The Los Angeles metro area is lucky to have not one but two Presidential Library and Museums: Richard Nixon (Orange County) and Ronald Reagan (Simi Valley).
Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum is located at 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard in Yorba Linda, Orange County about 20 minutes from Disneyland. This is just off of the 90 highway which is merely several miles from the great 91 freeway. As you pull into the parking lot take a moment to reflect on what this area would have looked like when Nixon was born and during his formative years. Where the parking lot is today was once citrus orchards and dusty streets connected the local area farms. Today this area is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, wide streets and shopping centers. At the far end of the parking lot as you enter, you will pass the helicopter used by Nixon as well as his old home.
Allow at least 2-3 hours to visit this museum. There are a number of exhibits and written descriptions next to the items that take some time to read and absorb. There is a lot of history contained within its walls. Highlights in the actual museum include the oldest item in the museum, a Carnelian necklace from the Prime Minister at that time of Israel (11th or 12th century), a love note from the President to his wife Patricia, real life bronze sculptors of who Richard Nixon considered to be the top leaders during his presidency, his limousine, a contingency letter in case of failure during the moon launches and videos of a number of Presidential inaugural speeches. Like the Reagan Museum in Simi Valley (north of LA), the Nixon Museum also contains a large piece of the Berlin Wall.
The museum grounds are actually on site of where Nixon spent his early formative years. His family’s restored home dates from 1912 and is located towards the back of the property behind the actual museum. It is still in its original location. Note the large pepper trees near the house; these were planted by Nixon’s father. A short guided tour of this home is included with your paid admission. Highlights include the family kitchen table, their piano, the small room where part of the family slept and other family era items. This house is extremely small and at one point served as home for the Nixon parents and 4 boys.
The Presidential helicopter is located just past Nixon’s old home and is a great place for photography. You can walk around the entire chopper or better yet go inside on a short tour.
Also be sure to see the approximately 30 minute video shown every hour about President Nixon. The gift shop is excellent and even contains somewhat hard to find one of a kind souvenirs (contained behind the glass windows). As with other Presidential Libraries the Nixon Library offers ongoing speakers and events. Check their website for details.
Visit: www.nixonfoundation.org and view our thumbnail photos below.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum is located in a gorgeous hillside location overlooking Simi Valley (appropriately named 40 Presidential Drive – reached either from the 23 or 118 freeways) which on a clear warm day is very impressive. Get here early on any good weather weekend – the crowds start arriving late morning and the museum opens at 10am. There are several parking lots available by their own entrances and during busy days parking often backs up well down the hillside road leading to the actual library. We’ve noticed that later in the day new arrivals see the long line of parked cars leading down the road and choose the first open space they see. However, we have left the upper main parking lots and have noticed a few empty spots by mid afternoon; in other words if you arrive mid to late afternoon its worth at least driving up the main lots in case there are some empty spots.
The museum opened in 1991 and provides an extensive range of exhibits about Reagan’s life. There are many galleries, each one focusing on one aspect of Reagan’s life. The Gallery of Presidents contains original paintings of all US Presidents which is next to the “welcome theatres” which provide good overviews of Reagan’s life. Other highlights include replicas of the Oval Office, the Situation Room & the White House Rose Garden. The video that runs every few minutes describing the assassination attempt is quite popular. The real Presidential Limousine, Marine One Helicopter and Air Force One that Reagan used are on display in a massive windowed building which is perched on the edge of a hill overlooking Simi Valley. Photographs are allowed outside of the plane (no flash) and anywhere below the plane on the lower level as well as in the main galleries.
A red carpet leads to the actual Air Force One and once you stand on this carpet, no photos are allowed. However, there is a professional photographer who will snap your photo on the steps leading into the plane (a victory V salute is appropriate at this point) and your photo will be available for purchase on the lower level once you disembark the plane. A mandatory short video about the history of AF 1 is played before you head out onto the “tarmac”. We made a point to be at the museum right before it opened and were able to make a beeline for “the plane”. As a result we were the *only* one inside the plane other than the 2 docents. During some busy weekends the line to get inside is very long. The inside of the plane is spacious, with several sections for press and staff including the “black box”.
Every US President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon finishing his time in office, have had Presidential libraries built for them.
During one weekend when we visited, “Live history” displays were held in the main courtyard. People were dressed in mid 1700’s style and each person played a specific role such as cook, blacksmith, or doctor. Crowds gathered around their “station” and listened to era stories about their specific trades. One person asked one of the cooks who was roasting chicken in a fire pit if they purchased that at Albertson’s. Being in the 1740’s mindset this person said that was not a word in his vocabulary!
The museum often has prestigious speakers, events and historical documents as well as rotating Reagan related exhibits. Replica’s of the White House Rose Garden, and South Lawn are outside as well as Reagan’s Memorial Site. In addition look for an 8000 lb part of the Berlin Wall including era graffiti on its walls. A cafe is on site as well as a well stocked gift shop. We recommend at least 3.5 to 4 hours here. For more information about this library visit: www.reaganfoundation.org and click on our thumbnail photos below:
Fly in la day 1. Nixon day 2. Reagan day 3. Fly out day 4. Am staying in la 3 nights. Can you suggest a hotel?
Laura – I’m thinking downtown LA might be best as that is about exactly in the middle between both presidential museums. Luxury: Intercontinental is a great place, very new, tallest building in LA. Westin Bonaventure, older but iconic. Cheaper but still cool, LA Athletic Club. And a true motel, Jerry’s Motel – just outside of downtown. Any of these locations should put you within an hour drive of either library – or less time in good traffic conditions. Leave after rush hour in the AM.