In December, we visited Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, a lush 200-acre estate, built by media giant Walter Annenberg.
Walter and Leonore Annenbergs’ dream was that their west coast desert estate would someday be transformed into a retreat center bringing world leaders together to promote world peace. That dream was realized after their deaths when the estate emerged as the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in 2012. It’s often dubbed “Camp David of the West”.
The public can visit this masterpiece of midcentury modernism and enjoy a wonderful “time out”. Surrounded by acres of desert landscape, the grounds resemble a colorful canvas painted with more than 50,000 plants including blue flame agaves, coral aloes, desert marigolds, California poppies, and mesquite trees. The garden’s texture, color and light combine to create a lush masterpiece. Landscape architect James Burnett drew inspiration for this layout from the Annenbergs’ collection of Cézannes, van Goghs and other impressionist paintings.
I delighted in strolling through the gardens while enjoying landscape and stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains — just as I imagined crowned heads of state, celebrities and American presidents had when they attended the lavish parties that the Annenbergs gave many, many years ago.
Adjacent to palo verdes trees and golden barrel cactus on the café patio, we relaxed with sandwiches and French Press coffees with our good friends Al and Naomi from Salem, Oregon who introduced us to Sunnylands. Nearby, kids played on the great lawn with toys that Sunnylands provides each Sunday – hula hoops, big squishy building blocks and beribboned wands.
Although, we didn’t have a reservation to see the Annenberg house, there was plenty to do and see in the gardens and in the comfortable and welcoming visitor center.
Before we left, the four of us walked the labyrinth alongside masses of shrubs and desert trees. The symmetrical spiral path leading to the center and back out again established a calming rhythm that slowed our pace. As we passed by the long infinity pools reflecting the desert terrain around us, we wondered where the last three hours had gone. Time seemed to vanish in this tranquil desert retreat.