The Whole Family Will Enjoy Sunnylands Tours

Desert Gardens at Sunnylands

Some refer to Sunnylands as the “Camp David of the West”. Due to the atmosphere at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, world leaders have been able to reach an international understanding there. World leaders and experts in their particular fields are invited to attend the executive retreats at Sunnylands. But, you don’t have to be a VIP to experience its grandeur.  There are many Sunnylands tours. These are opportunities you can take advantage of throughout the year. In this article, we’ll cover what makes this place special and why you should visit. There are a number of interesting features that make it worth the trip.

A Bit About Sunnylands

The center was completed in 1966 and was designed by A. Quincy Jones; a pioneer in midcentury architecture. The architecture of the estate is a paragon of midcentury modern design. The coffered ceilings, steel beams, and trellises are uncovered. Not wanting to hide the material behind cladding, Jones chose the design to reveal the “real” materials and structure used to construct the building. The roof is an iconic pink pyramid. Architecture buffs will find something to inspire them at every turn.

The walls are constructed of Mexican lava stone and is where the Annenberg’s collection of art is hanging, pieces such as the Carved Narrative by the Chavez Morado brothers. The brothers were part of an elite group of Mexican artists interested in a modern aesthetic that represented peace and unity. This message is very much in line with the diplomatic mission of the Annerberg Center.  Other pieces of art that the Annenberg’s collected and displayed here include numerous paintings and sculptures from world-renowned artists; sculptures by the likes of Alberto Giacometti, and Auguste Rodin. Paintings by Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin grace the retreat.

The estate sits on 200 acres and includes a famous 9-hole golf course. The Sunnylands golf course was first used by President Dwight Eisenhower. Since then, presidents George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan; as well as Vice President Dan Quayle and Secretary of State George Shultz have enjoyed a day of golf on this magnificent course. Other Presidents who have used the golf course include President Obama, as well as some members of Congress and the Supreme Court.

There have been many US presidents that have convened at the Sunnylands Center & Gardens to discuss tough issues facing the nation and international affairs such as trying to reach an agreement between the US and China.

Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rogers and many more well-known celebrities have also been guests at the estate.

Sunnylands Tours: The Details

The Historic Estate Tour

This tour is by guide only and is the only tour that will take you inside the estate. The tour is very popular, so tickets sell out quickly. You will need to purchase tickets early on the day they are released. This is a 90-minute tour and the tickets are available at a reasonable cost and can only be purchased online. This tour requires that you be able to walk and stand for up to a half a mile. They suggest that all cell phones are turned off during the tour. Seven visitors at a time are taken by an electric shuttle to the estate. During the tour, visitors will learn about the estate as both a private residence and now as a high-level retreat center. As well as viewing the gorgeous and diverse collection of sculptures and paintings. The estate is all on one level with no stairs, so it’s very wheelchair friendly.

The Bird Tour

This tour is guided by an experienced bird watcher and takes you around the grounds. Every Thursday morning from November – April, an experienced birder will lead 7 visitors at a time on a guided tour. The tour is 90-minutes long and does not include access to the house. Binoculars, scopes, and cameras are allowed on the tour. Expect to see several different species of birds while on the tour such as the Vermilion Flycatcher and birds of prey that make the grounds their home all year. Other species of birds, including waterfowl, marsh, and shorebirds, are drawn to the grounds due to the freshwater lakes and streams in both the spring and fall months. Over a period of two years, there have been more than 100 bird species identified.

Shuttle Tour

Visitors are offered a 45-minute open air shuttle tour every day of the week starting at 9:15 in the morning; with the shuttle leaving every 15 minutes. Tickets for this “open air experience” may only be purchased online and in advance. The shuttle is only big enough to take 7 visitors at a time thus, giving visitors a better learning experience. The tour covers the grounds and the golf course. Visitors will learn about the history and architecture of the buildings as both a private residence and the now high-level retreat center. Be prepared to walk and stand for over an hour as there is no seating on the tour. Please note that shuttle riders must be 10 years of age or older. The center also offers a wheelchair accessible shuttle as well.

Garden Tour

There are thousands of trees on the grounds of Sunnylands. There are also guest cottages, 11 lakes, and an outdoor sculpture. Enjoy a stroll through the magnificent gardens that span nine acres, where you will see and learn about 70 different species of plants from the Americas, Africa, and the Mediterranean. One can revel in the beauty of plants such as desert verbena, marigold and golden barrel cacti. Lining the north and west sides of the garden, visitors can expect to see evergreen Texas Ebony trees. You can enjoy the walk through the gardens every Thursday at 11 am from November through April, no reservations necessary. Parts of the garden are accessible by wheelchair. Staff can direct you to the best places and can provide special assistance if needed.

Other Notable Features

There is always something to do at Sunnylands all year around. Visitors can choose from participating in:

An orientation that consists of a 30-minute walk through the center every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This is a free activity. Guests can expect to get an overview of the center as well as learn about the Carved Narrative sculpture by brothers Chavez Morado.

There are activities for children every Sunday from November through May. The kids can enjoy a large selection of toys, games, and planned activities on the great lawn. These outings are a great way to focus on spending time with family without everyday distractions.

Enjoy Tia Chi on the great lawn every Sunday at 10 am for a 60-minute session that is open to all ages and levels of experience. Participants are cautioned to wear clothing that will protect them from the sun and to bring lots of water. No reservations are required.


All the walking may make a person hungry. The café offers light refreshments, sandwiches, desserts and pastries and snacks and beverages including Mrs. Annenberg’s favorite iced tea. Enjoy your snack while taking in the breath-taking views of the Coachella Valley. You can enjoy the peace, beautiful view and wonderful food in the café Thursday through Sunday from 8:30 am – 4:00 pm.

Getting there

From the West

Take exit 130 off of I-10 East, for Bob Hope Drive. Turn right onto Bob Hope Drive. Go approximately 3 miles (you will pass the Agua Caliente Hotel/Casino on your left). The Sunnylands entrance will be on the right, a half mile past Gerald Ford Drive. Look for the flag pole and the pink monument. The public entrance is beyond the service/staff entrance.

From the East

Take exit 130 off of I-10 East, for Bob Hope Drive. Turn left onto Bob Hope Drive and drive approximately 3 miles. The Sunnylands entrance will be on the right, a half mile past Gerald Ford Drive. Look for the flag pole and the pink monument. The public entrance is beyond the service/staff entrance.

From Palm Springs Airport

Exiting the airport, turn left onto El Cielo (0.5 miles), Turn left onto Ramon Road (5.5 miles). Turn right onto Bob Hope Drive. The Sunnylands entrance will be on the right a half mile past Gerald Ford Drive. Look for the flag pole and the pink monument. The public entrance is beyond the service/staff entrance.


You can spend the whole day at Sunnylands, and we encourage you to if you have the time. However, whether you have just a short time or a whole day, there is something to see and do at Sunnylands. Tours times range from 30 to 90 minutes. There are hour long classes and tours you can take at your own pace.  The beauty and splendor of the retreat and grounds is a sight to behold.

Have you visited the historic estate of Sunnylands? We’d love to see your pictures! We’d love to see your pictures. Post them on Twitter using #XPLORzine.

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