The Top 20 Presidential Vacation Spots
Being the President of the United States is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. A President must maintain a good public appearance, be present at endless meetings, deal tactfully with foreign diplomacy, take an active role in the legislative process, and complete many other miscellaneous tasks throughout the day. It is no wonder that the leaders of the United States like to take some time off now and again.
But how does a President book a vacation? It’s not like they can just hop onto the Internet and book a hotel room. There are many logistical questions – finding lodging for the Secret Service, securing the President’s vacation residence, arranging for transportation, and paying for it all. Plus, being the leader of the Free World means that you could have a situation arise at any time that will eliminate any time you had for relaxation. This could lead to missed reservations or other fiscal consequences for the taxpayers.
That’s why most sitting presidents choose a “Summer White House”. This term refers to any residence in which the President spends a lot of time that isn’t the White House – particularly when the commander-in-chief is trying to catch some rays or chill with a margarita. Of course, a vacation does not necessarily preclude diplomacy. Many past presidents have completed work at their vacation homes, and have even hosted foreign dignitaries.
So, where is it that Presidents of the United States end up spending most of their vacation time? There are many locations that have been the host of Presidential vacations in the past. In our list of the Top Twenty Presidential Vacation Spots, we will go over some of the most beautiful, interesting, and historically-significant destinations that have played host to US presidents.
This gorgeous ranch in Stonewall, Texas has strong ties to the 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. He was born here, lived here, died here, and was even buried here. He also frequented the ranch as a vacation spot during his time as president. After his death in 1973, his wife Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson remained on the ranch until her death in 2007. The ranch has since been designated a historic site, and is open to the public. Self-guided tours are free, allowing you to drive around the grounds of the ranch in your own private vehicle. Plus, you can get a guided tour for a small charge that will allow you to enter some of the ranch buildings.
Rutherford B. Hayes Estate
The focal point of the former estate of the 19th President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, is the 31-room mansion that the former president used as a Summer White House. It was originally constructed by Hayes’ uncle from 1859 to 1863 – taking five years due to the materials shortages caused by the Civil War – and consists of two stories, eight bedrooms, and a wrap-around verandah. An addendum made by Hayes after he took office in 1877 consisted of a few more rooms added on to the already-luxurious mansion. One of the most important additions was the library. This marked the first US Presidential library, and it held more than 12,000 books. The décor was also updated to promote comfort during Hayes’ time away from the Oval Office. Today, you can visit the estate for free. However, there is a small charge for entrance to the museum.
This Gothic revival-style cottage began being built in 1842, and was completed by 1843. It is located near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods of Washington D.C., but just manages to avoid the political pressures of downtown. The cottage was used by several presidents as a short-term retreat, including James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, and, of course, Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln’s prominent use of the cottage is what inspired the modern mindset about the home itself. You can visit this cottage and get a tour that discusses Lincoln’s life and ideas, with the end goal of inspiring visitors to go on to do great things. Basic prices are $15 for an adult, and $5 for a child – definitely worth the price for an engaging, educational, and historical experience.
Prairie Chapel Ranch
The main house on George W. Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch finished being built right after he won the presidency in 2001. It is a single-story, understated residence that melds flawlessly with the surrounding landscape. Plus, the interior design is somewhat subdued, yet strikingly multicultural in nature. The ranch is located about 25 miles west of Waco, and has played host to a number of diplomatic meetings. For example, Vladimir Putin and Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz both visited the Prairie Chapel Ranch during George W. Bush’s presidency. They may have even been talked into trying out one of the many bike trails that surround the residence.
Deer Park Hotel
This hotel, located in the small town of Deer Park in Maryland, was constructed and financed by the B&O Railroad company in 1873. The hotel and resort was heavily promoted by the company, and offered a variety of awesome features and amenities to the high-class guests that tended to gather there. In fact, Deer Park Hotel hosted Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley throughout its years of operation. The big draw to the hotel was the exclusive use of mountain water in all facilities, including the swimming pool and Turkish baths. This water was gathered from the nearby Deer Park Spring, and was widely believed to have restorative properties. Unfortunately, Deer Park Hotel closed in 1929 (right as the Depression hit). Later, it burned to the ground due to a 1944 fire. All that remains of the former glorious hotel are a few cottages spread around the grounds.
Trump Brand Lodging
It might not surprise you that incumbent President Donald Trump only stays in hotels and other forms of lodging that bear his name. This generally doesn’t cause a problem, as Trump owns hotels in many major cities. His most recent trip involved a stay at the Trump National Golf Club. He originally purchased the land for the club from the Bedminster Township of New Jersey – a town that has a sub-ten thousand population and only sixteen police officers. After spending a cool $35 million on the land, he had the custom golf course constructed to his particular specs. You can say what you want about Trump’s presidency, but the man does have good taste in lodging.
In the early 18th century, George Washington’s father constructed a house on Mount Vernon. Later, a larger house was erected by Washington himself in the same spot. This house remained the home of George Washington for his entire life, and served as a spot to get away from the stress of starting a new nation. The house at Mount Vernon was nearly destroyed, but was acquired at the last minute by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The Association purchased the house itself and some of the surrounding property, managing to save this piece of history until it was designated a national historic landmark in 1960. Now, it is open 365 days a year – carrying on a tradition from George Washington himself, the first one to invite the public out to Mount Vernon.
This island off of the coast of Massachusetts is generally known as a summer meeting grounds for the most affluent people in America. Interestingly enough, it was also one of the first places with a deaf community. This led to a new form of sign language, Martha’s Vineyard sign language, to be developed and recognized. Martha’s Vineyard hosted the Clinton family quite frequently throughout Bill’s term in office. They welcomed them warmly. One of their local coffee shops, Espresso Love, even created Clinton his own muffin called the Presidential Muffin. It was a delicious creation of strawberries, blueberries, and cream cheese that remains on the menu to this day. Barack Obama also visited Martha’s Vineyard, along with his wife Michelle and their two children. The island has a lot of fun things for a kid to do. One thing that the former president did for his children was bring them out to Gay Head Lighthouse. From the top, there is an unmatched view of the island and surrounding ocean that makes the climb well worth it.
Grant’s Seaside Cottage
The seaside cottage that once stood at 995 Ocean Avenue in Long Branch, New Jersey was once the Summer White House of Ulysses S. Grant. Many important moments in United States history began here, with Grant’s three-month stays turning into governmental retreats. He hosted cabinet meetings, handled post-Civil War reconstruction, and even attempted to absorb the Dominican Republic from this home. Today, nothing but an empty field and a white fence mark the place where this famous cottage once stood. Though the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Peace tried to save the house through a 1941 land purchase, they were unable to have the home restored. Therefore, it was knocked down in 1963 – a big loss for history buffs all over America.
This presidential retreat has been the go-to destination for all US presidents since the early 1940s. It began as a camp built for federal employees, but was repurposed due to security concerns brought on by World War Two. It is located about 60 miles north of DC, in the Catoctin Mountain Park of Maryland. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to stay here for a vacation, and he dubbed the name Shangri-la. Later, Eisenhower (finding FDR’s name “a little too fancy”) changed the name to Camp David, and it has remained that way since. This area has hosted a couple foreign heads of state – and even helped a peace treaty form between Israel and Egypt after Jimmy Carter hosted their respective heads at Camp David. This treaty is also known as the Camp David Accords. Camp David boasts a gorgeous main house, several secondary cabins, a swimming pool, a putting green, numerous trails, and a shooting range. No wonder it was designated as a reserved presidential retreat – this destination would be enviable for any person looking to get away.
Truman’s Little White House in Key West
Truman’s Key West residence was once used as a home for a naval officer. The president acquired the property in 1946, and quickly decided that it would be a good vacation spot. Plus, with all of the stress on his shoulders from the accelerating Cold War and increased prominence of nuclear weapons, the guy needed to relax. Truman spent eleven vacations in this residence. Key policies such as the Marshall Plan, and a couple of Civil Rights Executive Orders were discussed or drafted in this home. Plus, the Department of Defense was formed here in 1948 (replacing the Departments of War and Navy). This was known as the Key West Accord. This two-family residence, constructed in late Victorian and West Indian style, has also been used by John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter throughout its life. Though it is now owned by the State of Florida, it still commonly hosts state dinners and diplomatic events for the Departments of Defense and State. Plus, it is open to the public as a historic house museum.
La Casa Pacifica
Before Watergate, Richard and Patricia Nixon spent a lot of time in San Clemente. It’s not too surprising when you consider that they had access to a 9-bedroom, 14-bathroom mansion built in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style. The compound was also completely walled (for security) and boasted lovely ocean views and great local flora. This home was originally built in 1927. Some buildings were built a bit later than that, but they are all old. La Casa Pacifica includes a guest house, a tennis court, and some staff buildings alongside the gorgeous main house. Plus, this compound is currently on sale for $63.5 million.
Vail, Colorado is one of the premier ski resort locations in the United States. It also has an old connection with former president Gerald Ford. He and his wife made their first trip to Vail in 1968, and eventually purchased a condominium at the Lodge in 1970. They continued to return annually, bringing Vail into the public spotlight when Ford became President. Ford was an avid skier, and needed his Secret Service agents to be able to keep up with him. Thus, a few agents were chosen who were the best skiers to go with Ford on his annual trips to Vail. Plus, every year he and his wife would flip the switch to turn on Vail’s Christmas tree. Vail has designated an area as Gerald R. Ford Park, which includes the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. These memorial areas are free to access, and help support conservation efforts for rare plants found in the alpine areas.
Cape May, New Jersey is the location of this famous historic hotel. The first iteration was constructed in 1816, and was intended as a wooden boarding house for new guests of Cape May. The hotel was eventually used by Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, and Benjamin Harrison. Harrison even made this hotel his official Summer White House. However, the hotel began to deteriorate, and went through a long period of disuse. In 1995, a restoration was begun, and was completed in 2002. Now, the hotel is a fully-functioning high-end hotel. It is a perfect choice for anyone to stay at, but would be of particular interest to scholars of 19th-Century American history.
This Cove Neck, New York residence was the home of Teddy Roosevelt from 1885 to his death in 1919. Though he spent a lot of time at the White House during his presidency, he designated Sagamore Hill as his Summer White House. He ended up spending seven summers there during his time as president. Sagamore Hill has served as a meeting grounds for the United States and other countries. One of the most famous meetings directly led to the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War. Though it is not used for diplomatic purposes anymore, it has been designated a national historic site. The site recently underwent major repairs that took about 4 years, but has since been reopened to the public.
The birthplace of Jimmy Carter has served as a vacation spot for this president several times in the past. Growing up in such a small town greatly influenced how he was as a leader. He interacted with many low-income families, and grew up around a lot of diversity. He would often return to Plains just to remind himself of his roots. However, he soon found that his visits to Plains were attracting unwanted attention and protesters to the small town, so he eventually decided to visit other places. Today, there are many places you could go in Plains to learn a bit more about Carter’s hometown. Three of the coolest spots are Plains High School, the Plains Train Depot, and Carter’s boyhood farm. Each of these national sites offers a wealth of information on Carter and how he was when he was younger. Plus, Rosalynn Carter started the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail. It was intended to bring awareness to declining monarch butterfly populations, and even affected some state math and science curriculum.
The childhood home of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and the site of the reception of her wedding to John F. Kennedy, is a perfect site for a presidential getaway. In fact, JFK noted that the farm would be his official Summer White House after he was elected in 1960. The home itself is a Victorian style mansion and estate. It has hosted important decisions, such as JFK electing to sign the Peace Corps Act of 1961 at the Hammersmith Farm. The building recently underwent a restoration in 1999, and some major structural flaws were found. After a lot of restoration and work, the home stands in its former glory. It is now owned by Goldman Sachs partner Peter Kiernan.
Rancho Del Cielo
Rancho del Cielo, or “Ranch in the Sky”, is a 668-acre ranch that was purchased in 1974 by Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. It has been called Reagan’s Mount Vernon, and overlooks the Santa Ynez Valley as well as the Pacific Ocean. It is a perfect place for a private retreat away from the hectic nature of public life, and Reagan made use of it many times during his administration. The ranch was eventually sold to Young America’s Foundation – an organization for young conservatives. They now maintain the ranch to uphold Reagan’s values. So, if you get into the right student program at Young America’s Foundation, there is a possibility that you could see the Ranch firsthand.
The land on this promontory that juts into the Atlantic was first purchased by the great-grandfather of George H.W. Bush, David Davis Walker. The land and house built upon it have been passed down – by purchase, rather than will. When George H.W. Bush obtained the land, he immediately declared that it would be his Summer White House. The house at Walker’s Point is a 9-bedroom giant with an office, den, library, kitchen, and a dining room. There are also a couple of spacious decks and patios that provide a great view of the ocean. In addition, there is a pool, boathouse, guesthouse, dock, and a tennis court, all guarded year-round by high fences and Secret Service agents.
Originally constructed in 1890 in a distinctive Colonial style, the Hotel Champlain was once known as the most luxurious resort in America. It featured a bar, playroom, several elevators, a café, a ballroom, and vaulted ceilings (among other amenities) that solidified its spot as the top lodging in the States. During this time, William McKinley set the hotel as his Summer White House. However, the building caught fire in 1910 and needed to be rebuilt. After the hotel was rebuilt, it stayed open until 1951 when it was converted into a college. Now known as the Clinton Community College, it still boasts impressive looks and an interesting history that many of their alumni might not know.