Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

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.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains

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.

15 thoughts on “Sunnylands

  1. Very good photos and text. Quite a contrast to the Indian Canyon hikes out of Palm Springs. We wanted to visit Sunnylands between Xmas and New Year’s but it was closed the days we wanted to go. Next time. Tom Petersmeyer

  2. Beautiful description. I could imagine strolling around and enjoying the facilities and surroundings. Off on a Holy Lands Tour tomorrow. Excited to see Israel. Bridget

  3. Great piece Susan. Perfectly written and framed… and so succinct as well. We will definitely visit on our next trip to the Desert. Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention. All the best. Marc

  4. Your photos are stunning! Your post is an invitation to God’s country–so beautiful. Want to go. Suggestion, would love to know how to get there, a la a travel piece. I’m not quite oriented, though that’s what Mr. Google is for.

    Love the pleasure moments of seeing the place and hearing your sensitive, perceptive description. Thank you Susan, for the calming interlude!

  5. Beautifully photographed and written, Susan. It appears to be exactly what the Annenbergs envisioned as a place of tranquility and peace.
    We recently had the opportunity to spend an evening in Phoenix Botannical Gardens. There is something about the desert that simply calls one to relax and reflect. I highly recommend a visit if you’ve not been there.
    Love to both of you!

  6. Thank you Susan for introducing me to some wonderful California gems! I must visit this beautiful spot the next time I’m in the desert.

  7. What beautiful green and gold. I Palo Verdes! So glad you’re enjoying some of the rich beauty California has to offer.

  8. What a lovely, serene place. Your photos are wonderful. Thank you for sharing the beauty.
    Lynne Thompson

  9. Delightful and enchanting ‘visit.’ I know it will be better in person.
    Thank you for sharing and adding another ‘gem’ location to visit.

  10. I was thrilled to see your report on Sunnylands. From the cactus garden photo, I can see that the gardens must be inspiring.
    We were in La Quinta months ago and could not go to the Annenberg Foundation because there was a summit meeting of world leaders there! This site is on our list. Thank you for sharing your visit with us.

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