Texas is home to three presidential libraries, the most of any state. For an inside look at the life behind those who’ve led the country, add these stops to your bucket list.
Tour the 1960s Oval Office
Throughout the LBJ Presidential Library adjacent to the University of Texas at Austin campus, pick up phones to hear conversations Lyndon B. Johnson had with various people—Jackie Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., staff and advisers, and wife Lady Bird, among them. From these, you’ll get a sense of what he was like, as well as what he faced during his presidency that spanned most of the ‘60s.
This was a busy time in U.S. history, and the museum does a good job of taking visitors down memory lane, or introducing them to issues they may not have lived through. Civil rights, Medicare, public broadcasting, the war on poverty, Head Start, national parks, space exploration, and, of course, the Vietnam War were all major topics of the day.
See the suit President Johnson was wearing when he was sworn in on Air Force One, and check out the presidential limo in which he was often escorted. An exhibit covering civil rights legislation includes the desk on which he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and a 7/8 replica of the Oval Office, decorated as Johnson had it, is a blast from the past.
Try Your Hand at Making Tough Decisions
The newest of the libraries, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, opened in 2013 and is the 13th in a tradition that started back with Herbert Hoover. While seven locations vied to host the library, the ultimate winner was Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Dignified and stately, the Robert A.M. Stern-designed building is also contemporary, particularly in its energy efficiency.
As a modern library, it makes ample use of technology. That includes iPods for audio tours, a 360-degree high-definition video wall, and the Decision Points Theater, an interactive experience in which visitors get to make big policy decisions that Bush faced. After listening to advisers lay out arguments for different choices, make your own–then get debriefed on how you did.
Exhibits are organized around four themes: freedom, responsibility, opportunity and compassion. There’s a full-sized replica of the Oval Office, a Texas Rose Garden, a display of international gifts presented to President Bush (he received 43,000 during his two terms!), and an exhibit on everyday life in the White House. A piece of mangled steel from the World Trade Center serves as the centerpiece of a moving section on 9/11.
See a Piece of the Berlin Wall
How did a boy grow up to become the man who would serve as the nation’s 41st president? The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Texas A&M campus in College Station takes an in-depth look at President Bush’s life from childhood onward—first lady Barbara gets plenty of attention, too.
World War II was a particularly formative time. In this exhibit, you can see a restored 1944 TBM Avenger, a torpedo bomber like the one Bush flew when he was a Navy pilot. A flight simulator gives you the chance to try to land it on the deck of the USS San Jacinto.
You’ll also see and hear about his time at Yale, moving to West Texas to become a salesman in the oil industry, running for Congress, working as ambassador to the United Nations and director of the CIA, being picked by Reagan as vice president, and eventually winning the presidential election in 1988. You can tour replicas of the Oval Office and his office at Camp David, then deliver a speech in the White House Press Room and receive a briefing on the Gulf War in the Situation Room. Standout artifacts include a piece of the Berlin Wall and a door from Kuwait.