There’s no better time to visit Washington, DC than in the spring, particularly during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The white and pink blooms deck out downtown in a fabulously festive light, and the unseasonably mild weather over the past weekend has tourists and locals alike down to the Tidal Basin to get their fill. We spoke recently with Chiaki Nonoyama, chef concierge at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, DC to get an insider’s opinion on the best ways to experience blossom fever.
We are quickly headed into peak cherry blossom season in DC. What is your favorite place to view the blossoms?
You cannot beat the view from all the way around the Tidal Basin. I take my time and go around once, starting from the area near 14th Street. If you’re on the other side of the bridge at Arlington Cemetery, stand in front of the Arlington House to enjoy the entire view of the city in pink haze. You can also get a great view around the Washington Monument.
Any tips for avoiding the crowds?
I visit the Tidal Basin pre-dawn. It’s almost the only time to avoid the crowds. Also, the sky slowly lighting up, combined with colors of pink blossoms and white marble of the memorials becomes more vivid as the sun rises. It creates a beautiful effect that looks great in photos. You can also rent a paddle boat at the Tidal Basin to enjoy the view from the water — and get some exercise, too!
Spring in DC has hit or miss weather, with lots of rainy days. What are your favorite indoor activities for when you can get out?
The National Art Gallery (on the Mall) always has interesting special exhibits. I also never get tired of visiting their Impressionist Galleries or Degas/Rodin sculptures. The Botanic Garden (near Capitol Hill) is also a little oasis on rainy days. I’d also suggest a National Cathedral highlight tour or behind-the-scenes tour. It’s beautiful, informative and interesting.
If we get one of those unexpected 75 degree days, what would you suggest doing outside?
The National Arboretum has a wonderful Bonsai collection. Some of them are “in-training” since the 1600s! In addition, azalea season is especially wonderful to walk around its vast grounds. You will also find the original columns from the US Capitol here, which look like ruins.
If you have a car, drive to Great Falls and explore them from both the Virginia side and Maryland side. It’s more fun and exciting to climb boulders along the river – but please use caution!
I also love the docent tours of the gardens and mansion at Hillwood, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post.
What’s your favorite “secret spot” that you’d suggest people visit in DC?
I like Ansel Adams’s photo collection at the Wilderness Society. I also like the Annual Nature’s Best Photography contest winner exhibit at Natural History Museum. I make a beeline there and admire amazing photos taken by the nature enthusiasts.
It’s a little hike, but I also love Brookside Garden in Wheaton, MD for its great indoor and outdoor gardens. I love their collection of rose bushes. You may also go antique shopping in Kensington, MD nearby.
What’s your favorite part about living in the city? How would you spend your day off?
DC is a very walkable city. I may call it similar to an urban hike, as you can easily visit from one neighborhood to another, enjoying the various different cultures and offerings. I also love the fact that we have so many museums which are free of charge. I keep going back to them as they have new exhibits throughout the year. I also pay repeat visits to my favorite paintings and sculptures.