No matter what your mother told you, chances are you’re never going to be President of the United States – after all, only 43 men to date can make the claim. So where on earth does the leader of the free world go for a little R & R? Anywhere he wants. It may come as a surprise, however, that the favorite places of the first families are often decidedly low-key destinations – places ordinary civilians vacation every day. So even if your job isn’t quite as stressful as the commander in chief’s, take a trip to one of the destinations on our top 10 presidential vacations list, and you can get away like it is.
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a man of many travels, but it wasn’t all work and no play. In fact, the 32nd President traveled south to the Bahamas on fishing expeditions several times during his presidency. It’s no wonder FDR made the trek – besides its crystal-clear water and soft, sandy beaches, the Bahamas are known for excellent deep-sea and bonefishing. With near-constant fishing events and competitions, as well as experienced guides, fishing lodges, and charter boats on nearly every Bahamian shore, there’s no shortage of ways and places to cast a line in the Bahamas. You might have a real "fish story" to tell once you’ve vacationed in this premier sportfishing spot – the presidential vacation-worthy islands claim more than 50 record catches.
Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland
You’ll know you’ve hiked too close to Camp David, the 125-acre mountain retreat used by every president since FDR, when you’re stopped, X-Files style, by armed secret-service agents. Dubbed Shangri-la by FDR and renamed by Eisenhower in honor of his grandson, Camp David is situated in a top secret location within Maryland’s forested Catoctin Mountain Park (www.nps.gov/cato), where camping, picnicking, fly-fishing, and cross-country skiing welcome presidents and civilians who come to escape the sweltering heat of Washington, D.C., 60 miles to the southwest. Get as close as possible to one of the most storied destinations for presidential vacations in one of the quaint-but-austere cabins built by the Works Progress Administration in the ’30s, or head to the nearby town of Thurmont and book a room at the historic Cozy (www.cozyvillage.com), an inn and restaurant packed with presidential memorabilia.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Named for its mineral springs and awed for its scenic Rocky Mountain beauty, Glenwood Springs garnered attention long before neighboring swanky ski resorts of Vail or Aspen ever did. In 1905, the Hotel Colorado (www.hotelcolorado.com), today a National Historic Landmark, was the base for then-President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt during a three-week bear-hunting expedition. Legend has it that the teddy bear was born here when maids presented the President with the stuffed animal after an unsuccessful day of hunting. Make the Roosevelt Suite – the same room where the President stayed – your presidential vacation home base while note out exploring the region at the confluence of the Colorado and the Roaring Fork rivers, known for its white-water rafting, fly-fishing, and cave tours.
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
When you see those classic photos of JFK and Jackie on a sailboat with the wind blowing through their gorgeous hair, you’re looking at the waters off Cape Cod. The quaint village of Hyannis Port is the Kennedy family’s most beloved retreat and the former President even referred to the area as a place "to be revived, to know again the power of the sea, and the Master who rules over it and all of us." The family compound comprises a main house – nicknamed the Summer White House – plus two other Kennedy-owned residences and several guest homes to accommodate the vast Kennedy clan. Hyannis Port, one of our top picks for presidential vacations, is positively bursting with visitors who come for the Cape’s miles of sandy shores, delectable fried seafood, and of course, sailing excursions around the peninsula.
Each winter since 2008, just after President Barack Obama was elected, the Aloha State has welcomed back its homegrown commander in chief when he and his family jet to the sleepy town of Kailua to spend Christmas and New Year’s in paradise. Located about 12 miles northeast of Honolulu (where Obama was born) on Oahu’s breezy windward side, the coast benefits from the trade winds that roll up the mountain slopes to create rain clouds, blessing this side of the island with vibrant greenery. To fully replicate the first family’s annual retreat, bed down at the so-called Winter White House, the five-bedroom (sleeps 10), 7,000-square-foot, beachfront home where the Obamas stayed each Christmas from 2008 to 2010 (laymen can rent it from $3,500/night). Then, make like the head of state and spend the balmy presidential vacation days working out, snorkeling, and teeing off, garnering sustenance from trips to surf shop and ice cream parlor Island Snow (www.islandsnow.com) for shave ice, a Hawaiian version of a snow cone made with finely grated ice, fruity syrups, and optional doses of adzuki beans and vanilla ice cream.
Key West, Florida
The historic presidential pad on Key West dubbed the Little White House (www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com) certainly earned its moniker – after all, it played host to President Harry Truman for 175 days during his tenure in office. Since Truman began migrating South in 1946, millions of sun-and-fun seekers have descended on Key West for its tropical weather, laid-back attitude, and loads of charm. Between your barhopping and sun-worshipping on your presidential vacation, take a tour of the very house where Truman and his go-to guys enacted bills, prepared budgets, and even composed the State of the Union address during their many visits. Other presidents, including JFK and Jimmy Carter, have also roamed the house’s halls.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard has long been a celebrity sanctuary, but celeb-stalkers and political junkies alike took notice of the island enclave when Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea traded in the White House for a vacation house here during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Biking, kayaking, and fishing are all popular pastimes on the Vineyard, but if you’re looking for a less-active presidential vacation, miles upon miles of sandy beach are ripe for sunbathing. Buy an ice cream cone at one of the ubiquitous shops and stroll the centuries-old streets while admiring the historic homes and charming seaside shops. With all there is to do and see on Martha’s Vineyard, you’ll see why the Clintons came back again and again.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
After retaining his seat in Congress during the 1972 general election, Gerald R. Ford retreated to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the well-documented vacation of the soon-to-be 38th President and his wife Betty produced photographs of them lounging on beach chairs, deep-sea fishing, and napping on their chartered boat. Today, you can enjoy these same activities in Montego Bay – and then some. This slice of Jamaican paradise is known for its uber-luxe resorts, ever-present reggae beats, laid-back vibe, and spectacular natural surroundings. If you’re looking to turn it into a romantic presidential vacation, make like Ford and take along your favorite first lady.
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara’s allure was not lost on Ronald Reagan, and by the end of his governorship he had snatched up what would later become known as the Western White House – the 688-acre Rancho del Cielo (Ranch in the Sky). Overlooking the magnificent Santa Ynez Valley and the Pacific Ocean, the California landscapes here are so lovely they once inspired Reagan to quip, "No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity [Rancho del Cielo] does." Though the general public can’t tour the ranch, the idyllic wine country, bucolic landscapes, palm-fringed Pacific beaches, gourmet fare, and posh hotels of Santa Barbara, one of our favorite picks for presidential vacations, are sure to inspire you the same way they did the man who was both movie star and 40th President of the United States.
Warm Springs, Georgia
Franklin D. Roosevelt first retreated to this rural Georgia town in 1924. Eight years later, just before his presidential inauguration, FDR built the Little White House (www.fdr-littlewhitehouse.org), a modest six-room cottage that’s been kept intact (museum addition notwithstanding) since his death there in 1945. Southern charm and hospitality still beckon weary travelers to Warm Springs (located 1.5 hours south of Atlanta), where life moves to the rhythm of the languid rocking chairs that front so many of its antique stores, specialty shops, and rustic B&Bs. Typically only utilized by the Roosevelt Institute (a private rehab facility; www.rooseveltrehab.org), the therapeutic hot springs where FDR sought a cure for his polio will be open to the public this Memorial Day weekend for brief swim sessions. Alternatively, FDR State Park (www.gastateparks.org/FDRoosevelt) – with over 40 miles of verdant hiking trails – is just minutes from town, rounding out the offerings in one of our favorite presidential vacation destinations.