May 07 2012

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California

When our family visited California, we had a lot of fun, but we also wanted to have some educational experiences along the way.  Visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum was one of these.

Set in the beautiful hills of Simi Valley, California, north of Los Angeles, the setting for this museum is breathtaking.  Our children enjoyed seeing the banners depicting the order of the presidents as we wound up the driveway, until we arrived at number 40, Ronald Reagan, at the top of the hill.

Our first contact upon entering the building was a representative offering a membership to the library.  We declined this option and moved to the admission window, where we paid for our visit and a Guidecam tour upgrade for an additional $7 per person.  Though this price was somewhat high, we hoped that it would provide additional interest for our kids as we walked through the museum.

The museum itself is very large and well-done.  The exhibits are informational and appealing to look at, with each area based around a specific period or topic of President Reagan’s life.  Occasional interactive areas, like a radio show from Reagan’s early days, or a White House etiquette trivia quiz, livened it up a bit for the kids.

The Guidecams, which are specially-purposed iPod Touches, were indeed a good choice, as the exhibit areas were marked with audio locations.  One daughter especially liked the option of using the Guidecam to take photos in the museum, which were e-mailed to us at the end of the tour.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum

Guidecam Photo taken by 7-year-old

On the downside, there is no child-specific audio option, so the kids got the same spiel as the adults.  A special kid-friendly audio tour would make the Guidecams even better.  Still, listening as we walked and looked made for a very well-rounded experience.

Docents were available at every turn should we have questions, and while some waited quietly in the exhibit areas for questions to be addressed to them, others interacted with the kids as we walked through.  One even gave us tiny bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans (Ronald Reagan’s favorite) when we stopped to ask a question.

After learning about most of Reagan’s life, we made it to the Air Force One exhibit area.  The large annex area is home to the Air Force One that was in use during Reagan’s presidency, and it was very interesting to step on board and walk through the plane, seeing the office areas, press seating, and how the president’s office in the sky is set up.  While photography is allowed in the rest of the museum, there are no photos allowed on board Air Force One.

Air Force One nose

Other presidential and military vehicles, including a presidential limousine from the Reagan years, are also on exhibit in this large area of the museum.

From Air Force One, we continued the audio tour to its end.  We kind of breezed through the last area quickly because we were hungry; we hadn’t realized just how much time we’d be able to spend in the museum.  Using the Guidecam, we had spent nearly three hours learning about Ronald Reagan.

We ate lunch at Reagan’s Country Cafe, which was at the end of the tour.  (If we had only realized when we entered that it was just through the doors by the Guidecam pickup point, we would have eaten first).  There is also a pub in the Air Force One exhibit area, but we opted for the cafe with more menu options and beautiful views from the dining area.

Reagan Library View

Though it rained while we were in the museum, by the time we headed outdoors again it was sunny, so we took some time to see a portion of the Berlin Wall and the replicas of the White House gardens, as well as President Reagan’s gravesite.

Reagan Grave

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is one of the largest and most-visited presidential museums in the U.S.  With its excellent exhibits, the Guidecam tour, and Air Force One, we found it to be an excellent history lesson amidst the fun of other southern California attractions.

Have you visited the Reagan Library or another presidential library/museum?  Was it interesting for kids?

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