Late power couple Walter and Leonore Annenberg were influential businesspeople, philanthropists, and diplomats who served in various capacities under presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. During his life, Walter earned numerous awards for his civil service and influence in the media industry, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Leonore, or Lee as she was known, was a trustee to numerous major art institutions.
Acting as a stage for their star-studded social life, the Annenbergs owned a lavish, mountain-facing winter home on 200 acres in the Coachella Valley. For decades, they hosted famous friends such as actor Bob Hope and designer Oscar de la Renta, and offered hospitality and sanctuary to numerous royal and elected political leaders, including Nixon, who retreated to Sunnylands after he resigned the presidency. Following Lee’s death in 2009, the home was converted into a nonprofit center for arts and culture and eventually opened to the public a few years ago.
The historic 20,000 sq. ft. midcentury house, completed in 1966, was designed by famed Los Angeles architect A. Quincy Jones (not to be confused with the famous music producer), with features such as wide patios, exposed beams, and a pink pyramid roof.
There are other notable features of the grounds, such as numerous man-made lakes, as well as a magnolia struggling to survive in the desert climate. The out-of-place tree was grown from a cutting at former president Andrew Jackson’s Nashville, Tennessee home. Elsewhere on the sprawling property, a nine-hole golf course, designed by Dick Wilson, is where presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush teed off. Originally completed in 1964, it was restored in 2011.
A year later, in 2012, Sunnylands opened to the public. Parts of the estate grounds free and open to the public include a nine-acre garden featuring 70 species of native and desert-adapted plants. There’s also a cafe and shop, as well as various rotating art exhibits and activities. Various free and ticketed tours are available seasonally.
Know Before You Go
Sunnylands is open Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets for various paid property tours go on sale the 15th of the month. Pets are not allowed at Sunnylands.