Family pop quiz: Do you know what year California became the 31st state? How about, who was the 40th U.S. President? If your family knows the answers – 1850 and Ronald Reagan, respectively– you get an A! If not, perhaps it’s time to brush up on American history. Make learning fun with outings to local presidential and history museums.
The 37th and 40th Presidents of the United States are buried within 45 miles of downtown Los Angeles. As the country’s only metropolitan area to host two presidential libraries, Southern California has a wealth of presidential history. For a deeper look at California history, nothing beats a visit to the state capitol – Sacramento.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Yorba Linda
To acquaint kids with our 37th president, start your tour in the auditorium, which shows vintage campaign films, news footage and historically significant appearance by President Nixon. Next are the galleries that display images, video and artifacts related to Nixon’s career, family life and service as president. Here you’ll see a replica of the White House Lincoln Sitting Room as it was decorated during Nixon’s time in office; the telephone President Nixon used to call Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon; and the 1967 Lincoln Continental limousine used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Perhaps most exciting of all is a chance to step aboard Army One, the helicopter used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Also on the grounds is the family house that Nixon’s father built.
$11.95 adults, $11.95, $4.75 children (7-11). http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/index.php.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, Simi Valley
Allow two to three hours to explore the exhibits that tell the story of the man who transitioned from a Hollywood actor to White House President. Many of the exhibits are interactive and fun for kids. For example, visitors can act in a movie with Ronald Reagan using green screen technology, deliver the presidential oath on the steps of the U.S. Capitol using a teleprompter, and tour the actual Air Force One aircraft that served seven U.S. presidents. President Reagan wrote many of his speeches and signed legislation from this inside this aircraft. The museum houses many artifacts including Reagan’s handwritten diary and drafts of his speeches.
$21 Adults, $15 ages 11 – 17, $6 ages 3 – 10. http://www.reaganfoundation.org/.
Take a trip through California history with a visit to Sacramento. The neoclassical-style Capitol Building, which cost $2.4 million to construct in 1874, serves as both the working seat of government and museum with artifacts, artwork, and antique furnishings. During free hourly tours, visit the Senate and/or Assembly galleries as well as one or more of the historic house museum rooms of the Governor, Treasurer and Secretary of State. The Capitol Building is adorned with paintings and murals depicting California history, such as the Mexican-American War, the California gold rush and the formation of California as a state. In addition, a basement movie theater shows continuous movies about the Capitol’s history. There’s more to see outdoors. Capitol Park’s 40 acres of gardens, groves and memorials honor Native Americans, Hispanics, fire fighters, California’s veterans, pioneers, and the people who shaped California.
Free admission to the Capitol Building and Capitol Park. http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/.
California Gold Rush
About 36 miles northeast of Sacramento is Coloma, the site of the California gold rush that took place from 1848 – 1855 and put California on the map. It all began when James W. Marshall found gold while building a sawmill for himself and Capt. John Sutter in Coloma, situated along the American River. Word spread, bringing in 300,000 people by land and sea, all hoping to strike it rich. San Francisco ballooned from a rustic village to a slick city within a few years.
You can visit a replica of Sutter’s Mill,which is a National Historic Landmark District located at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. A monument of James Marshall marks the spot where he discovered gold. Docents dress in period clothing to demonstrate blacksmithing and other trades of the time. Learn to pan for gold and see historic buildings.
Los Angeles TravelingMom (Mimi Slawoff) writes a monthly family travel column for L.A. Parent magazine and freelances for several publications and websites. Follow her adventures on Twitter @mimitravelz and www.writemimi.com