A Cherry Blossom Weekend in D.C. Without the Crowds

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On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted two cherry trees, a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, on the north bank of the Tidal Basin. An additional 2,998 trees soon followed and, subsequently, countless visitors over the past century.

Each spring, an estimated 1.5 million people trek to the nation’s capital to see the blush beauties in bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, a three-week affair (March 20-April 12) that includes Japanese art exhibitions, musical performances, a kite festival and a “pink tie” gala.

Adore flowers but abhor crowds? Fear not. Here are three ways to see Washington, D.C., in its most ethereal state without getting trampled by tourists.

1. Rise With the Sun

You know the proverb. Early birds definitely get their rewards (in this case, personal space and selfies free of photo bombs). Before 8 a.m., the only people you’ll have to contend with are couples posing for engagement pictures and exercisers. On that note: if you’d like to incorporate a workout into your sight seeing, check out Pacers, which organizes Saturday morning fun runs around Hains Point, the Tidal Basin and the National Mall to see the cherry blossoms in all their regal glory.

Your head start will also pay off in terms of finding a table for brunch. Go northwest on Pennsylvania Avenue to Founding Farmers. The menu features a tempting selection of pancakes (red velvet, carrot cake and bananas foster, for instance), benedicts and special treats, such as black pepper maple bacon and “hangover hash” (poached eggs with chili and pimiento cheese).

Newseum-crop.jpg
The Newseum Photo by Tom Hendrick

This leaves you the entire afternoon to explore the city. Meander down Massachusetts Avenue for a tour of mansions along Embassy Row. Or visit the Gallery Place/Penn Quarter area, which is chock full of museums that rival the more famous Smithsonian Institution, but don’t attract the same foot traffic. Among them: The National Portrait Gallery, The International Spy Museum and The Newseum.

2. See How the Other Half Lives

Just west of Georgetown sits Foxhall Village, an affluent neighborhood featuring mostly Tudor-style homes built in the 1920s. Cherry trees line the streets of this historic area, which residents describe as “D.C.’s best kept secret.” Getting here requires just a short ride by cab or bus.

Enjoy an alfresco lunch at Jetties. Choose from a variety of artisan sandwiches and salads, such as the Nobadeer (roasted turkey and stuffing with cranberry sauce on sourdough) or the Brant Point Salad (Romaine, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, grape tomato, cucumbers, red onions, feta, tossed in red wine oregano vinaigrette).

From there, visit Georgetown for an afternoon of shopping, drinking or playing along the Potomac. Rent a kayak or paddleboard from the Key Bridge Boathouse, or a bicycle at Big Wheel Bikes to navigate the Capital Crescent Trail.

Be sure to visit The Tombs, a Georgetown University haunt established in 1962 in a converted 19th-century Federal townhouse. Here you’ll find cheap beer, plenty of activity—be it trivia or dancing—and the names of hundreds of collegians who’ve joined The 99 Days Club by making a daily visit during the last three-and-a-half months before graduation.

3. Go Behind the Scenes

Spend a day getting acquainted with the backside of the United States Capitol, which is just half a mile from more “off the beaten path”cherry blossoms.

Start the day at Ted’s Bulletin. The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. and it’s best to arrive as early as possible. Locals pile in every weekend in pursuit of Ted’s homemade Pop-Tarts, chicken ‘n biscuits, “walk of shame” burrito (steak, eggs, cheddar, hash browns, green chile sauce) and adult milkshakes.

From there, browse Eastern Market, a bustling marketplace that’s been around since 1873. Here vendors sell everything from jewelry, soaps, clothing and candles to kale, eggs, free-range chicken and octopus.

It’s a 15-minute walk to the Capitol, Supreme Court of the United States and Library of Congress. Along the way, you’ll pass the famous brownstone row houses. Capitol Hill, the city’s largest historic neighborhood, was once home to John Phillip Sousa, Frederick Douglass and J. Edgar Hoover.

Finally, head northeast along Maryland Avenue to Stanton Park. Cherry trees flank this four-acre park, named for Edwin Stanton, President Lincoln’s Secretary of War (though the statue in its center depicts Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Greene).

Of course, you can’t leave D.C. without bidding adieu to Mr. Lincoln and the gang. Wait until the sun goes down. By then, the tourists will have retreated to their hotels, and the local young professionals (who play kickball and Ultimate Frisbee on the Mall) to their favorite watering holes. Plus, the monuments never look more awe-inspiring than when illuminated. Reflect on the splendor with a martini and Chesapeake oysters at politicos’ favorite since 1856, The Old Ebbitt Grill, open until 1 a.m. You can’t miss it: it’s just one block east of the most famous address in America.

To Stay
The George is a pet-friendly boutique hotel
in close proximity to Union Station, the U.S. Capitol, National Mall and Capitol Hill. Special features include yoga mats in every room, hotel bikes to explore the city and a complimentary wine happy hour.

The Graham is a posh hotel in Georgetown, named for the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Spacious bathrooms, down duvets and luxury linens are among its draws, as well as free WiFi, a 24-hour fitness center and a rooftop bar.

Katie Hendrick is a freelance writer in Sarasota, Florida. Her work has appeared in Garden & Gun, Popular Mechanics, The Local Palate and Our State.

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