Walk through this presidential library to explore a tumultuous time in American history—but also to glimpse a piece of Orange County’s agricultural past. Located on the former citrus farm where Richard M. Nixon was born, the museum near Anaheim first opened in 1990 under private ownership, but it broadened its scope in 2007 when a partnership with the National Archives increased the library’s holdings of documents and politically charged tape recordings. When the Yorba Linda museum got a $15 million makeover in 2016—under the guidance of the Thinkwell Group, which has reshaped such museums as the Museum of Science+Industry, Chicago, and Elvis Presley’s Graceland—the Nixon Library became a more interactive and sharper-edged experience.
The overhaul included 70 new exhibits, more than 300 artifacts, and a replica of Nixon’s Oval Office (decorated by First Lady Pat Nixon in California colors of yellow-gold and deep blue). The museum covers many milestones from Nixon’s early days—like photos from his Navy service during World War II, and from his courtship with Pat, whom he met while acting in a community theater production.
But overall, the presidential library and museum offers a pretty unvarnished look at the Nixon years, from the social strife of the late 1960s, when he was elected, to the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency. Along the way, the exhibits look at other parts of Nixon’s legacy—such as his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, his signing of Title IX, and his groundbreaking trip to China in 1972.
The museum takes pains to illuminate the complexities of those years. One interactive station, “Tough Choices,” lets you act as an advisor (one with the benefit of hindsight, however) in helping the president decide whether to, say, end the draft, or provide assistance to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Another area allows you to examine different arguments for and against the Vietnam War. Outside, you can see the actual bungalow where Nixon was born—built by his citrus farmer father in 1912— as well as the helicopter that he boarded in 1974 after he resigned and left the White House in disgrace.
“The whole point of presenting his legacy is to look at him as he was,” John Barr, of the Nixon Library Foundation, told the press at the museum’s 2016 reopening. “Warts and all.”