Cherry blossom season is upon us here in New York. It’s the one time of the year when the entire city seems to be in bloom. If you were thinking of having your portrait taken alongside the beautiful trees, now is the time to jump in front of a lens. So without further ado, here is my definitive list of the best places to see cherry blossoms in NYC.
You technically have another week left to see the blooms, but with the unpredictability of NYC weather, it only takes one solid rainstorm (as we might have this afternoon) to shake the petals from the branches.
With this in mind, I present to you the best places to see cherry blossoms in NYC (from a photographer’s perspective):
- Roosevelt Island. Let’s start with my favorite. The island has a fantastic row of trees that sit front and center to one of the city’s best views. In terms of crowd control, the island is virtually empty (except on the weekend when the weekend sports fanatics descend). Couple all of these perks with a fun, Peter Pan-esque tram ride over the city — and did I mention the creepy abandoned smallpox hospital at the end of the island? Seriously, what’s not to love? Make the effort and take a trip to Roosevelt Island.
Location of cherry blossom trees: southern edge of the island, looking towards Manhattan
Advice: Go during the week, and make your portrait a day-to-evening shoot so you also include shots of the glittering Manhattan skyline. There is a public restroom on at FDR park and at the tram station which you can use to change clothes. Also, note that FDR park (on the southern tip of the island – where the smallpox hospital is located) is closed on Tuesday.
- Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Color me prejudiced, but this great park is located right in my backyard, so of course it is one of my favorite spots. For your photo shoot, make sure to add a dash of NYC history by including the World’s Fair ruins in your pics. The crumbling infrastructure adds a surreal touch.
Location of cherry blossom trees: park areas surrounding the unisphere; just go towards the humongous globe, and you are bound to find some beautiful trees.
Advice: Again, avoid the park on the weekends. Flushing Meadows is a mecca for local soccer enthusiasts who take full advantage of every inch of the park. Don’t forget to get photos around Meadow Lake. For those feeling really adventurous, the Willow Lake Preserve Trail has opened up around Willow Lake – the sister lake across from Jewel Avenue. This small hiking trail is beautiful, and has huge reeds that look lovely in photos.
- Randall’s Island. The Randall’s Island cherry blossom festival is coming up tomorrow beginning at 11:00 a.m., so check it out if you want a less crowded version of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri throwdown. The island is huge, and you will want to concentrate on the cherry blossom trees located on Wards Island Park in the southern part of the island, but don’t forget to take photos of the beautiful saltwater marsh area near Icahn Stadium and the Sunken Meadow Fields. Also, you’ve got views of both Manhattan and Astoria, so take advantage.
Location of cherry blossom trees: Wards Island Park, southern tip of Randall’s Island
Advice: Again, Randall’s Island is a big go-to spot for weekend warriors of the ZogSports variety. If you want the island to yourself, shoot during the week. One other caveat, there is a huge homeless population that visits both the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and two homeless shelters on the island. I’ve never had an issue, but just be aware of your surroundings and don’t go to the park at night.
- New York Botanical Garden. Every time I visit the NYBG, I feel like I have successfully escaped the city. The grounds are vast, so if you go at a time that is less crowded (i.e., not a weekend), you feel like you can get far from the maddening crowd. Speaking of far, bear in mind that the NYBG is located a good distance away from central Manhattan. The best way to get there is to take the Metro-North train to the Botanical Garden Station. If you take the subway, prepare for a long walk or bus ride.
Location of cherry blossom trees: Cherry Valley, north part of the garden, located by the Rockefeller Rose Garden. Also, look for cherry blossoms in the Ross Conifer Arboretum, by the conservatory.
Advice: Try to visit on Wednesday, the garden’s free admission day (there is also free admission on Saturdays from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m.). You won’t be able to get into any special exhibits, but you will have full access to the grounds.
- Riverside Park. Two options here: Sakura Park, located at the top end of the park close to Morningside Heights, and Cherry Walk, which is a four-mile stretch of the park from 72nd to 158th Street. Riverside Park is beautiful, and offers you the option of waterfront photos. Unfortunately, this also means that the park is super popular with natives and tourists alike. Go at off hours to avoid the crowds. I would also suggest trying to incorporate a few photos that incorporate the old Upper West Side, urban landscape, such as photos on the steps of a Riverside brownstone and some vertical city shots along West End Avenue and Broadway.
Location of cherry blossom trees: Sakura Park near Morningside Heights, and Cherry Walk, located from 72nd to 158th Street
Advice: The area of Riverside Park from 101st to 110th Street is very popular with the soccer set, so avoid this section of the park at all costs on the weekends. Also, keep in mind that waterfront photos mean very little shade, so go during the ‘golden hour’: the hour before sunset, or after sunrise.
- Silver Lake Park, Staten Island. Gorgeous park, but alas, too far away for me. The park boasts a huge lake (hence the name) that is a beautiful backdrop to any photo. The good news is that if you go, you’ll have the place all to yourself, at least during the week.
Location of cherry blossom trees: along the lake
Advice: Getting here, for most Manhattanites, will be the major challenge. Have an adventure and take the Staten Island Ferry to St. George. From there your best bet would be to walk or take a bus along Victory Boulevard to the park. The good news is that there are several cool restaurants and little shops that have opened up along Bay Street and Victory, so I say make a day of it.
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This is by far NYC’s most popular choice for viewing cherry blossoms, to the point where the park is almost a cliché. The Japanese garden is especially lovely and always worth a trip, but you will be sharing your memories with hundreds of other tourists. Want your own private cherry blossom moment? Pick another park. Sorry, Brooklyn.
Location of cherry blossom trees: alongside the pond of the Japanese garden, plus four rows of beautiful trees in the Cherry Esplanade, located in the middle of the park closest to the Washington Avenue entrance
Advice: Brooklyn Botanic Garden has got their cherry viewing system down to a science. Make sure to check out the ‘CherryWatch Blossom Status Map’ online to find out what’s blooming and where.
- Central Park. My least favorite choice for viewing the cherry blossoms due to lack of crowd control. While Central Park is the most accessible of all NYC’s parks, this also means the hordes cannot be avoided. Unless you like having a lot of strangers in your photos, pick another park.
Location of cherry blossom trees: several spots within the park, including the east side of the reservoir, Lilac Walk along the northeast side of Sheep Meadow, the Conservatory Water, the Ramble (mid-park around 72nd Street), the Delacorte Theater (mid-park around 80th Street), and the Great Lawn
Advice: If you must shoot here, go in the morning on a weekday, and pick the most northern parts of the park (east side of the reservoir and Great Lawn/Delacorte Theater areas)
Some general advice for any cherry blossom viewing location: think about creative ways to incorporate cherry blossoms into your photos:
- A kiss through the branches
- A silly bouquet in your hair (or teeth)
- An avalanche of petals falling from above
- A picnic underneath the trees
- An old fashioned tree-climbing contest
Just promise me no static posing in front a tree. This isn’t prom.
Are you interested in scheduling a portrait during cherry blossom seasons? Drop me a line and let’s talk about your photography needs.
If you would like to see more images from my portfolio, then please visit my website — KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com.