The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Ventura County celebrates the life of the former movie star and Californian who became one of the 20th century’s most iconic presidents, but it has also won fans for its wow-factor exhibits, from an actual Air Force One to a piece of the Berlin Wall. Sitting on 100 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this may be the most scenic presidential museum in the nation.
Indeed, the Reagan Library regularly tops lists of presidential museums in terms of attendance (roughly a half million visitors per year, on average). But its appeal goes well beyond any politics. “You do not need to be a Republican or have voted for Ronald Reagan to get something out of a visit to our campus,” says Melissa Giller, the chief marketing officer of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute. “Our visitors learn about American history and about the American presidency as a whole.”
A walk through the museum’s main galleries offers a look at Reagan’s upbringing and early career, as well as an easy-access history lesson in the Reagan presidency, such as the Olympic boycott, the talks with Gorbachev, and even the assassination attempt (see the bullet-hole-pierced jacket Reagan was wearing at the time). Interactive exhibits let you get a hands-on feel for, say, riding a horse alongside Reagan at his Rancho del Cielo, acting in a movie with him from his Hollywood days, or flipping through a digital version of his faithfully kept diary.
A few of the permanent exhibits go beyond Reagan himself too. There’s a scaled replica of the Oval Office, an exhibit about the Secret Service, and the Air Force One Pavilion, which contains the actual airplane that served seven U.S. Presidents (including Reagan) as well as the Marine One used by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In this area you’ll also find a prime spot for a museum-day recharge: a replica of The Ronald Reagan, a pub in the president’s ancestral village of Ballyporeen, Ireland, where he made a stop during a diplomatic trip in 1984; the pub serves sandwiches, old-fashioned sodas, and pints of beer. Or, grab lunch at the Reagan’s Country Café, where the menu includes salads, Air Force One Angus Beef Hamburgers, and F-14 Fighter Dogs.
Head back outside to see replicas of the White House’s Rose Garden and South Lawn, as well as Reagan’s final resting place and memorial, next to wife Nancy. Don’t leave without seeing the graffiti-covered, 6,338-pound piece of the Berlin Wall, which came down two years after Reagan’s famous 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate. “We continue to break barriers and stereotypes,” says Giller, “of what a presidential library and museum is considered to be.”