Attractions & Events

Attractions & Events

 

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The great cities of the world have iconic cultural institutions, attractions, and events. Rancho Mirage, though relatively small in size, measures up when it comes to world-class amenities. A combination of private and public offerings distinguishes the City and underscores its unwavering focus on its quality of life and gracious hospitality. That spirit began with Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s promise to open their estate to the public following their deaths. Today, Sunnylands Center & Gardens — where world leaders have converged to discuss important global issues — prevails as one of the most awe-inspiring attractions in the City, revered for its history, architecture, home and garden tours, and seasonal exhibitions. Sharing the intellectual spotlight is the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, host of the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, featuring influential authors and thought leaders, as well as night-time stargazing. More events unfold at the Rancho Mirage Community Park and Amphitheater, home to the Rancho Mirage Festival of the Arts and a robust schedule of live performances. Plus, the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert is on the brink of reopening with fully reimagined exhibits and program.


Sunnylands Center & Gardens

91_Giacometti Center ccThe iconic, pink-walled estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg — which includes their 1966 modern-style house designed by A. Quincy Jones — opened to the public in 2012 as Sunnylands Center & Gardens, where history, nature, and art converge. Guests learn in situ about the Annenbergs; view exhibitions of their world-class collections and archives; walk through their beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a meditative labyrinth; and join in a range of programs advancing culture, science, and wellness.

Sunnylands also serves as a gracious and intimate “retreat” for, as the foundation’s Declaration of Trust states, “the exchange of ideas … for the common good and the public interest.” In their day, the Annenbergs hosted seven presidents and many more dignitaries for high-level meetings on global topics, and Sunnylands estate became known as the “Camp David of the West.” The same month Sunnylands opened to the public, it hosted a three-day meeting on U.S.–Mexico relations. The following year, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for two days at the property to discuss bilateral issues including climate change and cybersecurity. More recently, Sunnylands and the public-policy think tank Hoover Institution have convened meetings on Indo-Pacific security, and the center hosted two dozen national security leaders from Australia, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In the popular visitor center at Sunnylands, guests have enjoyed exhibitions of the Annenbergs’ collections, which include such finery as silver-gilt, Chinese cloisonné, Steuben glass, and elegant table settings that included custom linens.

Outside, the grounds were inspired by the Annenbergs’ collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings — nine acres of lush gardens and more than 70 species of plants. Visitors take self-guided audio tours and birding tours, participate in outdoor yoga, and refuel at the café with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the garden, which often hosts movie screenings on the Great Lawn.

Sunnylands’ preservation of historical and cultural resources is matched by its water conservation and attention to environmental sustainability. The 17,000-square-foot visitor center (with geothermal climate control) and 9-acre garden received LEED Gold certification, and the 17-acre administration campus, completed in 2017, earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Business Council.

Rancho Mirage Library and Writers Festival

When the Rancho Mirage Public Library opened in January 1996, its initial home was an 11,000-square-foot former Bank of America building in the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center. However, the Library proved so popular that the City began making plans to build a larger facility before the dawn of the new millennium.

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The land was purchased with a $2 million gift from the Annenberg Foundation, and in 2006, the doors opened on a new, 38,000-square-foot modern building that the Library has since called home. Overnight, the Library had more space to house and grow its collection and expand its programming. Today, the Library is a hub of mainly free cultural and educational opportunities and resources — helpful databases, ebooks, streaming video, children’s programming, musical performances, lectures, and film screenings. The building accommodates a Special Collections Room with special displays devoted to books from President Gerald and Betty Ford’s personal library and specimens from the Joe & Gigi Roberson Mineral Collection.

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The Library is home base for the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, founded in 2014 by philanthropist Jamie Kabler and propelled by philanthropist Helene Galen, who has supported many medical, Jewish, and arts institutions, organizations, and charities in Rancho Mirage and beyond. Kabler calls the always-sold-out event “Coachella for the brain.” The festival presents an A-list lineup of New York Times best-selling authors, MacArthur Fellows, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book, Tony, and Academy Awards — all handpicked by Kabler. However, the festival is considered to be intimate, with a capacity of 1,100 attendees during the three-day event, whose programs take place in four rooms at the Library. “I hope in time it will be thought of not only as a writers festival, but also as an idea festival,” Kabler says. “I think the key to life is that we constantly get to learn and share new experiences.”

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024, the festival will host Gen. David H. Petraeus, novelist Jonathan Franzen, and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin among a long list of personalities for thought-provoking lectures, discussions, and book signings.

Throughout the year, The Writers Series presents free talks by authors at the Library.

Rancho Mirage Observatory

Barely a decade after the Library opened, residents and City Council members embraced the idea of building an observatory on the Library campus, thus bestowing the complex with a new name: Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory. The Observatory, designed with guidance from Dan McKenna, Superintendent of the California Institute of Technology’s famed Mount Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, became the first in California to share a library campus.
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The $4.2 million Observatory opened in 2018 under the leadership of resident astronomer Eric McLaughlin. It houses a 27.5-inch, research-grade PlaneWave CDK700 telescope capable of penetrating into deep space and distant galaxies, a rotating dome that opens to the night skies, and an outdoor observation deck where visitors can set up their own telescopes. The Observatory primarily serves to educate the public via presentations and stargazing events — astronomer-led evening affairs limited to 40 participants and typically booked within mere minutes of becoming available. All these offerings are free to the public.

The City Parks and Amphitheater

Whitewater Park, the City’s first park, was built on seven acres of land adjoining the Whitewater Wash and the equestrian trail and dedicated in January 1983. The Community Parks and Recreation Commission recommended, and residents endorsed by ballot, changing the park’s name to Rancho Mirage Community Park in 2014, the year marking the park’s $4.2 million expansion. The park added three acres to accommodate an amphitheater, a larger playground, a fitness station, two pickleball courts, lighting, and a “promenade” sidewalk with exercise stations connecting different sections of the park.102_RM Amphitheater DSC_9805

The amphitheater, with terraced seating to accommodate 1,000 guests, features a 2,030-square-foot stage with a protective canopy and state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. It was home to the free-to-the-public Music in the Park series that began in 2016 with country star Collin Raye and continued until 2020. Today, the amphitheater hosts concerts, movie screenings, theatrical performances, and cultural festivals, including Rancho Mirage Festival of the Arts (see page 105), Jazz Under the Stars, Coachella Valley Symphony, and the Desert Theatricals Broadway Series.

Residents and visitors also like to converge on the Rancho Mirage Certified Farmers Market at the city’s Community Park on Friday mornings from October through May.

In 2004, Ranchito Chiquita — the oldest known house in Rancho Mirage — was disassembled stone by stone and moved from its original 1934 homestead near Clancy Lane to Rancho Mirage Community Park, where it was reassembled and remains today.

104_Veterans MemorialThere is also a Veteran Recognition Wall in the park that pays homage to Coachella Valley war veterans. In 2017, the City enhanced the wall by adding an eternal flame. The upgraded Veterans Recognition Wall now includes a Memorial Flame dedicated to past and present members of the United States military.

Rancho Mirage opened its first dog park in 2016. After some debate, acreage in the City’s northeastern corner was chosen as the site. Situated at the corner of Key Largo and Via Vail, the 4.5-acre canine compound includes a fenced area for small dog play and another slightly larger enclosure that gives big dogs room to run. For those who wish to walk — with or without a pup — the park’s thoughtful design incorporates a concrete path encircling its perimeter. There’s plentiful seating too — some shaded — inside the grassy fenced spaces.

The Bloch Cancer Survivors Park was dedicated in 1996. Adjacent to Rancho Mirage City Hall, the just-over-a-half-acre park is one of 24 similarly inspiring spaces that the Richard and Annette Bloch Foundation has established throughout the years in both the United States and Canada. Designed as a celebration of life and to encourage current cancer patients, the tranquil setting features a pyramid kiosk, tile benches, ponds, a hillside waterfall, and sculptures.

Michael S. Wolfson Park, located at the corner of DaVall and Frank Sinatra drives, celebrated its expansion in April 2023 — a full acre for new features such as picnic areas, scenic walking paths, and a larger parking lot. The parking lot offers electric vehicle charging stations and ADA parking stalls. Additional waste receptacles and drought-tolerant landscaping were added to support the City’s sustainability objectives. The expansion also eased the park’s access to neighboring Butler-Abrams Trail, a flat and easy route with mountain and golf course views.

Rancho Mirage Festival of the Arts

Since 2000, the community has come together through fine art, live jazz, and local food at the Rancho Mirage Festival of the Arts (formerly the Rancho Mirage Art Affaire). Held annually in November at the Rancho Mirage Community Park, the two-day art festival is one of the city’s most post popular signature events.105_RM Festival of the Arts

The event started as an open call that included about 100 artists and exhibits in a marketplace format. Their work included paintings, photography, studio glass, ceramics, and sculpture. Live jazz has also been a staple, with evening performances at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater, and local restaurants also participate. The format for the exhibits changed when the event was reimaged for its 20th anniversary in 2022. Under its new name, Rancho Mirage Festival of the Arts, the art program became an invitational. About 30 artists were invited by guest curator William Schinsky of the Coachella Valley Art Center to show their work in an exhibition format rather than a marketplace. Rancho Mirage restaurants continue to serve guest at the event, and the beer and wine garden remain. The jazz program has grown and gained its own billing as Jazz Under the Stars.

Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

Known for its fun, colorful, hands-on exhibits and encouraging spirit, the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert (CDMOD) is one of the Coachella Valley’s most beloved family-friendly attractions. The venue started as a grassroots community effort in 1986. It gained nonprofit status and began organizing its first exhibits and school outreach programs by 1990. The following years saw an influx of funding, traveling exhibits, and a Family Theater Series partnership with the City of Rancho Mirage Parks and Recreation Department.

Construction began on a permanent museum in 1996. Within a year, it had installed its first exhibits, hired professional staff, and enlisted enthusiastic volunteers. The grand opening, on February 1, 1998, invited the public to explore, play, and create.

106_CDMOD NighttimeThe museum, which welcomed more than 65,000 visitors during the first year, created opportunities for families with young children to explore art and science right in their backyard, a feat that previously required a day trip out to neighboring Orange County or Los Angeles. The year after its opening, CDMOD was named Nonprofit of the Year by the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce.

The venue continued to grow and expand as a community pillar for educational play, regularly attracting 50,000 to 60,000 visitors annually. An expansion began in 2010 included a multipurpose building, outdoor play area, and a hands-on learning lab, as well as a redesigned museum lobby.

CDMOD temporarily closed in 2020 and will reopen in March 2024 with reimagined experiences and programs that support the museum’s mission to encourage imaginative play, curiosity, and creativity through art and science. The reopening will mark the first phase of a five-phase plan that includes building expansions and new construction.

The variety of attractions, entertainment, and events make Rancho Mirage a truly enchanting place to explore, enjoy family-friendly adventures, and broaden intellectual horizons — a vibrant tapestry of experiences that continues to grow and become more dynamic.