Presidents and Barbecued Ribs in Rancho Mirage

When someone first told me there was an historic presidential retreat in a small desert town near Palm Springs, I told them they must be seeing things. But it turned out they were right. I saw it myself, along with a host of exciting locations, on a recent trip to the town of Rancho Mirage.

My getaway began at the luxurious Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa (www.westinmissionhills.com), 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 said golf course.

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Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa is pure luxury in the desert 

After acquainting myself with the Westin, I began my Rancho Mirage tour with a great lunch at Babe’s Bar-b-que & Brewhouse (www.babesbbque.com) Founded in 2002 by Don Callender of Marie Callender fame, Babe’s is renown 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.

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Babe’s Bar-b-que & Brewhouse is Rancho Mirage favorite for succulent smoked meats

After lunch it was time for a presidential trip to Sunnylands (www.sunnylands.org), 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.

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Sunnylands is a Westcoast Camp David in the desert for US Presidents

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.

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 ChinesePresident 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 and officially opens for the season on September 24. 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. For more info visit: www.sunnylands.org.

For more information on visiting Rancho Mirage, visit: www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

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