So-called Spring Festival and Groundhog Day are firmly in the rearview mirror. Thursday is the Spring Equinox, and spring has officially arrived. The central heat is off, and with a forecast high of 17 degrees, it's time to start counting down for the first day we need air conditioning.

Here are five wonderful things to do now that winter is over and before summer's heat and humidity make the city a bit tougher to enjoy.

1. Visit the Botanical Gardens

The Beijing Botanical Gardens are one of those destinations you always mean to visit, like the Marco Polo Bridge or Niujie Mosque, but probably still haven't gotten to. Change that this weekend. Out in the Fragrant Hills, the Botanical Gardens feature about 3,000 different types of plants, many of which will begin flowering at any moment. Even for those who don't love flowers, there are two other good reasons to visit this site, which is only open March to October: the Cao Xueqin Memorial Hall recalls the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of China's most celebrated classical novels, who lived here towards the end of his life. Also, the Sleeping Buddha Temple features a reclining Buddha that dates to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Admission is RMB 10 to get into the gardens, some of the aforementioned halls will charge additional fees for entrance. Get there via a combination of subway and public bus.

2. Head into the Wild with EcoAction

Whether it be day trips to Beijing's Olympic Forest or weekends farther afield, EcoAction will show you that Beijing's environs are wild and rich with wildlife. EcoAction uses local guides to highlight ecosystems you probably didn't know existed such a short ride from the hutongs. Each program uses a portion of the revenue from each trip to support conservation projects and local communities. It's a day out; it's fun; you don't need to spend another weekend in Sanlitun. Visit their website for more information.

3. Join the Vintage Ride

Set for March 29, the Beijing Vintage Ride is now a classic, for the riders, their bicycles, and their assortment of riding outfits, be they Mao suits or 1920s outdoor wear. Organized by SERK, one of the featured cycling stores of our September 2013 issue, it's the kick-off of the spring cycling season. Sign up for the Vintage Ride via their contact page.

4. Resume Al Fresco Dining

Start eating outdoors again before it's July and Beijing becomes a convection oven. Use our guides to outdoor restaurants, which appeared in two parts (part one here and part two here) last summer, to enjoy some fresh air and ambience while the evenings are cool and the days increasingly warm.

5. Learn about Beijing's Birds

Terry Townshend is about as passionate as they come for Beijing and birding. The blog posts made by the founder of Birding Beijing convey his enthusiasm for the capital's avian life: "Male Przevalski's Redstart at Lingshan joined by a female!" exclaims one recent post. Townshend leads occasional tours to top birding areas around Beijing, and provides a guide to those ready to break out the binoculars on their own via his website.

Happy Spring!

Photo: Birding Beijing

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