Need a vacation? This summer, go on a vacation with 13 of our Presidents! You can choose your own adventure on Instagram and chat with us on Twitter on August 19 using #POTUSvacation.
Vacations are an integral part of Presidential history, a way for Presidents to relax and recharge outside of Washington. Many of the iconic images that we associate with Presidents were taken while on retreats from the White House.
The tradition of a summer White House dates back to the beginning of the Presidency, and several of our Commanders in Chief have had dedicated family retreats. These retreats have been a place to recuperate, spend time with family, and pursue hobbies and recreation. George Washington established the tradition with his estate Mount Vernon. Our first President traveled to Mount Vernon in Virginia 15 times during the course of his two terms in office. Some visits were only a few days, while other retreats lasted months.
John F. Kennedy grew up vacationing at his family’s home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. As President, JFK would return to the family compound by the sea throughout the year. And each summer of his administration, Jacqueline Kennedy and their children Caroline and John Jr. stayed on Cape Cod full time, with JFK coming for an extended break. JFK would also commute from Washington, DC, on the weekends.
For George H. W. Bush, Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine has been a cherished place to gather with family his entire life. His grandfather, George Herbert Walker, bought the property in 1902, and George H.W. Bush has spent summers there since he was born. During his Presidency, George H.W. Bush would travel to Kennebunkport as a restorative place to think clearly, exercise, and be with family. Bush 41 has described Walker’s Point as “conducive to making decisions” during his Presidency.
Vacation pastimes also provide a humanizing look at a President and reflect his personality and interests. Presidents were photographed playing with their children, holding hands with the First Lady, fishing, or riding horses.
The image of Ronald Reagan on a horse at his ranch is an iconic part of his Presidency. At Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, Reagan enjoyed physical activities like chopping wood, building fences, and of course, riding horses.
Many Presidents did not own a private vacation home, but they still found a place to unwind. Harry Truman was of modest means, but still needed to get away from what he dubbed “the Great White Jail.” He found a retreat on the Key West Naval Air Station in a home that was once the residence of the base commandant. Truman spent a few weeks there each year of his administration, earning it the nickname the Little White House. Like most Presidential vacations, trips to Key West weren’t an escape from work. The Truman Presidential Library has Key West photos of swimming, fishing, and volleyball, but Truman continued to meet with advisors, hold press conferences, and attend ceremonial events.
In 1978, Jimmy Carter took a vacation rafting on the Salmon River in Idaho. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, children Amy and Chip Carter, and an entire group of reporters and guests accompanied him. At the conclusion of the trip on August 24, a reporter asked the President if he had missed what was going on in the world. President Carter answered, “I have gotten a Presidential briefing every morning at 7 o’clock from the State Department and also from the CIA.”
Even on vacation, a President’s work is never done.
The Presidential Libraries have film footage, photos, letters, schedules, artifacts, and much more that provide a fascinating view into POTUS vacations. Explore all 13 libraries and their holdings.