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Cherry Blossom Festival returns in full at Balboa Park

2021 03-11 UGC - Permission from photographer - @domonick_kotas (1).jpeg
Courtesy of Domonick Kotas / Japanese Friendship Garden
Cherry Blossoms in bloom at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park, spring 2021.

The Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa park returns for its first full, weekend-long festival since the pandemic began.

The festival is aimed at highlighting the culture of Hanami, a Japanese tradition of enjoying the fleeting beauty of flowers.

“So the idea is that when the blossoms bloom they do spark the timing of spring. So most people will go out and celebrate under the cherry blossoms, sometimes have a blanket and sit down and picnic with some sake. It also reminds you that time and beauty is fleeting. It’s only here for a couple weeks so take the opportunity, take the moment, to go enjoy that experience,” said Mariah Williams, the events and marketing coordinator at the Japanese Friendship Garden.


She said festival goers can expect to see a number of merchants, performances and a variety of food booths. There will also be a sake and beer garden with big names like Choya and Sapporo, as well as local craft sake like San Diego-based Setting Sun Sake.

If guests are nervous about crowds or simply want to see the cherry blossoms outside of the festival dates, it’s better to get in quick while you can.

“The blossoms kind of have a timeline of their own,” Williams said. “Some of the trees have just started to blossom. Some are on their way out. From what I can tell right now, there will be some blossoms after the festival, if you wanted to come during a weekday after or on the weekend. But they probably won’t last too much longer after that. That being said, last year they were in bloom all of March. So fingers crossed that that happens again.”

The pandemic hit a lot of businesses, nonprofits and other organizations hard over the past few years. In March 2020, the Japanese Friendship Garden was gearing up for its annual Cherry Blossom Festival when the COVID-19 lockdowns shut everything down. The festival pivoted and hosted a few in-person events on weekends. In 2021, the festival returned as a hybrid event, with both virtual elements and in-person events on weekends throughout March.

“I think it was difficult for everyone, not just us. But I feel as an organization that we are grateful for being an almost completely open-aired museum. That obviously gave us an opportunity to open our doors when unfortunately other museums were not able to do so,” Williams said. “So it’s been difficult, but we remain very grateful for the opportunities we were given during a very difficult time.”


Prior to the pandemic the garden didn’t offer any virtual events, but as the pandemic set in and the demand for virtual offerings spiked, the museum pivoted and began offering virtual classes and events. Now the museum intends to keep those virtual offerings going forward.

The Cherry Blossom Festival runs March 11 through March 13, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with admissions closing at 5 p.m. Masks are recommended, but not required outside of the music performance area. There’s no limit to the number of tickets being sold, and they can be purchased online or at the venue.