Over the last 100 years, “getting away from it all” for America’s presidents (POTUS) has involved traveling to the rugged shores of the northeast United States, the sunny climes of Florida or the Pacific coast. Our commanders in chief seek places where they can leave the pressures of the office behind, relax and breathe some nonpartisan air — at least for a long weekend or a brief vacation.
Many of these presidential retreats are well known, some are open to the public, still others remain in family hands and are off limits. Most of them are on or near the coast, so they’re easily accessible to boaters, even if that only involves a glimpse from offshore, as is the case with Kennebunkport, Hyannis Port and Mar-a-Lago. Joe Biden’s family vacation home in Rehoboth, Delaware, isn’t right on the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s close by. Presidential properties that offer public access are associated with Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama.
Here’s a look at how boaters can visit these prestigious addresses and the towns where they reside to soak up a little POTUS history and ambience.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Summer Home
Roosevelt Campobello International Park, New Brunswick, Canada
Just a stone’s throw from the U.S./Canadian border, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s summer home is a combination indoor museum and outdoor nature park. FDR’s parents were among several wealthy East Coast families who frequented Campobello’s resort hotels and later bought land to build cottages there. For most of his childhood, FDR summered on the island, enjoying its clean air, rugged beauty, and opportunities for sailing, rowing, and canoeing. As an adult, he shared with his own family the same childhood outdoor activities, despite being crippled by polio.
Spend about an hour touring the Visitor Centre, Roosevelt Cottage and flower gardens, then explore the 2,800-acre natural area’s trails, beaches, bogs, forest and ocean headlands. Find info for boaters entering Canadian waters at cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/pb-pp-eng.html
Where to Dock: Welshpool Landing
Bush Family Compound
Walker’s Point Estate, Kennebunkport, ME
The Bush’s getaway place was the summer home of 41st President George H. W. Bush and his family. Bush’s great grandfather and his son purchased the property in the late 19th century to find a cooler climate away from the hot summers in their St. Louis home. Bush spent much of his childhood at the Kennebunkport estate, and as an adult he enjoyed summers there. While at Kennebunkport, Bush hosted informal meetings for world leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.
The estate remains in family hands, so you can’t actually tour the nine-bedroom mansion, but it’s visible from offshore (although a 500-yard restricted zone encircles the peninsula). Kennebunkport Historical Society maintains the First Families Museum in town with a photo timeline of Bush’s life and a rotating collection of Bush family memorabilia and artifacts.
Where to Dock: Chicks Marina
Kennedy Family Compound
Hyannis Port, MA
Perhaps the most famous presidential home next to Mount Vernon, the Kennedy Compound had a rather ordinary beginning. In 1926, Boston resident Joseph P. Kennedy rented a summer cottage at 50 Marchant Ave. in Hyannis Port. Two years later he bought the cottage, which he enlarged and remodeled later, to accommodate his growing family. His nine children spent summers there, acquiring a lifelong interest in sailing and other competitive activities. JFK conducted his 1960 presidential campaign from the family compound, sparking the public’s fascination with the place.
For boaters approaching the south shore of Cape Cod, the compound is just east of Hyannis Point and west of the break wall. On land, the road to the compound is closed, and streets along the edge of the property are often blocked off. Learn more about the family history at the JFK Hyannis Museum or walk the 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail.
Where to Dock: Hyannis Marina
Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill
Oyster Bay, NY
Sagamore Hill was considered Teddy Roosevelt’s Summer White House during the seven summers between 1902 and 1908. The 23-room Victorian house is furnished as it was during his lifetime. Numerous foreign dignitaries visited Sagamore Hill, which was the site of peace talks that helped end the Russo-Japanese War.
The property is also home to the Theodore Roosevelt Museum, which chronicles his life and career. The museum is housed at Old Orchard, the former residence of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his family. Oyster Bay is on the north shore of Long Island, just west of Huntington.
Where to Dock: Sagamore Yacht Club
Biden Vacation Residence
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Biden’s humble, working class beginnings sparked a fascination with real estate, which he equated with prosperity and success. While still in his twenties, he began buying homes — many that were outside his budget — taking out loans against life insurance policies and assuming multiple mortgages. As recently as 2007, his net worth ranked him in last place among U.S. senators. Now, thanks to speaking fees and book deals after his stint as vice president, Biden and his wife Jill are worth about $9 million, some of which they invested in their Rehoboth beach house. “Throughout our careers, Jill and I have dreamed of being able to buy a place at the beach where we can bring the whole family,” Biden said upon acquiring the home.
You aren’t likely to catch a glimpse of the Bidens’ vacation home from offshore, as it’s not right on the beach. Maybe with powerful binoculars. The three-story, six-bedroom house is in the North Shores neighborhood on the back side of Gordon’s Pond State Park, about 400 yards west of Whiskey Beach. Streets near the house are often blocked off by the Secret Service.
Where to Dock: Indian River Inlet Marina
Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago
Palm Beach, FL
Mar-a-Lago is the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate, a grandiose mansion built by the cereal heiress in the 1920s. She hired noted American architect Marion Sims Wyeth to design it and famed scenic designer Joseph Urban to create interior and exterior decorations, spending about $7 million (today’s equivalent of $103 million). Trump bought it in 1985. Mar-a-Lago hosted meetings with international leaders while he was in office, including Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
This property has restricted water access. Lake Worth Lagoon and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) on the west side of Mar-a-Lago have a “no slowing or stopping” restriction as you pass, and a 1,000-yard exclusionary zone on the east side of Palm Beach island stretches from Banyan Road in the north to Ocean View Road in the south. You’ll have better luck on land, as you can get a closer view of the property on nearby streets such as South Ocean Boulevard.
Where to Dock: Palm Harbor Marina
Harry Truman Little White House
Key West, FL
Located at the western tip of Key West south of Mallory Square and Front Street, the main part of the Little White House was built in 1890 as the first officers’ quarters for the Key West Naval Station. In November 1946, President Truman was exhausted after his first 18 months in office. His doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered a warm vacation, and Truman arrived in Key West soon thereafter for rest and relaxation. He returned four months later for a second vacation, a pattern he would repeat twice a year, visiting 11 times between 1946 and 1952.
In 1991, the house was designated a state historic site and museum, and guided tours offer a glimpse of the rooms where the Trumans lived, worked and relaxed. The three-story Harbour Place Condominium building largely blocks the view of the house from the water, but a short walk down Front Street from the Cruise Piers brings you to the path that leads through Truman Annex Park. The house is on your right just beyond the park’s south entrance.
Where to Dock: Conch Harbor Marina
Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo
Known as the Western White House during Reagan’s tenure as president, Racho del Cielo, located about six miles inland from Refugio State Beach west of Santa Barbara, was the site of numerous visits by world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth.
The ranch itself is closed to the public except by special arrangement, but the Reagan Ranch Center, located next to the Santa Barbara train station, offers multimedia exhibits, video presentations and a timeline table that lets visitors explore the ranch during the 1980s, as well as a 5,000-pound section of the Berlin Wall.
Where to Dock: Santa Barbara Yacht Club
Richard Nixon Library & Museum
Yorba Linda, CA
Nixon’s famed San Clemente home is no longer in family hands. The Nixon Library & Museum complex, located about 20 miles north of Newport Beach in Yorba Linda, hosts Nixon’s birthplace and boyhood home, the 52,000-square-foot museum, Nixon Library, gardens, and Richard and Pat Nixon’s final resting place.
The San Clemente house (La Casa Pacifica), where Nixon hosted such world leaders as Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Satō, is still viewable on a beautiful stretch of California coast north of San Mateo Point and San Mateo Creek. The popular Trestles surfing area is located off San Mateo Point, and San Clemente State Beach is about a mile up the coast.
Where to Dock: Newport Dunes Marina
Obama Retreat at Plantation Estate
Obama and his family stayed at this property often during his presidency between 2008 and 2011. As a 10-year-old, he attended Honolulu’s Punahou School, about 20 minutes from Kailua, and Obama and his grandfather often went swimming at Kailua Beach, so it’s no wonder he selected this familiar part of the island for a vacation retreat.
The sprawling, single-story, 5,000-square-foot oceanfront house with laguna-style pool lies on Kailua Bay just south of Kapoho Point, at the east end of Oahu. The house has been on the market a number of times in recent years and has recently been offered as an upscale rental for vacationers looking to vicariously soak up executive ambiance.
Where to Dock: He’eia Kea Boat Harbor