Down To The Desert

Sunshine and palm trees- what could be better! A few weeks ago, I made a bit of an impromptu trip down to Palm Springs. It had been raining here in Sonoma County for days and days….and days, so I decided to shake the wet weather, get out of dodge and find some sun pronto! I grabbed my good friend Miss LJ, loaded up the car and off we went! It’s about a 7.5-hour drive from the Bay Area to Palm Springs (which isn’t too bad I s’pose when you’re desperate for sunshine!) and we all know that road trips are where adventures begin, right?

By going in early February, we took advantage of the cooler winter weather (by Palm Springs standards, mind you) and begun to explore the surrounding areas as soon as we arrived. Day time temps were 65-72F– which was perfect actually. Blue skies graced us each day and there was very little tourism traffic to slow us down.

Here are just a couple of the amazing places we visited that week–each one a must-see when you’re visiting ‘The Desert’:

Down To The Desert | Palm Springs |

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, Coachella Valley. You’ve never seen such huge palm trees in all of your life! Seriously. These magnificent pillars are ginormous. The Preserve provides direct access to an amazing collection of rare trees via several easy walking trails and offers some incredible desert landscapes along the way. We started out at the visitor center so we could learn a little about what we were going to see. Then we headed out on the McCallum trail for a 2.5-mile trek to McCallum Pond. I had no idea palm trees could even grow this big, so this visit was a real treat. I took a picture of the entrance sign, as it best explains how and why the Preserve was created. [click photo to enlarge for reading]

Our hike to McCallum Pond:

Look how small the picnickers below are in comparison to the palm trees- crazy!
down to the desert | palm springs |

To visit:
The Preserve gates are open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from May through September and from 7:00 am to 5:00 p.m. October through April. Closed in the summer from June 1 through August 31, but the preserve remains open for hiking and picnicking year-round. The Visitor Center hours are dependent on the availability of Volunteer staffing.
Call Visitor Center to confirm the current hours of operation  | 760.343.2733

29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road
Thousand Palms, California 92276
760.343.2733 | | #coachellapreserve

untitled-40Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage

Think of the gorgeous, pink-hued estate built on over 200 acres as the Camp David of the West if you will. It encompasses a 25,000 sq ft private residence (with a pink roof no less), three guest houses, an 18-hole golf course, 11 lakes and a  17,000 sq ft Visitor Center with sprawling gardens.  From the time homeowners Walter and Leonore Annenberg (publishing moguls, philanthropists and diplomats) commissioned legendary mid-century modern architect A. Quincy Jones to build an oasis in the desert, Sunnylands was destined for greatness.  The private residence built in the mid-1960’s was at the time, a radical departure from traditional residential design. Jones’ use of exposed trellises, steel beams and coffered ceilings created a completely new and bold style of modernist construction, centered around “bringing the outside in”. This core ideal later became the foundation for a style known as California Mid-Century Modern architecture. The Annenbergs envisioned this desert retreat as a place of solitude and relaxation where their family could escape the frigid winters of Philadelphia.

down to the desert | palm springs |

Sunnylands Visitor Center

down to the desert | palm springs |

Interior of Sunnylands Visitor Center

The expansive gardens, colorized in various shades of pink and yellow at the request of Leonore Annenberg, aptly convey her passion for living in reflection of nature’s palate. Geometric patterns involving 50 species of more than 49,000 individual plants were masterfully formed by Landscape Architect James Burnett. Each plant grouping is located within the garden to echo the home’s clean lines and the methodical symmetry of the modernist movement. Native and drought-tolerant plants, indigenous mountain trees like the Palo Verde Tree Parkinsonia (commonly called ‘Desert Museum’) and a variety of interesting cacti like the squat Golden Barrels or columnar San Pedro and Fencepost species can be found throughout the gardens.

The estate is self-contained within pink Mexican lava stone walls and boasts a world-class golf course designed by U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner, Dick Wilson. He cleverly crafted 18 holes into nine greens, making this unique course a favorite of golf icons such as Floyd, Watson, Trevino and Palmer; not to mention celebrities of the era, along with past (and sitting) US Presidents, as well as heads of state from across the globe.

Sunnylands, in all its splendor, is far more than just a home however. It has been- and still is today- a very important venue for strategic political and corporate summits. A place where world and business leaders can quietly gather, without a lot of fanfare, to discuss critical matters of state business in a secluded and informal setting. Numerous state dinners have taken place at Sunnylands over the years in the less-structured form of a convivial cocktail party, set a midst an extensive and impressive collection of art and sculpture which can be found lining the halls surrounding the Annenberg’s main living room. Political alliances have been established here, oftentimes during a round of golf and several historic treaties were signed at the home. Sunnylands is not only of cultural significance, but it has played a major role in key political negotiations too. It’s a place where two world leaders who’ve taken a casual stroll through the gardens–jackets off and shirt-sleeves rolled up–accomplished far more than any board room meeting in D.C. could have ever achieved.

down to the desert | palm springs |

photo courtesy Lori-Jo Martin | no filter, just some stunning desert light

I was so impressed with this iconic landmark –I simply can’t wait until the next time I can visit. And if you’re a fan of mid-century architecture like I am, then this destination should definitely be on your list.
down to the desert | palm springs |

To visit:
Sunnylands Center & Gardens 
37977 Bob Hope Drive 
Rancho Mirage, CA 922 | 760.202.2222 | On IG @sunnylands

The Center and Gardens is open Thursday- Sunday from 9am-4pm, no appointment needed. Be sure to watch the short video in the media room as it will give you a wonderful overview of Sunnylands and life of the Annenbergs. There’s also a charming café on site for a coffee or a light snack, along with a gift shop featuring Sunnylands memorabilia and trinkets with a MCM style.

The Historic House Tour is the only way you can see the residence up close and personal. Tickets are a bit hard to come by, given the popularity of the home, but follow the link and then call on the specified day to secure a pair. 

Looking for more activities and excursions for Palm Springs area? Get in touch with Visit Palm Springs for a complete listing of all attractions | On IG @visitpalmsprings

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