George Washington and a parade of lamp-lit banners of all 44 presidents greeted us as we turned onto the steep, winding Driveway of the Presidents leading up to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. I found myself testing my knowledge of past presidents and falling very short along the way. Located halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, this 100-acre site perched on a mountaintop represents Reagan’s ‘shining city on a hill’ and fittingly, is his final resting place. With 360-degree sweeping views, it is one of the most spectacular settings in California.
The library, originally opened in 1991, is the largest of the 12 federally operated presidential libraries. It underwent a magnificent, two-year renovation, re-opening last year on what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, Feb. 6.
You’ll be welcomed aboard Air Force One, a Boeing 707 that served seven U.S. presidents, residing now in a breathtaking glass pavilion, which also is home to a Marine One helicopter and the ‘Gipper’s’ presidential motorcade. Enter a full-scale reproduction of the Oval Office, complete with jelly beans. Browse through President Reagan’s diary, a handwritten treasure affording rare insights into not only our nation’s history, but into his mind and heart.
His love story with Nancy is chronicled in lovely video exhibits, actual love letters and a stunning collection of the First Lady’s gowns, including the famous Reagan Red column gown worn in her official White House portrait. His early days growing up in Dixon, Ill., show us the boy, while fascinating film from the movies, his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild and his terms as governor of California show us his journey on the way to becoming ‘The Great Communicator.’
Plan to enjoy lunch and panoramic views at the Country Café, or have a snack and brew at The Ronald Reagan Pub, modeled after the original O’Farrell’s Pub in Ballyporeen, Ireland visited by President and Mrs. Reagan in 1984. Once outside—if you can tear yourself from the ethereal hillside scenery—you’ll stroll through a replica of the White House rose garden, marvel over the large slab of the Berlin Wall and find yourself at the former president’s final resting place. Interred on the highest point of the mountaintop, his feet facing the Pacific to better gaze at his beloved ocean, he awaits his Nancy and history’s final judgment of his stewardship.
I will never forget my visit to this very special place. Nor will I forget his words of some 30 years ago—and how befitting they are today: There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.