The cherry blossoms are, in general, very kid-friendly. But having two toddlers myself, I know that there are some extra things to factor in so that the whole family enjoys it more.
Railings / Safety
With young yet mobile kids, something to keep a close eye on is that there’s no railing most of the way around the Tidal Basin. And the section where there is a railing isn’t at all toddler-proof. I’ve never seen anyone actually fall in, but I have seen strollers that have gone over and had to be abandoned.
Crowds / Safety
It can be very crowded, especially on weekends when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. A good tip from the NPS Police is to take photos of your kids as soon as you arrive. That way, if they do happen to wander off in the crowd, you have the ideal reference photo with the right clothes etc that they can distribute to track him or her down as quickly as possible.
Medical / Emergency
The emergency phone number in the US is 911.
During the cherry blossom festival, there’s a medical tent in the parking lot next to the paddle boats. Otherwise, flag down the nearest police officer or NPS ranger.
You can find restrooms at the Jefferson Memorial, MLK Memorial, and FDR Memorial. During the cherry blossom festival there are temporary portajohns in the parking lot next to the paddle boats and out the back of the Jefferson Memorial.
Food and Snacks
Most parents become pretty used to packing some snacks just in case, but there are some basic snack and food options around the Tidal Basin.
There’s a food tent in the parking lot next to the paddle boats. Here’s the menu (as of March 2016 / click for a larger version):
There are also two snack kiosks, one right next the paddle boats and another behind the Jefferson Memorial. Here’s the menu for the one next to the paddle boats (as of March 2016):
There are picnic tables in the parking lot next to the paddle boats, and there are park benches all the way around the Tidal Basin.
Those are really the only options for buying food and water in the immediate area. There’s a slightly bigger snack kiosk as you head up to the Lincoln Memorial which has a few more options. Other food options are a bit further afield. The cafes in the Smithsonian museums are very kid-friendly and relatively close by.
There’s no problem using strollers, with the understanding that the walkway might be very crowded and you might be dodging people and camera tripods.
The paddle boat operators do keep life jackets for kids on hand that go down to quite small sizes. Kids are welcome in the boats–there are 2 and 4 person versions–but someone in the boat has to be at least 16 years old. You can find more about the paddle boats here.
During the cherry blossom festival, there are often some basic activities for kids set up in the Maine Ave parking lot (next to the paddle boats) like frames for take photos of themselves as beavers and mural walls.
Just back from the Tidal Basin, especially behind the FDR and MLK Memorials, are huge open spaces that they can safely run around in to burn off some energy. One thing to watch is that a some of the fields are favorites with large flocks of geese and can get covered in geese poop. But there are others nearby that are fine.
Spotting Wildlife, Helicopters, and Planes
If your kids happen to be spotters–or have just had enough looking at trees—they’ll almost certainly see ducks, squirrels, starlings, and seagulls. They might see geese flying overhead in formation. I have seen bald eagles down there, although not often. They might see the occasional fish jumping (or splashing). And across on the Mall itself they might see the horses of NPS’s Horse Mounted Unit (and they’re usually very accommodating for photos).
Also, the Tidal Basin is used as a flight path for military helicopters–they come in very low and loud, which our kids find very exciting. If you’re really lucky, you might even see three, heavy Marine Corps helicopters flying in formation to drop the President off at the White House or take him to Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base). One of them is Marine One (when the President is on board), but three identical helicopters fly in the formation so that no-one knows for sure which one he’s actually in. The two decoys peel off once they get right near the White House.
Young plane spotters will also see a lot of planes passing low nearby above the Potomac going in and out of Reagan National Airport.
If your kids are getting cherry blossomed out and getting something to play with or color in will help, there are gift/book shops next to the MLK Memorial, at the FDR Memorial, and under the Jefferson Memorial. There’s also a couple of dedicated cherry blossom gift-shop tents in the parking lot next to the paddle boats. All of them have books geared toward kids, coloring books, as well as other odds and ends.
Protecting the Trees
Every year I see parents encouraging their kids to climb the trees to get a fun family photo. Please don’t. Aside from the safety issues, many of the trees that are most inviting to climb are over a century old and easily damaged.