot, and one that’s easy to find as it’s near the entrance to the overflow parking lot at New York Avenue. Park there and head left. If the cherry blossoms are in bloom, you’ll see what I mean. If you catch a breeze, you might be lucky enough to get caught in a bloom shower.

Related: Capturing the peak bloom of the Washington, DC cherry blossoms

The earlier you arrive, the better. The park opens at 8 a.m. but crowds don’t generally arrive until 10 a.m. or so on weekends. If you can’t make it early, go late. The park closes at 5 p.m. but crowds start thinning out around 3 p.m. Weekdays are better than weekends; Sundays are better than Saturdays. Even at peak time, you can usually find a solitary spot. Take a good look at the Arboretum website close to the date when you plan to visit and this should tell you what will be in bloom. D.C. Gardener also has an updated resource.

national arboretum
(Credit: @DCGardens on Flikr)

Capitol Columns

There’s a little piece of history parked right in the center of the arboretum: The original Corinthian columns that were installed at the Capitol in 1828 now stand high on a hill, keeping watch over the Ellipse Meadow below. The National Capitol Columns were moved from the U.S. Capitol dome to the arboretum in the 1980s. The columns are less than 200 years old and remind me of Greek ruins more than anything in Washington, D.C. They look straight out of a movie set and are absolutely Insta-perfect.

Naitonal Capitol Columns National Arboretum
(Credit: @DCGardens on Flikr)

Beyond cherry trees

The National Arboretum is home to way more than just the scene-stealing cherry trees. My favorite is the National Bonsai Museum, which features Japanese and Chinese pavilions along with sculpted miniature specimen trees. Pack a picnic lunch. There are tables and benches scattered across the grounds. There’s a small gift shop where you can buy cold drinks and snacks if you decide on impulse to extend your visit.

Getting to the National Arboretum

The one downside to the National Arboretum for tourists is that it’s hard to get to on public transit. If you want to use the Metro, go the Stadium-Armory Station (blue and orange lines) and then take the B-2 bus toward Mount Rainier. You then depart the bus at R Street and walk two blocks to the entrance.

I recommend a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft if you don’t have a car. If you take Uber or Lyft, you will want to leave via the same R Street entrance where you access public transit because it will be easiest for a driver to pick you up at that location.

Capital Bikeshare is also an option as there’s a drop-off location right outside the R Street entrance. I don’t recommend it for most people. The neighborhoods you traverse on the ride are spotty where safety is concerned.

If you drive, parking is free. The New York Avenue entrance is the easiest to access via car. During the season, there’s an overflow-parking lot right at the New York Avenue entrance. Off-peak, you’ll find parking at the Visitor Center (2400 R Street NE) and scattered throughout the park.

Feature photo by Yoshiyuki Kaneko/EyeEm/Getty Images

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.