When we started planning our trip to California, my mom was thrilled to find that there were two presidential libraries we could add to our itinerary. When she first started becoming interested in visiting these libraries, I had no idea what the appeal was. However, after we visited the LBJ Library in Austin, and the George W. Bush in Dallas, I understood. These are more than just the collections of important documents during their term as president. They are historical museums of the United States during the president's term that have been curated and displayed in an interactive and fascinating way. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is the largest of the currently thirteen museums sprinkled across the United States, and it offers and incredible learning experience.
From Actor to President
One of the most unique aspects of Reagan's history was that he made a name for himself in Hollywood. I love how Dr. Emit Brown, from Back to the Future, reacts when he asks Marty who is president in 1985. "Ronald Reagan? The Actor?"
The first area of the museum walks through Reagan's childhood, his football career, and his introduction to the world of broadcasting. Each of the steps he took along the way are portrayed in a short video. While the video is projected on the screen, iconic items from the time period are lit behind the screen, enhancing the experience. It is very well done.
As he grew more involved in Hollywood, he became the president of the screen actor's guild. He was good at debating and helping people find common ground. It was at this time that he met Nancy, and they fell in love. I loved seeing the sweet telegrams that he sent her:
I always find it fascinating that there are people that want to take the mantle of president. As much as people criticize the presidency, it's easy to forget that the people who take office are still simply humans. Reagan's humble approach was apparent in how he approached the task ahead of him.
If you think these men who stand and give speeches are "just reading from a teleprompter" you need to think again. While their speeches are there, it takes skill to deliver a speech with passion and effectiveness. At the Reagan Presidential Library, you can try your hand at presenting Reagan's inaugural address! Nana for president!
It wasn't long after he became president (only 69 days), that someone attempted to take his life. Doctors did not let on how close the president came to dying that day, but it definitely impacted the future of the presidency.
Sneak Peak Into Powerful Places
One of my favorite things to see at each presidential library is their version of the oval office. You couldn't sit at Reagan's desk, but it was fun to see how he decorated. My youngest quickly spotted the jars of jellybeans all around. Apparently, snacking on jellybeans helped him stop smoking. You can even buy crystal jellybean jars down in the gift shop!
One of the most exciting areas to tour is the retired Air Force One! You actually get to walk through the plane and see how the president and his entourage traveled. It's not nearly as fancy as the current Air Force One, but it was high tech for it's time.
You can also step on to Marine One, the president's private helicopter.
Plan to Pause and Refresh
When we reached this portion of the museum, we'd already been exploring for about two hours. There really is just so much to see. Thankfully (or cleverly), right about at the halfway mark, you can get a bite to eat at the Ronald Reagan Pub.
As you sit and enjoy your lunch, you can enjoy stunning views of Simi Valley. It is just a beautiful location!
Challenges as President
When you reenter the exhibit, there is a room with games that help you understand what President Reagan did for the economy during his two terms as president. My kids loved these!
Then you enter the Berlin Wall exhibit (the actual piece of the Berlin wall is outside). This area as the most fascinating to me as I watched the video about the communist leaders that Reagan interacted with.
Reagan continued to be a true diplomat, working to bring healing to the country of Germany. His private meeting with Gorbachev was towards the end of his presidency and an important event in the warming of the Cold War.
Riding Into the Sunset
As Ronald and Nancy Reagan left office, they returned to California, their favorite place to rest and recuperate. Five years later in 1994, Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's Disease.
He died ten years later, and is buried on the grounds of the library with Nancy, who passed away in 2016.
Special Exhibit: Discovering the Titanic
At first, I couldn't figure out why there would be an exhibit on the Titanic at the Reagan Presidential Library. The first video I watched cleared that up for me!
While tasked on a secret mission to find wrecks of nuclear submarines at the bottom of the ocean, Dr. Robert Ballard used the front story that he was looking for the Titanic. In 1985 as they sought out the Navy's wreckage, they stumbled across the debris path of the Titanic, and the rest is history.
Reagan was instrumental in preserving the wreckage with the 1986 RMS Titanic Memorial Act to designate the wreck as an international maritime memorial. This exhibit integrates both the initial exhibitions and findings with the movie created after the discovery. It was really fascinating to see!
This exhibit won't always be at the Reagan Presidential Library, so make sure to go see it while it's still there!
If you're only going to see one presidential library, this one would be at the top of my must see list. It was just a spectacular presentation of over a decade of United States history. Ronald and Nancy Reagan's integrity and excellence of character is expressed in every facet of their lives.