Things I LoveU.S. Travel

A Visit to Sunnylands

I have had a long fascination with a rather magical place, about which I could only read and see glamorous photos.  I recently got to visit that place in person. It is called Sunnylands …

Entrance on Bob Hope Drive
Grand entrance to the home


QE2 and Mrs. A in the 70’s

For those (most) of you unfamiliar with the name, Sunnylands was, for more than 40 years, the winter home of the late Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore in Rancho Mirage.  Ambassador Annenberg (he was appointed to the Court of St. James by President Nixon) inherited a small publishing business and, unlike other members of the LSC (Lucky Sperm Club), he grew the business exponentially to include TV Guide, The Daily Racing Form, The Philadelphia Enquirer and Seventeen Magazine.


Seating area adjacent to main foyer


Rear terrace looking at pool and pond
Corner of a seating area off master


Sculpture of welcoming birds on grounds

He and his wife (former White House Chief of Protocol under President Reagan) entertained in GRAND style in this incredible home of 25,000 square feet on 200+ acres — which includes a 9-hole golf course, 11 lakes and a mausoleum where the couple now permanently reside.  Their well-documented New Year’s Eve gala for years welcomed a long list of notables, including seven U.S. Presidents, Queen Elizabeth and Frank Sinatra (his last marriage took place there).  The Annenbergs accumulated one of the largest private collections of Impressionist art — priceless works by great masters such as Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh and Monet.  The collection (valued at $1 Billion) was donated to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  But thankfully for us voyeurs who wanted to see the home as it was, all of the art has been digitally replicated and hung in the same placement as the originals.  Ain’t technology grand?  At least they didn’t take the real Rodins out, tho ..



Glimpse of guest room wing on right

Having fulfilled their long promise to endow and leave the property as a cultural center and tour  opportunity (since March of this year), docents are leading the way in small groups of seven for an up-close visit to the entire home and grounds.  Tour reservations may be made on their website.   


Loved every minute!

As a longtime real estate looky-loo, I was in absolute hog heaven.  The estate was run by a staff of 50 (of course that included the massive grounds ..!) with military-like precision.  Guests were said to be pampered beyond comprehension, down to the selection of reading in the guest suites and choice of breakfast delivered to their rooms, but were also expected to be impeccably dressed and extremely punctual.  A schedule of the guests’ weekend itineraries was laid out beginning to end.  

Saw the rose garden but not the 3 greenhouses!

Mrs. A was not shy when it came to her expectations.  There is a sign in the ladies locker room that says:  “If you would like to enjoy a swim after playing golf, we believe a shower beforehand would be very refreshing.”  Get the drift?

The kitchen would be considered quaint by today’s mega-mansion standards.  But I don’t know of any shelves labeled with the number of place settings of exquisite china and crystal in inventory.  Seriously, who needs 50 demitasse cups and saucers?? 

Even I, a proud stealth photographer who surreptiously got a shot of Kate’s wedding dress, was unable to sneak any shots inside the house as that is strictly prohibited.   Alas, all groups are closely watched by both the guide and security detail.  Suffice it to say, the things on display in the aptly named Memorabilia Room are incredible — the framed invitation and menus from the wedding of Charles and Diana, holiday cards and photos from royalty worldwide, photos of all presidents going back to Eisenhower and so much more… So enjoyed my time there and cannot wait to go back.
Not a bad place to spend eternity …
Looking up towards the master area


Aerial of the home and some(!) of the grounds
Of course, my car simply does not know how to bypass the Cabazon Outlets driving on Highway 10.  It automatically makes a stop.   Having shopped these types of stores in probably too many locations, I’m still impressed by the collection of retailers here — from the very high-end designers not found elsewhere to the litany of other shops.  Only thing missing is ample parking!!  If you’re really jonesin’ for a gambling fix, the Morongo Casino is right next store, after passing by Hadleys — which was selling nuts and dried fruits when Trader Joe’s was simply someone’s future dream (Hadley’s was established in 1931; TJ’s in the early ’50’s) …