Editor's note: This Presidents Day article has been updated to include 2011 Fourth of July events scheduled for several presidential sites.
This year, February proves to be a very presidential month.
Besides Lincoln's Birthday on Feb. 12 and Washington's Birthday — a federal holiday that's also called Presidents Day by some U.S. agencies and organizations — on Feb. 21, the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth will be on Feb. 6. Plus, politicians, pundits and prognosticators already are gearing up for the November 2012 election.
See also: Discover the real Founding Fathers.
What better moment to immerse ourselves in a little presidential history?
To create our list of 10 must-see presidential sites (in reverse order of when the men served), we consulted presidential historians and political scientists. Our experts were particularly drawn to places where they glimpsed the private man behind the public figure, but they split on the value of the modern presidential libraries and their museums.
Joan Hoff, research professor of history at Montana State University and former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, sees them as comparable to the Egyptian pyramids, designed merely "to glorify the presidency" and "whitewash" controversial events. Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, argues that they can still be fascinating — provided you understand you'll be seeing mainly the "positive side of the ledger."
On a hill overlooking California's Simi Valley and the Pacific Ocean sits this "very majestic library," said Shirley Anne Warshaw, professor of political science at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. Exhibits on Reagan's acting career; copies of love letters to his wife, Nancy; and a display on the failed assassination attempt by John Hinckley are all "beautifully done," she said.
- On July 4, the library will offer a day full of fun family activities to celebrate America's 235th birthday. Monday's events will include patriotic concerts, family entertainment, games, crafts and more. All outdoor activities will be free. Admission rates, however, will apply to the "Start Your Engines: American Race Cars" exhibit and the Air Force One Pavilion. For more information, call 800-410-8354.
- Several events are planned for the centennial of the 40th president's birth. The centerpiece of the celebrations will be the renovation of the museum galleries, which will be closed from Feb. 4 through Feb. 6. The museum will reopen Feb. 7.
- A nearly 10-foot-tall, 6,338-pound piece of the Berlin Wall.
- Reagan’s burial site.
- A re-creation of the Oval Office and the Air Force One Pavilion, housing "The Flying White House."