Cherry blossoms in San Francisco's Japantown
Michael Ocampo/Flickr

APRIL

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

Timed to coincide with the springtime blossoming of delicate cherry trees, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is a long-standing city favorite that showcases both Japanese culture and the region’s Japanese-American community. The festival, first launched in 1968, runs every year over two weekends in April, with food booths, cultural performances, martial arts, and live bands, stretching out along Post St. between Laguna St. and Fillmore St.

Most of the activities, including the Queen Program and the Grand Parade, are centered around the city’s Japantown district (the festival’s website has a downloadable map). Choose from workshops and demonstrations in tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), bonsai (tree dwarfing), origami, and doll-making. Watch dancers, and listen to traditional Japanese music and instruments, including koto (harp-like instruments), shakuhachi (bamboo flutes), and shamisen. There will be a taiko drum festival within the festival, as well as East-meets-West pop culture areas celebrating anime, J-Pop, and gaming.

The parade, which acts as the festival’s finale, starts at the Civic Center and heads up Polk St. to Post St., ending at Post and Fillmore.

This time of year is, of course, a good time just to see the city’s blooming cherry trees—which, in Japanese culture, symbolize both the beauty and fragility of life. You can see a lot of them around the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Insider tip: It’s recommended that visitors use public transportation—MUNI has bus stops just blocks away—or car shares to get to the festival, as parking will be limited.