Washington DC’s National Cherry Blossom Festival 2011: What you need to know

Cherry Blossom fans, get ready! Washington, DC’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off tomorrow and runs through April 10, 2011. Throughout the two-week festival, visitors will enjoy spectacular views of Washington’s famed Cherry Blossoms, a parade, 10 mile race, and hundreds of special spring-themed events in the Washington, DC area.

Never attended the festival before? Here’s what you need to know:

Top Five Tips For Attending:

1. Plan Around Peak Blossom Time
DC residents have noticed the first hints of the blooms already starting to peek out, but the best time to view the blossoms is predicted to be between March 29 and April 3. This is when the trees will be in the fullest bloom and yield the prettiest pictures. Typically, this when the areas surrounding the National Mall and Tidal Basin tend to be the most crowded as well, so plan accordingly. Our favorite times to view the blooms? Early morning, before the crowds descend – the Metro opens at 5:00 AM! Another beautiful way to relax and enjoy the festival is by renting a paddle boat on the Tidal Basin. Make advance reservations online to avoid getting shut out.2. Take Metro
Parking around the monuments can be a mess on a normal day – don’t even attempt it during Cherry Blossom season. Get off at the Smithsonian stop (Orange and Blue lines) and you can expect at 10-15 minute stroll to reach the Tidal Basin. Tourmobile is also offering a shuttle service from Virginia’s Haines Point parking area to the Tidal Basin at 20 to 30 minute intervals from 10 AM to 7 PM daily for $1 per person. If you’re more athletically-inclined, consider biking. On weekends, there will be a free bike valet at the Jefferson Memorial’s parking lot from 10 AM – 6 PM. You can rent a bike for just $15 on a five-day pass through Capital Bikeshare.

3. Bring A Camera (And Claritin)
There’s something about the blooms that just makes our eyes water – if you’re allergic to pollen, plan accordingly, as the thousands of blooms WILL cause a flare-up. You may also want to pack a bottle of water, as there are very few vendors located directly on the Tidal Basin. While we’d recommend packing a camera, plan your shots accordingly – it’s quite crowded, particularly on weekends, and getting your ideal shot may be difficult. We wouldn’t suggest opting for a tripod or any fancy devices, as you’ll have difficulty finding the space to set up(and you’ll annoy the other viewers).

4. Don’t Pick The Blossoms, and Other Fun Facts
Want to learn more about the history of the trees and the festival? Consider taking the National Park Service’s free guided walking tour. You’ll learn about the different types of trees (there are 3,700 trees in the area, FYI) and why we celebrate each year. Additionally, consider taking part in one of the 200+ Cherry Blossom Festival events around Washington (AOL Travel has a great guide) – from the Opening Day Ceremonies at the National Building Museum to the fireworks on April 2 to the parade on April 9, there’s plenty going on for anyone to enjoy. Oh, and don’t pick the blossoms or you’ll get a stern scolding from your local Park Ranger.

5. Search for Specials
We’ve already highlighted some of our favorite hotel specials offered during the Cherry Blossom Festival, but don’t forget to ask if area restaurants, bars and shops are offering special deals. Some of our favorites? Check out tomorrow’s guide.

[Flickr via JoshBerglund19]