Take An Off-The-Path Approach to the Cherry Blossom Festival

12 Apr
April 12, 2012

This weekend Washington, D.C. hosts its largest annual event, and the city is expected to be inundated with visitors from across the country.

The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival has been underway since last week, but the highlight of the month-long celebration, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, takes place this Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

As a local to the city, there are two ways you can partake in D.C.’s most popular holiday. There’s the traditional route, where paths and sidewalks are loaded with out-of-towners. Or, you can take a unique route, and celebrate this beautiful event in a less crowded and more enjoyable way.

If the traditional route is to your liking, then Saturday morning should be spent taking a lap around the Tidal Basin, the round inlet from the Potomac that has this area’s largest concentration of cherry blossoms.

After that, it’s time to head downtown to catch the parade, one of the biggest this area hosts. It kicks off at 10:00 a.m., on the corner of 7th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. From there, it travels down Constitution until 12:30 p.m. This year’s parade contains many of the usual highlights, including marching bands, floats and large balloons. There will also be a performance from the National Cherry Blossom Festival All-Star Youth Tap Dance Team and Choir. One difference this year is that the parade is getting an influx of celebrity star power, with guest hosts Katie Couric and Alex Trebek.

Of course, the parade streets will most likely be filled with locals and visitors alike. If you’d like to miss them, this is the opportune time to head down to the Tidal Basin, where cherry blossom viewers will be fewer and farther between. To put even more space between you and the crowds, head to the Tidal Basin Paddle Boat Dock, at the corner of Maine Avenue and 15th Street SW.

There, groups of two or four can rent paddle boats by the hour and jettison into the murky waters of the Tidal Basin. The cost for an hour of paddling is $10 for two passengers and $18 for four. If you are worried about securing a boat, you can book one in advance by calling the shop. Boats are available to take out from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with paddlers needing to return to the docks by 6:00 p.m.

After a paddling tour, head back to the parade site. Sure, the main event will be over, but that just makes way for one of the biggest street festivals you’ll ever see.

Immediately after the parade ends, the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival begins. For the 52nd consecutive year, the Sakuri Matsuri (Cherry Blossom in Japanese) Street Festival will take over six blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, showcasing just about every facet of Japanese culture there is to imagine.

The performers alone will be a site to behold. Many are coming all the way from Japan for the festival. There will be a bon-odori dance group performing sacred Buddhist routines. Martial arts experts from across the nation will be showcasing their talents, with ninja and samurai taking the main stage. And for fun, also attending, is a hip-hop martial arts group, who set their routines to popular rap music.

And while that may merit attendance alone, the highlight is the Taste of Asia tent, which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 10th and 12th Streets. There, over 25 restaurants will be dishing out authentic Japanese dishes, ranging from sweet crepes to sushi.

Tickets for the entire event are just $5 for adults and teenagers. Children 12 and under can visit the festival for free.

So this weekend, skip cherry blossom tradition and participate in some of the more unique activities this holiday has to offer.

- David

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