This article, written and photographed by Charlotte Geary, originally appeared in Modern Reston magazine.
Washington, D.C. is arguably most beautiful in the springtime, and the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin are worth their hype. If you haven’t strolled around the Tidal Basin during peak blossom season yet, you really need to add that treasured local experience to your bucket list. It’s extraordinary.
But if you’ve been there and done that… eh, skip it this year. And maybe next year, too. The crowds are massive, parking is non-existent, and you’ll probably stumble over somebody’s selfie stick. Northern Virginia has gorgeous cherry blossoms, too, and you can enjoy them without any of that hassle.
One of Northern Virginia’s prettiest collections of cherry blossom trees can be found at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, about 15 minutes from Reston Town Center. Meadowlark is a 95-acre park with lakes and miles of walking trails. Among the park’s collection of ornamental plants are about 100 cherry blossom trees. They typically bloom a couple days later than the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in D.C.
When you arrive at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, you’ll find a large and convenient parking lot. You enter through a visitor center that sits at the top of a hill. Admission is $2.50-$5.00, and free for kids 6 and under.
Next to the visitor center is a small, flat field with a paved trail that circles it. The entire circle is lined with cherry blossom trees that arch overhead.
If you are unable to climb a large hill or walk far, you can sit in this gorgeous entry garden and be surrounded by cherry blossoms. It’s an ideal location for visitors with wheelchairs or other physical limitations. Many other spring flowers are blooming in this area, including tulips, daffodils, and forsythia.
If you are up for a longer walk, head down the hill toward Lake Caroline. The lake is partially surrounded by about 60 cherry blossom trees that line a paved walking trail.
As you stroll along this lakeside trail, you’ll encounter plenty of opportunities for the perfect family photo among the white yoshino cherry blossoms and pink weeping cherry trees.
In the center of the lake is a gazebo, where visitors can watch the Canadian geese, snapping turtles, and koi carp that live at the park. Or visitors can just sit in the shade and take in the views of cherry blossoms arching over the water all around.
From the gazebo you can see the Korean Bell Garden in the distance. This beautiful pavilion is one of the featured attractions of Meadowlark Gardens. Other park highlights include a children’s tea garden, a historic log cabin, wooded hiking trails, and dozens of ornamental flower gardens.
You could easily wander the park for hours, especially on a mild spring day. Pack water, sunscreen, and insect repellant. I also recommend a stroller for younger visitors, even if they don’t typically want to ride in one — after walking all day, you and the kids will have to climb back up that big hill, and that stroller could really come in handy.
Before you return to your car, be sure to reserve enough time to explore the visitor center. You’ll find exhibits about wildlife and plants, and aquariums with live animals. My kids and I were particularly fascinated by the chameleon living in a glass tank in the lobby. We were enthralled to see it catch crickets with its massive tongue and change color as it wandered from sticks to leaves. I’ve been to Meadowlark Gardens many times, and there is always something new to discover there.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is located at 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, Virginia. It is open 10am-6pm in March, and 10am-7pm in April. Admission is $2.50-$5.00, with kids 6 and under free.
You might need to go to the Tidal Basin if you want sunrise or sunset photos, since Meadowlark is closed at those times. Or you can check out one of these places:
Other local places to see cherry blossoms:
- The Van Gogh Bridge at Lake Anne in Reston
- Wiehle Avenue, just north of Baron Cameron Road in Reston
- The Bowman House, on Reston Parkway across from the Container Store
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