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Rancho Mirage
Rancho Mirage 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 resort town.

Rancho Mirage
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 Scooter.

the Westin Resort in Rancho Mirage
The Westin Resort in Rancho Mirage is a luxurious resort in the Palm Springs Desert (Photo courtesy of Westin Resort)

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
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.

the writer at Sunnylands
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 18 times.

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, and more.

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.

the writer at Coachella Valley Brewing Co.
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, CVB’s 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:

Related Articles:
Fantasy 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

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Let Greg know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Going to Universal Studios Hollywood to see the Harry Potter "land" is on my bucket list!!

-- Nancy, Hawaii

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Feedback for A Spring Escape to Maui And Hotel Wailea

I leave here April 21 for Maui and can hardly wait. It'll be my 15th trip, more or less and I love it, and your pictures.

-- Ellie – Port Ludlow, WA

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Hi Greg,

It's not a forest of banyan trees in Lahaina by the harbor. It's one huge tree, about 140 years old. It's an important landmark of Lahaina, and one of our favorite views.We always stay at the Pioneer Inn, overlooking the harbor and the banyan tree. Every evening thousands of mynah birds fly into the tree, chattering and fluttering until they settle down for the night. Otherwise, great article.

-- Virginia – Northridge, CA

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Feedback for Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa

Very nice story, Greg.

-- Maris Somerville – Los Angeles, CA

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