One of the more popular tourist sites in the Los Angeles area is not a theme park, but a presidential library. First opened in 1991, the 100 acre Ronald Reagan Museum and Library hosts 24 exhibit halls depicting different stages in the life of the 40th president–from his childhood and Hollywood career up to his two terms as president of the U.S. The library offers family fun activities on national holidays like the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, and acts as a history wonderland with its interactive aspects and informative docents who manage to interest hoards of middle and high-school students daily.
At the entrance after purchasing the tickets make sure you pay for the Library’s Guide-Cam system for $7 (you get to keep the headphones), available in English and Spanish. The guide can not only provides a recorded audio tour with over 50 audio stops, but can photograph and videotape like an iPod touch so kids can remember their tour and share special moments on social media family and even school projects. The digital device captivated my autistic son’s attention and encouraged him to explore the exhibit at length. The digital device captivated my autistic son’s attention and encouraged him to explore the exhibit at length.
You can choose to explore the outside gardens, providing views of the nearby valleys and mountains either before or after touring the museum. Apart from the president’s memorial site carved with an inscription from Reagan himself, the grounds boast a replica of the White House Rose garden and segment of the Berlin Wall, with its back side still bearing marks of the East German barbed wire.
As you enter, the museum exhibits start with Ronald Reagan’s childhood and Hollywood days. As part of the interactive experience visitors can pretend to act next to him in a movie using ‘green screen’ technology. The next areas document his run for presidency and inauguration. There is detailed section about the president’s 1981 assassination attempt with newspaper clips, videos and bullet-riddled suit, my son found highly informative. The full-scale replica Oval Office is a crowd pleaser, and most visitors (us included) stopped to listen to the knowledgeable docent who pointed out the office was decorated in earth tones, had a collection of saddles and included a jar of jelly beans.
The undisputed highlight of the library is the Air Force One aircraft that served six presidents and logged over 600 thousand miles with President Reagan alone. The Boeing plane had to be disassembled and reassembled so it can be housed in the custom built pavilion in the museum. Visitors who tour the aircraft are treated to a rare glimpse of the president’s and first lady’s sleeping quarters, mini office and kitchenette where the flight crew prepared their meals.
The Cold War exhibit has a dark and narrow Berlin Wall tunnel replica visitor can crawl through; complete with the sound of guard dogs ferociously barking overhead. Most of the high-school students we saw the day we visited loved it but as my son with autism pointed out some kids might find the place too sensory challenging. The library’s last exhibit detailing the president’s death presented a personal importance for us, having been in Washington, D.C the week he passed away and attended the funeral procession down Constitution Avenue. Although only nine years old at the time, my son still recalls seeing the horse-drawn caisson and the riderless horse carrying Reagan’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups and wondering about the significance of it.
We concluded our tour with a quick sandwich lunch at The Ronald Reagan Pub (the original Irish pub from Ballyporeen the Reagans visited in 1984), Located inside the Air Force One Pavilion and stop at the museum’s gift store for an obligatory package of licorice Jelly-Belly candy–rumored to be the late president’s favorite.
Tips for Visiting the Reagan Presidential Library
The best time to visit the library is on a weekday after 1PM (most groups arrive during the morning and leave by lunchtime). Private docent tours are available but need to be scheduled two weeks in advance. The facility is wheel chair accessible and provides special needs parking.
Open daily 10 a.m -5 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
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