If you’re looking to excite your kiddos with a little American history, skip the five-hour flight to DC filled with screaming tots (none of whom are your perfect angels). Some of our country’s most iconic treasures are right here in our very own backyard. And no, we’re not talking about the Kardashians. Spaceships, presidents and battleships await, no more than an hour away!

Boy Saluting Flag via Jeffrey Turner via Flickr

Columbia Memorial Space Center
As if a full-scale mock-up of the space shuttle and an interactive Lego robotics lab weren’t enough to blow your mind, the Columbia Memorial Space Center offers big kids (8 and up) summer space workshops and physics labs. But for little moon walkers, there’s tons to do as well, including building and launching their own paper airplanes, parachute testing from a drop tower and the chance to step inside an astronaut space suit.  And there are movie nights (with a space theme) for the whole family. Check the website for special events and activities all summer.

12400 Columbia Way
Downey, Ca 90242
Phone: (562) 231-1200
Online: columbiaspacescience.org
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: General admission is $5 and children under 3 are free.

Columbia Memorial Space Center Challenger Learning Center

California Science Center – Space Shuttle Endeavour
If your little ones are jonesing for even more intergalactic fun, then blast off to the space shuttle Endeavour exhibit at the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Pavillion. Kiddos get a chance to check out the Endeavour up close, watch an actual mission control set-up, touch the tires from the STS-134 final mission and learn more than you ever wanted to know (they, on the other hand, live for these details) about the space potty and how astronauts use the bathroom during their expeditions. We predict that will monopolize the conversation during your car ride home.

Insider Tip: If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, weekend mornings and weekday afternoons are your best bets.

Bonus: For an extra $5, tots can also ride a simulator that lets them experience blastoff in the shuttle. We advise you to do this before lunch.

700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90037
Phone: (323) 724-3623
Online: californiasciencecenter.org
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Timed tickets for Endeavour admission are free. However, advanced reservations are strongly recommended. There’s a $2 service charge per ticket online or $3 over the phone.
Parking: $10 per car at structure off 39th Street and Figueroa. Or avoid traffic all together and take the Metro Expo Line to the Expo Park/USC Station.

Cali Science Center Space Shuttle Endeavour

Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library
Hands down, the Reagan Library’s must-see is the Air Force One Pavilion where kids get a once in a lifetime opportunity to step aboard and explore the same Air Force One that flew President Reagan 660,000 miles around the globe during his time office. Tikes can channel their inner Commander-in-Chief (and fuel Mom’s dreams) with a fun photo op waving atop the infamous stairs that descend from the plane. Outside the aircraft is an exhibit on presidential motorcades, replete with super fly presidential limousines and secret service Suburbans. The library’s other interactive exhibits are designed to engage kids and avoid museum meltdown, including an up close look at the Oval Office, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and even act in a movie with the Gipper himself.

Bonus: A special exhibit, “Baseball! The Exhibition” is currently on display through September 4th, giving you a double dose of Americana.  There’s also a very patriotic 4th of July celebration at the Library.

40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, Ca 93065
Phone: (805) 577-4008
Online: reaganfoundation.org
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults are $16, kids ages 5-10 are $6 and children 2 and under are free.
Parking: Parking is free. More money for jellybeans!

Reagan Library Air Force One Motorcade

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
Believe it or not, So Cal is the only place in the country to host two presidential libraries. Two! The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda is chock full of awesome sights for mini Woodwards and Bernsteins to enjoy. Make sure to grab the camera as your tikes hop aboard Army One, one of the most legendary presidential helicopters ever created. President Nixon made over 180 trips aboard this aircraft, including his last flight from the White House the day he resigned from office. Other exhibits include the house in which President Nixon was born, a replica of the Lincoln sitting room in the White House and a rare look at the space program during Nixon’s presidency, including the phone he used to call Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they landed on the moon. C’mon, it doesn’t get cooler than that.

Bonus: This summer, every Tuesday beginning July 1, they have a special event for kids called “Meet the President” featuring look-a-likes portraying Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Nixon and Roosevelt complete with interactive discussions, Q&A, coloring time, and photo opps.

18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard
Yorba Linda, Ca 92886
Phone: (714) 983-9120
Online: nixonfoundation.org
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Adult are $11.95, kids ages 7-11 are $4.75 and tots ages 6 and under are free.
Parking: They won’t sock it to you here. It’s free.

Nixon Library Helicopter

Pacific Battleship Center – USS Iowa BB-61
If your kids dig the board game Battleship, they’ll triple dipple dig seeing the real live thing in person. As the only battleship on the West Coast, the USS Iowa can’t help but impress even the pickiest pint-sized sailor. Tours include visits to the gun battery, missile decks, officers’ wardroom, captain’s cabin, crew’s mess area and navigation bridge.

Insider Tip: Strollers aren’t permitted on board because of multiple stairs and obstacles during the tour. Kids can only go upstairs if they’re able to climb safely on their own or are carried by an adult in a front carrier.

Bonus: Kids can get interactive with the “Victory the Dog Adventure” – a scavenger hunt where kids can follow “Victory” (USS Iowa’s official mascot) on an adventure through the ship.

250 South Harbor Boulevard, Berth 87
San Pedro, Ca 90731
Phone: (877) 446-9261
Online: pacificbattleship.com
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults are $18, youth ages 6-17 are $10 and children under 6 are free, but require a boarding pass nonetheless. Save a couple bucks by booking advanced tickets online.
Parking: Available in the lot adjacent to the ship for $1 per hour.

USS Iowa American Flag

Autry National Center
Pardner, gather your cowpokes and giddy-up to the Autry National Center for a fascinating look at the history of the American West. This museum prides itself on offering lots of interactive entertainment for kiddos, giving mom and dad a much needed summer breather. Ahhhh… From storytelling and art workshops to panning for California gold at a miner’s panning station, tots will never lack for things to do.

Insider Tip: The museum offers free strollers for check-out on a first-come, first-served basis if you’d rather leave yours corralled in the stable at home.

Bonus: Dust off your chaps cause Saturday, July 26, the Autry celebrates its annual Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl.

4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Phone: (323) 667-2000
Online: theautry.org
Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Adult tickets are $10 and kids ages 3-12 are $4.  Free to the public on second Tuesday of every month.
Parking: Free in front of the Autry.

Autry National Center Gold Panning

Any LA hotspots we missed that fill your hearts with patriotic pride? Give us a holler!

Looking for a few more ways to give your kids a double dose of history this summer? Check out these ideas:

Some of the best historic sites around LA
A taste of local Mexican history

–Jennifer O’Brien

Images courtesy of Jeffrey Turner via Creative Commons; Columbia Memorial Space Center; California Science Center; Ronald Reagan Library; Richard Nixon Foundation; USS Iowa; and Autry National Center