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Where to See Cherry Blossoms in the Bay Area This Spring

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Sakura blossoms from the SF Japantown during the Cherry Blossom Festival. (afimages/Getty Images)

In Japan, sakura — cherry blossoms — have been celebrated for more than a thousand years. And hanami, or flower-viewing celebrations, date back to the 9th century in Japan and were made popular among the aristocracy.

Today, the arrival of cherry blossoms is celebrated not only in Japan but worldwide, including in U.S. cities like Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

“It marks not just the coming of spring, but also the start of something new,” said Yuki Nishimura, co-chair of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (NCCBF) — a volunteer-run annual event in San Francisco’s Japantown taking place on April 13–14 and April 20–21.

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What to know about the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

The NCCBF is the largest festival of its kind on the West Coast, and organizers say that since 1968, it’s served as a way to celebrate the alliance between Japan and the U.S. “This festival is also our way of really celebrating and reclaiming our cultural identity,” Nishimura said.

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Throughout those two weekends in April, there will be cultural performances taking place on the Peace Plaza stage and across Japantown, as well as arts and craft vendors, nonprofit food booths and a children’s area offering games and activities. The Cherry Blossom Festival’s grand parade will close out the festival on Sunday, April 21.

Nishimura encourages people to take public transportation, walk, bike, or take an Uber/taxi to the event, as parking spots around Japantown will be limited during those weekends. Volunteers for the festival are also welcome.

“It is all about community. It’s all about bringing people together,” Nishimura said. “Anybody can find a place here, and we welcome everybody to come out.”

Other places to see cherry blossoms in the Bay Area

Spring is the best time to admire the blushing pink flowers of cherry blossoms that adorn our streets and parks in the Bay Area.

As for timing, March and April are the best moments to go looking for cherry blossoms in the region, as they bloom for a limited time during these months.

Here are a few places you can spot cherry blossoms around the Bay Area:

San Francisco

South Bay

East Bay

North Bay:

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How climate change has impacted cherry blossoms

If you’ve noticed cherry blossoms beginning to bloom earlier than usual, you’re not alone.

Springtime temperature plays a big role in how early trees bloom and “is consistent with the increased heat of climate change,” said Patrick Gonzalez, climate change scientist and forest ecologist at UC Berkeley.

Cherry trees blossom for a very short period, making the peak flowering stage a critical data point in understanding the physiological stage of the tree. It’s also the most well-documented data in phenology: The timing of life events in plants and animals.

Studies have shown that cherry blossoms in both Washington, D.C. and Kyoto, Japan, have been blooming earlier than in previous years due to climate change. With increased global temperatures, “cherry trees blooming in the center of Washington, D.C. could advance by up to a month by 2100,” Gonzalez said, referring to a study from 2011. And more than a thousand years of past data indicate that this will also be the case with peak blooms in Japan, Gonzalez said.

But why might earlier blooms become an issue? Gonzalez said that rising global temperatures could inadvertently cause a “phenology mismatch” between when a tree blooms and when pollinators like bees and butterflies mature.

While many of the cherry trees we see in the Bay Area are more ornamental and, therefore, may not be a cause of concern with earlier blooms, “the phenology mismatch is important ecologically for food crops, especially like almonds and cherries that we eat here [in California],” Gonzalez said.

KQED’s Janelle Hessig and Adrienne Lee contributed to this story.

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