Updated 4:10 p.m. April 10
The surest sign of spring: Delicate blush pink petals gracefully floating from cherry trees and filling the sky with pastel clouds on a warm day.
While Washington, D.C. is the best known spot for cherry blossoms in America, you don’t have to drive four hours to admire the splendor of the season. Several spots in Pittsburgh offer the chance to experience the natural grandeur. It’s tough to predict peak bloom, but local experts say it’s starting in a few days and will last for a couple weeks.
Here’s where to go to spot cherry blossoms right now. Know another blossom hotspot that we missed? Email us, so we can add it to the list.
North Park, North Hills
For the past decade, the Pittsburgh Sakura Project has planted cherry trees in groves across North Park. The idea sprung from the Japan Association of Greater Pittsburgh, which sought a local place for hanami (the Japanese custom of enjoying flower blossoms), said Barbara Litt. Litt, who teaches Japanese at Carnegie Mellon University, is a board member for the Pittsburgh Sakura Project.
Today, 247 ornamental cherry trees of 10 varieties, such as yoshino, accolade, pink flair, and okame, dot North Park. Some bloom earlier than others, spreading out peak bloom over a longer period of time. Plus, each tree shows off its blossom in a unique way.
“Some are white, some are pink, some are double blossom — more frilly,” Litt said.
Finding cherry blossoms in the massive North Park is something of a scavenger hunt. Look for the pink clouds near the boathouse, by the children’s area, at the north end of the tennis courts, and along Pearce Mill Road. Peak bloom is expected to begin around April 15.
“We’ve reached the point … where people could actually take a blanket out and lay it between the trees and have lunch or tea. That was our goal in how we arranged the grove, so you can sit in each one and have the petals fall on you,” said Kary Arimoto-Mercer, of Shadyside landscape architecture firm Arimoto+Mercer. She designed the plans for the North Park cherry blossom project with fellow landscape architects Rick Mercer and Ron Block.
Plus, she said, look for a newly added stone-and-wood bench from artist Tadao Arimoto. It sits under a weeping cherry and “really makes a cultural statement.”
“We expect that to be the Kodak spot,” she said.
Even if North Park is a far drive, Litt said, “It’s worth the trip. It is a special place.”
UPMC Shadyside, Shadyside
Just outside of UPMC Shadyside Hospital on Centre Avenue, look for a stand of cherry trees densely packed around the hospital’s Japanese garden. They’re already in full bloom here.
Recognized as a Pittsburgh Horticultural Society Garden of Distinction, the garden’s benches and small walking path are a popular place for hospital staff and families to relax.
The garden was a gift from Kazuo Kodera, director of the English Society Institute of Tokyo, and Kazuo and Keiko Matsudaira of Nagasaki. It’s designed with rocks and stone lanterns sent from Japan.
“UPMC Shadyside has the best approximation of what it’s like to be in Japan — these white and pink clouds of blossoms that just dominate the landscape,” Litt said.
Thomas Boulevard, Point Breeze
Keep your eyes peeled along Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze’s Westinghouse Park for a “long line of beautiful cherries,” Litt suggested.
The Waterfront, Homestead
Believe it or not, the parking lot at The Waterfront shopping plaza is an oasis for cherry trees. “There are many mature Yoshino cherries around the edges and in some islands of the lot west of Amity Street and south of E. Waterfront Drive,” Litt said. Find them near Dave & Buster’s and Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery.
First Avenue, Downtown
Stroll along First Avenue Downtown and look for the cherry blossom tree on the back side of the Wood-Allies parking garage, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership suggests.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Oakdale
Yes, it’s a bit of a drive, and yes, there’s an admission fee ($9 for adults), but it’s worth it for a leisurely stroll along the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden’s three miles of groomed trails.
Look for several young cherry trees near the garden’s Asian lotus pond. Also, while you’re there this spring, don’t miss The Dogwood Trail filled with wildflowers and birdhouses.
Update: This version corrects the number of varieties of cherry trees planted at North Park and adds information about cherry trees located Downtown and at The Waterfront.