Learn about the legendary president’s life at this incredible museum
Situated on a mountaintop with fabulous views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and the Pacific Ocean, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County, California is one of the country’s most picturesque destinations.
The library’s 300-acre site, about 45 miles from Los Angeles International Airport, represents the “shining city on a hill” which was often referenced by President Ronald Reagan and appropriately serves as the final resting place of the nation’s 40th president.
The library is the largest of 13 federally operated presidential libraries and contains millions of documents, photographs, films and tapes as well as memorabilia from Ronald Reagan’s life. Perhaps the most popular exhibit is Air Force One, the aircraft personally used by the president. Visitors can step aboard the same presidential aircraft that took Ronald Reagan all over the world. This flying White House, tail number 27000, served seven U.S. presidents from 1973 to 2001. For Ronald Reagan, this was the plane where he hand-wrote many of his speeches, signed important legislation and even officially started a NASCAR race via phone.
While in the Air Force One Pavilion, groups can view one of the presidential limousines and Secret Service vehicles. Visit the Irish Pub from Ballyporeen, Ireland that Ronald Reagan visited during a diplomatic trip in 1984—it now serves as the library’s snack shop. Explore the 120-foot mural representing all 22 aircraft that have ever flown a U.S. president. And take a quick tour of the Marine One helicopter on which President Johnson flew.
The Oval Office today is a symbol of the American presidency, and its re-creation here gives visitors a moment to ponder the power and responsibilities of the president. This room is a full-sized reproduction of the Oval Office as it appeared during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Another permanent exhibit is The Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain took shape after World War II as a fortified border between the nations of Eastern and Western Europe. As an idea, the Iron Curtain stood for the profound division between communism and democracy. Ronald Reagan took on the enormous challenge of bringing down the Iron Curtain. You will learn all that and more in this fascinating exhibit.
The First Lady exhibit features Nancy Reagan, who on January 21, 1981, stepped into the role of First Lady and found herself immersed in the pressures and demands of the position. Overnight, she became the nation’s hostess, the White House social director, an international ambassador and a model for wives, mothers and women across the country. Nancy Reagan was also the president’s closest confidante and staunchest defender. She took on special causes of her own including her campaign against drugs, “Just Say No.”
In addition to touring the museum and Air Force One Pavilion, the library also has an 11,000- square-foot special exhibition through February 27, 2022 called “FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda.” The exhibition includes information regarding why the FBI was created and what makes it different from other federal agencies. Artifacts on display include items from J. Edgar Hoover’s office and estate along with the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Lists. The gallery also showcases the stories and evidence from some of the FBI’s top cases, including Al Capone, John Dillinger, the Mafia and the Unabomber. From April 2, 2022 to October 9, 2022, the special exhibition will cover “The Untold Secrets of WWII.”
Learn about the Reagan presidency
While the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum is the largest Presidential library – containing millions of documents and photos, thousands of audio and video tapes, tens of thousands of artifacts, and hundreds of thousands of feet of motion picture film in its 153,000 square feet – it’s not all simply look-but-don’t touch exhibits. Among the interactive features:
- A movie that visitors can “act” in along with the president (before he became president, that is)
- A U.S. Capitol set where visitors can deliver President Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address through the use of Teleprompters
- A Hologram of President Reagan
The Reagan Library is also host to community events, such as book signings, lectures and concerts. Its Center for Public Affairs was the scene for presidential candidate debates in 2008, 2011, and 2015, among many other things.
As you move through the museum’s many galleries, you’ll learn about Ronald Reagan’s Midwestern roots — he was born in Illinois — his personal convictions and his varied careers. By the 1960s, he was active in politics and was elected to the governorship of California in 1966 and again in 1970. By 1980, he became the oldest person to be elected as president of the United States.
Here are some fun facts visitors will learn:
- President Reagan was the only American president who had also been a union president. (He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild Union.)
- He also worked as a radio announcer and actor, and served as a captain in the Army Reserves.
- Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans. He began eating them as a way to give up smoking, but the habit stuck. If you like blueberry Jelly Belly jelly beans, thank Reagan; Jelly Belly created the flavor so the White House could have red, white and blue jelly beans for his inauguration.
Main photo: Perhaps the most popular exhibit at the Reagan Library is Air Force One, the aircraft personally used by the president.