New York’s Central Park is the best place in the city to see the beautiful cherry blossom blooms. It’s the first sign that winter’s on the way out and spring’s right around the corner. Here’s what you need to know about when the cherry blossoms peak in NYC and where to find them.
Beautiful Spring Blooms in New York City
Do you get the winter blues? I sure do. Especially during winters like this one. We haven’t had any snow so the days are grey and drizzly. The landscape’s flat and dull. It makes me want to listen to sad songs in bed with bourbon and chocolate to keep me company. My motivation to do just about anything’s gone kaput. Well, maybe I manage to muster a snow tubing trip.
Fortunately, spring’s right around the corner. In a few short weeks, I can hop the Metro North train into New York and explore the city as it springs into life. The soft pink flowers that explode on cherry trees are the perfect antidote to winter. You can find them in many places in NYC including the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and at several cherry blossom festivals around town. The Japanese call these festivals Sakura Matsuri.
But I think the best place to see New York City’s cherry blossoms in the spring is in Central Park.
NY’s Playground for the People – Central Park
The creation of New York’s Central Park began in 1857 to give the city’s residents a place to escape. Most people at that time lived in crowded, unsanitary tenements and they’d head to neighborhood cemeteries for picnics. The natural feel of the park’s 840 acres was envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who won a design competition. Today, the maintenance of the park is the responsibility of the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization.
The History of Central Park’s Cherry Trees
Imagine getting a gift that still sparks joy after a hundred years. Japan presented New York with Yoshino cherry trees in 1912. The 3000 trees were originally supposed to arrive in 1909 but the ship carrying them was lost at sea. The ones that line the Potomac Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. arrived the same year.
It’s believed that a few of the 35 trees along the Reservoir’s bridle path in Central Park are survivors from that original batch. Look for the ones with broad gnarly trunks.
When’s the Best Time to See the Cherry Trees in Bloom
The Yoshino trees produce their fragrant pale pink blooms in mid-April. During that time, the Central Park Conservancy hosts 1 1/2 hour tours, if you’re interested in learning about the history of the Park, the blooms and the Reservoir. It’s a very affordable $15.
Covid Information for 2021: Many of the Conservancy’s tours are conducted virtually. Check their website for the latest information regarding Central Park cherry blossom tours. At this time, the Park itself is open to the public.
Near the end of April, the Kwanzan cherry trees, the very showy sisters of the Yoshino, strut their stuff. Kwanzan blooms are a rich pink color with lush blossoms. Although you might think they look more like what a cherry tree should look like, the delicate grace of the Yoshino blooms truly capture the traditional Japanese aesthetic.
The Best Spot to See the Cherry Blossoms in Central Park?
Enter Central Park at the “gate” located at 90th Street and 5th Avenue. There are 20 gates in Central Park but none of them lock. The gates are the formal entrances to the Park and they’re named after the groups of New Yorkers who made the city great. This particular one is called Engineers’ Gate and features a gold bust of former NYC Mayor John Purroy Mitchel. He opened Water Tunnel 1 in 1917 and this tunnel still provides NYC with its drinking water.
There are Yoshino cherry trees lining the bridle path to the left and right of the gate, forming a cherry blossom tunnel during the peak. There are also people. Lots and lots of people, runners and dogs. If your goal is to capture the trees or to pose for blossom-filled selfies, I highly recommend sacrificing some sleep and getting to Central Park shortly after dawn.
Other Spring Sights in Central Park
After passing the initial cluster of Yoshino trees, our tour passed what’s believed to be the oldest tree in Central Park. London Plane trees are the most common street trees in New York City. The one in Central Park has a massive – 60′ – trunk covered in bark that resembles camouflage.
The tour concluded near Bridge No. 28. Technically, it’s not a bridge; it’s an arch. Bridges cross water and arches cross paths. There are 36 bridges and arches in the park and none of them are the same. Made of cast iron, Bridge No. 28 is called Gothic Bridge because of its design. It’s a great spot to take a photo and finish your tour. Or continue around the Reservoir to complete the 1.5 mile loop.
The cherry blossoms come and go quickly, so don’t procrastinate!