Visiting The Richard Nixon Library

Richard Nixon's Presidential Limousine
••• David McNew/Getty Images

Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States. He is one of two Californians who has held that office (the other was Ronald Reagan).

For many years, the Nixon Library in California was privately funded and rather small as Presidential libraries go. In 2007, the library entered the official presidential library system under the auspices of the National Archives and in 2016, a new and expanded library opened, with more exhibit space and a new building to house it all in.

What You Can See

The Nixon Library tells the story of the 37th President. Permanent exhibits chronicle Nixon on the campaign trail, his years as Dwight Eisenhower's Vice President and his tenure as President of the United States. You can also see a recreation of the Nixon's Oval Office and a collection of Pat Nixon's dresses.

Also on the grounds of the library is the home where Richard Nixon was born and raised. The house is a modest place, and an interesting slice of early twentieth century Americana. Richard and Pat Nixons are also buried there.

Presidential vehicles include the Marine One helicopter, which served four presidents including Nixon. You can also see Nixon's presidential limousine.

Pros and Cons

Many visitors (including me) find the order of the displays confusing. Instead of beginning at the beginning, it starts in the middle during the turbulent 1960s. It eventually gets around to Nixon's earlier years, but without getting the backstory first, it's hard to understand the rest of it.

On the plus side, after the library became part of the National Archives, they reworked their Watergate exhibit and replaced it with a more critical look at the events that led to Nixon's resignation. They replaced a heavily edited rendition of the “smoking gun” tape that implicated Nixon with the full recording and tried to place the Watergate episode in the context of a larger campaign of presidential secrecy and sabotage.

The museum also calls attention to the fact that Nixon's presidency was about more than a scandal. It features his work to establish relations with China including a photo of the handshake between Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai, the first direct contact between the two countries in 23 years. It also covers setting up the EPA, his interest in national health care, and how he worked to get the U.S. out of the Vietnam War.

Also, you'll hear music throughout the museum, which has the feeling of a movie score. In can be loud enough to talk over. It leaks from one room into the next. In the Watergate room, you can hear three newscasts and two different musical scores all running at one. It creates a confusion that makes it impossible to concentrate. If you want to concentrate on the exhibits, earplugs might help.

Another small irritation is that they want you to pay for their museum app to get more in-depth information. It's not expensive, but it is something most museums give you for free.

Will you like the library? You might if you want to get a glimpse into the Presidency by seeing a replica of the Oval Office and the Presidential vehicles. You might if you are a fan of Nixon or if you're a history buff who wants to know more.

If you're none of those, you can easily skip it. In fact, you might like the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley better, where you can tour an Air Force One airplane and see a section of the original Berlin Wall.

Getting There

Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace is located at 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd. in Yorba Linda, CA. Yorba Linda is northeast of Disneyland and Anaheim in Orange County, just north of CA Hwy 91.