Spring is popping off—and we don't just mean with your sinuses. While Skagit Valley prepares to welcome tons of tulip tiptoers next month, the University of Washington dusts off its red-brick footpaths right blooming now. It's cherry blossom time.
What is it?
Less a festival and more an annual happening that everyone just seems to know about, the blooming of UW's 29 cherry blossom trees in and around the quad always draws a crowd. Well, except for the last couple of years when the university specifically asked people to stay away for social distancing purposes.
Cherry blossoms are frighteningly fickle and fleeting, only lasting for a couple of weeks. According to UW arborist Sara Shores, they usually reach peak bloom (when 70 percent of the flowers are out) the third week of March. That tracks in 2022, but milder weather can nudge that timing around from year to year. A dedicated Twitter account provides frequent updates, or you can just take an early peek on the campus webcam.
Why cherry blossoms?
Originally planted at Washington Park Arboretum in 1939—conflicting reports say they were either a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912 or purchased for $1.25 a pop—the yoshino cherry trees were relocated to the quad in 1984 to make room for the construction of 520. In 2014, the Japan Commerce Association of Washington gifted the university an additional 18 cherry trees, planted at Rainier Vista, where there's a fountain and, duh, views of Mount Rainier. Today the campus has dozens of original trees and clones in varieties like kwanzan, shirofugen, and hisakura. A handy map marks them all.
What can a sakura enthusiast do?
The most basic activity is hanami, literally "flower viewing." Most people stroll the quad and Rainier Vista for photo ops. Some people make it into a literal picnic, but don't expect any semblance of privacy or personal space. It gets crowded, especially on weekends. You can usually find a food truck or two parked at Red Square, the brick-festooned plaza at the quad's north entrance.
If you prefer more organized activities, several concurrent events tag onto peak cherry blossom time. The annual Seattle Cherry Blossom Run (March 26 and 27 this year) has 5K and half marathon options, both winding through the university campus. And for the first time, the U District Cherry Blossom Festival (March 25–April 10) brings a couple dozen sakura-themed specials to nearby restaurants, cafes, and shops, most of them on the Ave. Just a note, the somewhat confusingly named Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival in April is completely separate at Seattle Center.
What can you not do?
The UW trees are old—nearly 90 years. So you best not climb, pull, or shake those branches in any which way.
Just how popular is it?
Very, especially during peak bloom and on weekends. Expect crowds while traveling (bus, light rail, and parking options are ample), at the actual cherry blossoms, and anywhere along the Ave around a respectable meal time.