Visits to the historic estate are by guided tour only. Each tour is small, personal, and requires a ticket. The Historic House Tour is the only one that takes people into the house. The Bird Tour takes people through the estate grounds with an experienced birder. The Open-Air Experience (offered through April) allows flexibility in planning and takes people through the estate’s grounds.
In the mid-1960s, Walter and Leonore Annenberg hired interior designer William Haines and Los Angeles-based architect A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979) to create a midcentury modern residence in Rancho Mirage.
Jones, who for many years was dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, was known both for designs that integrated houses into the landscape and for "statement roofs." His signature style is evident at Sunnylands, where he used overhangs to shield the interiors from the direct sun, plus walls of glass to allow the climate's brightness to fill the rooms.
As with most midcentury modern buildings, the house’s architectural structure is exposed rather than hidden. Trellises, steel beams, and coffered ceilings are all evident. Mexican lava stone walls on which were hung the Annenbergs’ collection of art create a bold style. And that statement roof? An iconic pink pyramid. The color was chosen in accordance with Leonore Annenberg’s wish to match the pink glow seen at sunrise and sunset on nearby mountains.
Many key figures of the 20th century enjoyed Sunnylands as guests of the Annenbergs. The list includes seven U.S. presidents, the British royal family, and Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, and many others.
The Annenberg tradition of being gracious hosts and extraordinary philanthropists extended to their final gift of Sunnylands to the public.
Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to tee off at the Sunnylands golf course, followed in time by Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, as well as Vice President Dan Quayle and Secretary of State George Shultz. In fact, Shultz and Reagan had a regular game at Sunnylands every New Year's Eve for several years.
Dick Wilson, a highly regarded golf course designer in the 1950s and ’60s, designed the Sunnylands course in 1964 in a parkland style. Golf course designers Tim Jackson and David Kahn, responsible for the course’s 2011 restoration, used painstaking research into Wilson’s original concept and created greens that average 8,000 to 9,000 square feet, allowing for a double-looping, 9-hole, par 72 course. Moreover, the course’s irrigation system was upgraded for efficiency and environmental sustainability and roughly 60 acres of turf grass was removed then to reduce water use.
The Sunnylands course is unique for its distinctive landmarks. A magnolia tree sits on the seventh hole, given to the Annenbergs in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, who kept a set of clubs on the property. The tree came from a cutting taken from one at The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tennessee. On the fifth fairway is a 30-foot Kwakiutl totem pole. A visiting Canadian official suggested the piece in 1976, and the Annenbergs then commissioned it from Canadian First Nations artist Henry Hunt.