I was able to check off another site from my Presidential and First Lady historical site list when vacationing in Austin, Texas. The University of Texas at Austin is the location of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, and it’s a great educational stop for older kids and parents.
President Johnson was born in 1908 in the hill country of west Texas. He was a teacher and a Congressional aide before marrying Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor after a whirlwind courtship in 1934.
First elected to Congress in 1937, Johnson quickly rose through the ranks to power and ran for the Senate in 1941. The first member of Congress to volunteer for active duty, Johnson served in the Pacific theater of World War II. He became a senator again in 1948, eventually becoming Majority Leader, and was made JFK’s running mate for the election of 1960 (after briefly running for the presidency himself).
On November 22, 1963, LBJ became the 36th president of the United States when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. LBJ looms large in the political world due to his forceful lobbying skills honed in the US Senate and the passage of many landmark bills during his tenure as president, including the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the “Great Society” bills that established Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs to alleviate poverty. He is also known as the main president to deal with the Vietnam War, a legacy that he regretted and was the major factor in his refusal to run for an additional term in 1968.
After retiring in January of 1969, LBJ and Lady Bird came back to Texas and opened the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum at the University of Texas. He died in 1973 of a massive heart attack, just days after learning that the Vietnam War was coming to an end.
The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum is in a striking marble tower near the massive UT football stadium and is part of the LBJ School of Public Affairs complex. It opened in 1971 and is one of sixteen presidential libraries or presidential websites administered by the National Archives.
The library is open for researchers but the museum is the real draw for history enthusiasts. Begin your tour in the lobby where President Johnson’s limousine resides.
After purchasing your tickets, head to the introduction theater for an 11-minute movie about the life and legacy of LBJ.
After watching the movie, you can enter the special exhibition gallery, currently an excellent exhibit about Lady Bird running through August of 2023. I loved learning more about this lovely and influential First Lady.
I especially loved seeing her beautiful dresses. Can you imagine following after the most stylish First Lady, Jackie Kennedy? Lady Bird didn’t try to compete, she just remained herself which made her star shine brightly.
Learning more about Lady Bird’s massive contributions to LBJ’s campaigns was really interesting. She logged thousands and thousands of miles to ensure her husband’s ticket won.
Lady Bird was a big proponent of nature conservation and one of her greatest legacies are the wildflowers growing between the lanes of highways. What an important and lasting effect on our country!
As you exit, spend some time walking the LBJ timeline.
Kids will love to pose for the “Johnson treatment!”
And they’ll like (or possibly be scared by!) the animatronic LBJ!
Head up the impressive stars to the Great Hall where you can view the 45 million pages of documents in the library’s archives!
Peruse the portraits of Presidents and First Ladies before entering the core exhibition.
The main exhibits begin with a look at LBJ’s life before November 22, 1963. The exhibit then moves through his time as president and has artifacts related to the historic laws passed during his presidency.
Kids will especially like the artifacts related to the times, from the popular toys to movies to music.
If your kids are learning about Civil Rights in their history classes, this museum has many historical items to help them understand it better.
I loved seeing the piece of moon rock!
The exhibit ends with a discussion of the Vietnam War, which is one of the most complicated legacies left by LBJ. You really get a sense of his personal anguish and the toll the thousands of deaths took on him as a man, as an American, and as President.
Exit the exhibit and head up to the tenth floor for the last of the exhibits – some of my favorites!
Head to the right to see the presidential gifts received by the Johnson administration. I always find these so fascinating!
Walk to the White House years exhibit and enter a 7/8ths replica of Johnson’s Oval office. Very sixties!
I loved the First Ladies gallery in particular, from more of Lady Bird’s dresses to the White House china to a replica of her office!
The last thing to see is the movie about White House family life. I didn’t realize that both of Johnson’s daughters were married during Johnson’s presidency (with one daughter actually having her wedding in the White House!) and lived there during his time in office. His daughter, Lynda, speaks poignantly in the video about the anti-war protestors outside the White House gates while her own husband was serving in the war.
Head back down to the entry level (3rd floor) and make sure to visit the great gift shop before you leave!
The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum is a wonderful historical site to visit with your older kids while on a vacation in Austin. Learning more about the president who shepherded our country through some of the most turbulent times in our history is a great and educational way to spend a few hours!
- Cost: $13/adult; $4/youth (13-18); free/12 and under
- Recommended: 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 – 1.5 hours
- Gift shop located onsite and online
- Transportation: There is plenty of parking onsite.
- Dining options: You’re near Austin’s 6th and Congress Streets where there are tons of restaurant options. For fast casual, I like Velvet Taco. Before our visit, we attended the famous Sunday gospel brunch at Stubb’s BBQ, a short six-minute drive from the library. Check out Austin’s tourism site for more recommendations.
- Nearby hotels: We stayed at the retro-chic Lone Star Court near the Domain shopping center, about a 25 minute drive from downtown Austin. It was very kid-friendly, and it was nice not to be in the middle of the 6th and Congress busy-ness. If you do want to stay closer to the library, there are tons of options, including the historic Driskill Hotel (which is where LBJ and Lady Bird had their first date!).
- Nearby attractions include: University of Texas at Austin, Bullock Texas State History Museum, Texas Capitol and Visitors Center, and Museum of the Weird
Books to Read: