is a Real Oasis in the Palm Springs Desert
Story and photos by Greg Aragon
f someone told me there was an historic presidential retreat in a small
desert oasis near Palm
Springs, I would have told them they were seeing things. But it
is real and no mirage. It just happens to be located in the city of
Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs. I saw this West Coast "Camp David,"
along with a host of exciting locations, on a recent trip to the small
Rancho Mirage is full of interesting surprises
My getaway began at the luxurious Westin
Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa where I checked into a gorgeous
suite overlooking the property's championship golf course. Highlighted
by soothing taupe tones with textured accents, the room featured a comfortable,
king-sized "Westin Heavenly Bed;" a large flat screen TV;
office station with complimentary Wi-Fi; mini-fridge and microwave;
a bathroom area with double sinks and a rain forest shower head; and
a private balcony overlooking the golf course.
The hotel also boasts three pools, the signature Pinzimini
restaurant, a fitness center, full-service spa, lounges and coffee
shops, beautiful architecture, and a 15-yr-old African turtle named
The Westin Resort in Rancho Mirage is a luxurious
resort in the Palm Springs Desert (Photo courtesy of
After acquainting myself with the Westin, I began my
Rancho Mirage tour with a great lunch at Babe's
Bar-b-que & Brewhouse founded in 2002 by Don Callender of Marie
Callender fame, Babe's is renowned for its secret BBQ smoking process
that brings in hungry customers from all over Southern California.
Menu favorites at Babe's include the pulled pork sandwich,
boneless short ribs, skillet cornbread, fresh pies and shortcake, and
award-winning micro brews, made at the restaurant's onsite brewery.
My lunch featured a succulent and memorable plate of baby back ribs,
accompanied by a tasty sampling of the Babe's brew master's latest beers.
Babe's Bar-b-que & Brewhouse is famous for smoked
ribs and fine brewed beer
After lunch it was time for a presidential trip to Sunnylands,
a sprawling West Coast "Camp David," where US presidents and
world leaders meet in seclusion to party in the desert, while mixing
in a little work.
Also opened to the public, the retreat was created in
the mid-1960s by philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Sunnylands
covers more than 200 acres of lush, tree-filled lawns, ponds and stately
residences, designed by Los Angeles-based architect A. Quincy Jones
(1913-1979) in a classic midcentury modernist style that fits in with
existing Palm Springs area structures.
Signatures of Jones' openness in design are seen in
the many overhangs that shield interiors from direct sunlight, and glass
walls that in turn, take advantage of the desert sun. The exposed theme
continues with visible trellises, steel beams, and coffered ceilings.
Some of the most dramatic architectural features can be found at the
main house, where the Annenbergs lived between 1966 and 2009. Here,
where Mayan accents add flair, there is a large, pink pyramid roof and
a tall Mayan monolith fountain out front.
Sunnylands is a West Coast "Camp David,"
where US presidents escape in the desert
Inside the 25,000 sq-ft residence there is majestic
sculpture of Eve by Auguste Rodin in the center of the atrium, surrounded
by hundreds of priceless paintings, sculptures and art pieces from around
the world, and scores of pictures and letters from all the presidents
and world leaders that have visited the estate. And judging from the
amount of Ronald Reagan pictures and letters, it seems he was a favorite
guest of the Annenbergs. His notes and images dot numerous walls throughout
the place. In fact, I read that he celebrated New Year's Eve at Sunnylands
In all, seven presidents were regulars to the estate.
The most recent was President Obama, who last year met with Chinese
President Xi Jinping, played golf, and enjoyed a dinner cooked by Chef
Bobby Flay. Other celebrities to escape to Sunnylands include British
royal family, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers,
Famous art at Sunnlylands includes works by Rodin, Yaacov
Agam, Harry Bertoia, Jean Arp, Emile Gilioli, and Pablo Picasso, along
with important works of Chinese porcelain, Meissen vases, Steuben glass,
and English silver-gilt objects.
Sunnylands' Visitor Center is open to the public Thursdays
Sundays. Visitors can enjoy interactive educational kiosks, informational
panels and videos, an orientation film in the theater, and paths that
wind throughout Sunnylands Gardens. Tours of the estate are $40 and
reservations are required.
On the way back to the Westin hotel, we stopped at Coachella
Valley Brewing Co. for a lovely afternoon beer tasting session.
Located in the neighboring town of Thousand Palms, the brewery opened
last year and focuses on the uniqueness of the Southern California desert
with a host of expertly crafted beer made with locally grown ingredients.
Coachella Valley Brewing Co. focuses on the uniqueness
of the desert, with expertly crafted beer made with locally grown ingredients
Beer highlights at the brewery include Desert Swarm,
CVBs take on Belgian style Witbier referring to the beers cloudy
appearance. Desert Swarm is brewed with Raw Unmalted wheat, imported
Belgian malts, Oats, Punjab coriander, locally grown kumquats from Coachella,
and Killer Bee Honey. Another great brew is Dubbel Date, brewed with
locally-grown Medjoul dates, which are the crown jewel of the Coachella
Valley. Dubbel Date is a rich, and malty ale, boasting notes of cherry
and plum with some steely caramel flavor.
For more information on visiting Rancho Mirage, visit:
Springs Resort Casino, Palm Springs; Palm
Springs Aerial Tram; La
Quinta Resort & Spa; Desert
Oasis at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa; Palm
Springs Aviation Museum; Glen
Ivy Hot Springs