9 Historic Presidential Retreats You Can Visit

Being president of the United States is stressful. Like any hardworking American, presidents sometimes need a vacation to rest and recharge. Today, many U.S. presidents’ vacation homes are preserved as historic sites and national parks where you can learn about their lives and legacies. Visit one of these presidential retreats from New Brunswick down to the Texas Hill Country for your own revitalization and education.

 

Presidents' Retreats

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Campobello Island

Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada

Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his childhood summers running, playing, bicycling, picnicking and swimming on the 2,800 acres of Campobello Island, a seaside resort for wealthy Victorian families. He and Eleanor continued the tradition from 1909 until 1921, when President Roosevelt contracted polio. He returned three more times during his presidency.

The island, accessible by bridge from Lubec, Maine, was opened as Roosevelt-Campobello International Park in 1964 for its historic significance and as a symbol of cooperation between the U.S. and Canada. Today, visitors can explore the Roosevelt’s “Red Cottage” during the summer or visit year-round for the hiking trails, beaches, bogs and lighthouses that call the island home. Road Scholar participants get exclusive access to lodge on the island in historic summer cottages as they learn about Franklin and Eleanor.

 

Presidents' Retreats

2. Calvin Coolidge’s State Game Lodge

Custer State Park, South Dakota

A South Dakota state senator formally invited President Calvin Coolidge to the Black Hills with a glowing review of the area’s natural beauty. In 1927, the State Game Lodge became the president’s Summer White House. His family, the Secret Service and staff planned a three-week visit but stayed for three months. President Eisenhower also visited in 1953 for a quick stopover.

Visit Custer State Park to fish and ride horses just like President Coolidge. You can also stay in his room (or Eisenhower’s room) at the historic State Game Lodge. Go on a buffalo safari and swing by Mount Rushmore nearby — dedicated by President Coolidge during his summer in the hills.

 

Presidents' Retreats

3. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Plantation

Bedford County, Virginia

President Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha, inherited a 4,819-acre plantation in Bedford County, Virginia, from her father in 1773. Jefferson built a home on the plantation from 1806 to 1816. Thought to be the first octagonal house in America, the house is renowned as a work of architectural brilliance.

A nonprofit was created in 1983 to restore and preserve the plantation and its landscaping, and it remains a restoration in progress. Visit to admire Jefferson’s architectural legacy and learn about daily life in the 19th century for both elite and enslaved people. You can also enjoy a nature hike, beer or wine tasting or visit with historical interpreters.

 

Presidents' Retreats

4. Lyndon B. Johnson’s Texas White House

Texas Hill Country 

During his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson spent 20% of his time in Texas Hill Country at the ranch that became known as the Texas White House. When his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, donated the ranch to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, she insisted that it remain a working ranch — a living demonstration of ranching “the LBJ way.”

Head down to Stonewall, Texas, to visit the ranch and its prizewinning Hereford cattle, descended from LBJ’s herd. See his reconstructed birthplace, his first school and the Johnson Family Cemetery. In nearby Johnson City, you can visit President Johnson’s boyhood home to learn about 1920s life in rural Texas and his grandfather’s log cabin settlement to learn about surviving cattle ranching in the 19th century.

 

Presidents' Retreats

5. Benjamin Harrison’s Congress Hall

Cape May, New Jersey 

Once the premier seaside resort in the U.S., Cape May is known for its Victorian homes and historic celebrity visitors. Five U.S. presidents visited Cape May during their presidencies, each of them staying at the renowned Congress Hall resort. But none brought as much acclaim to the peninsula as Benjamin Harrison, who made the first floor of the hotel his Summer White House in 1891.

A complete restoration from 1995 to 2002 returned the hotel to its historic glory, and it is now a full-service resort open to visitors. President Harrison’s Cape May summer home did not survive, but you can still walk the halls of his Summer White House.

 

Presidents' Retreats

6. Harry Truman’s Little White House

Key West, Florida

What became known as “The Little White House” was built in 1890 as the first officer’s quarters by the U.S. Navy. When President Harry Truman’s doctor recommended a warm vacation during his 19th month in office in 1946, the president headed for Key West. During his 11 winter visits to “The Little White House,” President Truman hosted cabinet members and officials for fishing trips, poker games and official state business. The house was visited by five other presidents and other important historical figures like Thomas Edison.

On your visit to Old Town Key West, stop in and see this home and now public museum, restored to its 1949 appearance when President Truman resided there.

 

7. John F. Kennedy's Kennedy Compound

Hyannis Port, Massachusetts

When it comes to presidential retreats, one of the most popular is the Kennedy Compound. Located in the American Northeast, President John F. Kennedy’s family compound is in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. This six-acre waterfront compound offers stunning views of Nantucket Sound, where the Atlantic Ocean’s waves crash upon the shores.

The history of the Kennedy Compound goes back a generation to John F. Kennedy’s parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy. The “Big House,” which is the primary abode on the property, was built in 1904 by Frank Payne for the notable Malcolm family. Joe and Rose rented a cottage on the property during the 1920s before buying it in 1929. It was during their time there that they renovated and doubled the size of the Big House. This residence features 11 bathrooms, a tennis court, a pool, sauna and a movie theater in the basement, which was perfect for Joe Kennedy, who worked in the film industry.

The size of the Kennedy Compound expanded in the 1950s when the family bought two adjacent properties by the Big House. Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, bought their home in 1955, and John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, purchased their house in 1957, which later became known as the President’s House.

This U.S. president vacation home served as a meeting spot for the Kennedy family, where they gathered for family celebrations, discussions and political strategy sessions. During John F. Kennedy’s presidency, he often visited his presidential retreat to host political and social events from 1961 to 1963, which garnered plenty of media and public attention. Most notably, President Kennedy used the Kennedy Compound to deliver his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for president in 1960 on the main lawn of the compound.

Today, the Kennedy Compound is one of the favorite presidential retreats, as it holds a special place in American history as a symbol of the Camelot era. After the deaths of John and Robert F. Kennedy, the compound continued to serve as a private retreat for the Kennedy family. This presidential retreat is the only residence not open to the public on our list of presidential retreats. However, if you’re visiting Hyannis Port, you can view the outside of the Kennedy Compound from afar and visit the John F. Kennedy Museum and Memorial in Hyannis.

 

8. Ronald Reagan's Rancho del Cielo

Santa Barbara, California

Another one of our favorites in North America is President Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo. Known as the Western White House and the Ranch in the Sky, Rancho del Cielo, located in Santa Barbara, California, served as Reagan’s presidential retreat before, during and after his presidency. This private vacation home holds historical significance, as it provided President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan with a private retreat from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. 

This 688-acre ranch is in the Santa Ynez Mountains, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. While the primary abode is humble with no central heating, it features a guest house, pool, horse stables and plenty of outdoor space that Reagan used to escape from the pressures of political life. The Reagans purchased this property in 1974 as he finished his second term as California governor. The ranch represented the freedoms that Reagan believed were vital for Americans.

Ronald Reagan's Rancho del Cielo is one of the top favorite presidential retreats, as it served as a political hub during his presidency, with dignitaries like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders meeting the Reagan administration there. This U.S. presidential vacation home continued to serve Reagan after his presidency, symbolizing his connection to the American West and his passion for ranching and other outdoor recreation activities.

Today, visitors can take tours of Rancho del Cielo and guided tours of the ranch to explore the well-preserved buildings and learn about Ronald Reagan’s life and presidency. This presidential retreat is managed by the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization.

 

9. Teddy Roosevelt's Pine Knot

Albemarle County, Virginia

To complete our list of presidential retreats, we have Teddy Roosevelt’s Pine Knot cottage in Albemarle County, Virginia. If you’re looking for the best places to learn about American history, a tour of Pine Knot is an excellent place to go. This historic cabin was owned by President Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt. Unlike many other presidential retreats on this list, this U.S. president vacation home didn’t host any official business. That’s because this 15-acre property is bare bones, nestled deep in Virginia’s quiet woods with no electricity, plumbing, heating, insulation or interior finishes.

Instead, President Roosevelt and his wife, Edith, used this retreat as a quiet relief from the buzz and politics of Washington, D.C. Today, this 1905 cottage is in the same state as it was over a century ago, with recent renovations preserving its integrity. What makes this one of our favorite presidential retreats is that it perfectly embodies the principles of our country’s first conservationist president. Here, President Roosevelt would traverse the hundreds of surrounding acres to hunt, hike and connect with nature. As a true outdoorsman, Pine Knot served as the perfect presidential retreat for America’s 26th president.

While Teddy Roosevelt is most known for his summer presidential retreat, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York, Pine Knot is a prominent historical site that provides visitors with insights into the personal life and interests of one of America’s most dynamic and eccentric presidents. 

Our list of presidential retreats gives you a look into the history, background and significance of these vacation homes and the role they played in offering America’s presidents a quiet escape from the pressures they and their families experienced when working on The Hill. For more exciting adventures, browse our collection of historical learning programs across the globe.


Find out where else you can learn about the American presidents with Road Scholar!