CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVALS

The World's 10 Best Cherry Blossom Festivals

When the pink and white blooms known as sakura signal the start of spring, cities around the world start celebrating. Check out our favorite cherry blossom festivals, from the small town of Macon, Georgia to the big annual blowout in Washington, D.C. and across the globe to Japan and Korea, plus travel tips on how to get there.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington, D.C. (nationalcherryblossomfestival.org)
Ninety-nine years ago, the mayor of Tokyo gave 3,000 sakura to the American people as a gift. That simple gesture of friendship has grown into one of the world's largest celebrations of Japanese culture. The 16-day cherry blossom festival kicks off with the Blossom Kite Festival, which includes handmade kite displays and exciting stunt flying competitions, and ends with a lavish parade down Constitution Avenue, featuring huge helium balloons and elaborate floats. Paddleboat rides in the Tidal Basin are ideal for families as well as canoodling couples looking to up the romance factor. Don't miss: Free nightly lantern walks (8 p.m.–10 p.m.), during which park rangers tell stories about the festival's history. Meet at the Tidal Basin, either at the entrance of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial or the Thomas Jefferson Memorial welcome tent. You may even pick up some planting tips along the way.
When to Go:
March 26–April 10, 2011. National Park Service horticulturalists keep a close eye on the blooms and expect them to peak around April 4.
Where to Stay:
Perched right on Capitol Hill, the fashionable and eco-friendly Hotel George is a short, 15-minute walk from the festival and perfectly situated for exploring any of the monuments, galleries, and attractions along the National Mall. George Washington may never have slept at this namesake boutique property, but he'll watch over you as you do—each of the 139 rooms features a Pop Art portrait of our first president. Doubles from $139, hotelgeorge.com.

 

 

Sakura Matsuri Brooklyn
On the eastern border of Brooklyn's sprawling 585-acre Prospect Park, the 101-year-old Brooklyn Botanic Garden plays home to more than 60 performances and exhibits during this weekend festival. Set among the ponds and wooden bridges of the peaceful Japanese Garden, activities range from the traditional (ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging) to the contemporary (manga—Japanese comics—exhibits). In this particularly family-friendly cherry blossom festival, children are offered the chance to fold origami and create floral arrangements out of recycled objects. Plein-air painters spread throughout the blossoms, often finding buyers among fellow visitors. Don't miss: The Hanagasa Kai Parade (April 30, 1 p.m.), or flower hat dance, put on by the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York. Two versions—a children's dance and an adult dance—feature colorful kimonos, flower-bedecked hats, and vibrant paper parasols.
When to Go:
April 30–May 1, 2011.
Where to Stay: Hot on the heels of Aloft's expansion into Harlem last December, Aloft Brooklyn opens its doors this April 21 in the up-and-coming Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood. Streamlined and urban, the boutique property offers luxurious touches such as Bliss Spa products, oversize showerheads, and a trendy lobby bar. Doubles from $149, aloftbrooklyn.com.

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival San Francisco (nccbf.org)
San Francisco's Japantown is one of only three remaining Japanese enclaves in the U.S. And while one would expect fewer trees in such an urban setting, cherry trees are definitely present along the pedestrian mall that makes up the prettiest part of the neighborhood. For two weekends, the festival includes classical and folk dancing, performances on the koto (a Japanese stringed instrument), and thunderous taiko drumming. Dozens of vendors crowd the streets, peddling favorites like takoyaki (octopus balls) and imagawayaki (sweet azuki bean paste cakes). Don't Miss: The grand parade (April 17, 1 p.m.), which begins at San Francisco's city hall and travels 15 blocks to Japantown to close the festival in spectacular fashion. The Cherry Blossom Queen and her court wear elaborate silk kimonos, as drummers keep the beat in what can only be described as a rhythmic ballet.
When to Go:
April 9–10 and 16–17, 2011.
Where to Stay:
The Hotel Kabuki offers traditional ryokan-style lodging right in the heart of Japantown. Rooms feature sleek bedding and Japanese touches, like Asian teakettles and rice-paper screens. The grounds include a koi pond and Japanese garden. Doubles from $119, jdvhotels.com.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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