Will Rogers State Historic Park & Ranch – Pacific Palisades
Visited: December 2021
It’s hard to believe as a native Angelino, I had never gone to Will Rogers State Park. Truthfully, I had never given it too much thought. It was time to rectify that glaring omission, and on a gorgeous Saturday morning I, along with Tracy and our four-legged daughter Remi, decided to make the 30-mile journey to the Santa Monica Mountains near Pacific Palisades to check out the park, one of its many scenic, ocean-view trails and also take a guided tour of Rogers’ renovated ranch house.
To say Will Rogers wore numerous hats in his life would be a vast understatement. In the early 20th century, Rogers was one of the most well-known celebrities on the face of the planet. Not only was he a famed humorist/philosopher, but also a movie star, Broadway star, cowboy, newspaper columnist, radio personality, philanthropist and one of America’s, if not the world’s, most quoted persons. When he perished in a plane crash in the summer of 1935, the world grieved. Flags in the U.S. were flown at half-staff, and “more than 50,000 mourners filed by his casket in Glendale.” When he died, he was the second largest grossing movie star (behind Shirley Temple). The New York Times dedicated 13 pages on Rogers.
His legacy still lives on today in the mountains west of Los Angeles. In the early 1920s Rogers purchased land on these hillsides that would eventually become his 186-acre estate, complete with a 31-room ranch house built in 1928 where the family lived until his untimely death. It underwent a $5 million restoration in 2003 and re-opened to the public in 2006.
Nine years after Rogers and accomplished aviator Wiley Post were killed in that Alaskan plane crash, Rogers widow, Betty, passed away, bequeathing the land to the state of California as a memorial to her husband’s legacy. Now it was time for us to look at the gorgeous scenery and tour the historic ranch house. As it turned out, we arrived just in time, because a lot of other people had the same idea of enjoying a gorgeous Southern California morning, and the parking area was nearly full. Since it was shortly before 10 a.m., we decided to take the first guided tour of the day (free) of Rogers Ranch House. Unfortunately, being a historic house, Remi would not be able to go on the tour (accidents will happen, you know), so Tracy took her on a little walk while I took the tour. Rogers famously stated, “I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.” True to Rogers’ quote, Remi has never voted, except for dry food over wet food.
As has happened a few times on my local sojourns, I was the only person on the tour. And, yes, I do shower.
We admired the front porch as our two docents dispensed information regarding Will Rogers and telling tales of the family history. Rogers had always wanted to find a “quiet retreat where his family could live more simply.” In addition to the ranch house, there was also a stable for his horses, corrals, riding ring, roping area (he was a champion roper with a trick roping act he performed in Wild West shows and vaudeville), a polo field, golf course and hiking trails.
Rogers was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation (both of his parents were partly of Cherokee descent), located in the Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. He was known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son.” Rogers once said, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” He was even dubbed “The Cherokee Kid.” The Will Rogers Museum (photo below from internet) is located in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Rogers loved to entertain, and we entered the Main Room where the likes of Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Charles Lindbergh and other luminaries of the time visited.
As you can see, we visited shortly before Christmas, and outside of a few head of cattle, we navigated the room easily.
Actually, that is Rogers’ stuffed roping calf. Rogers was certainly a guy who knew all the ropes.
Fortunately, I was on my best behavior and didn’t have to be told to “saddle down.” The docent said the gorgeous silver-decorated saddles and bridles were used in the Rose Parade.
There are lots of ropes, saddles and Native American rugs and blankets.
As we headed toward the kitchen there were paintings of Will and Betty on the wall, which were painted after his death.
I think this was the 1920s version of an iPhone.
Ahead of their time, the Rogers family had an all-electric kitchen.
Soon I found myself in the “cozy” parlor/music room/library, where Rogers and his guests would sing and play live music on the piano, banjo and other instruments.
There are lots of family photos and paintings spread across the room.
Back outside, we stood on the patio, which is where Will and Betty loved to entertain, and where everyone “could enjoy the fresh ocean breezes.” The property stretches down to Will Rogers State Beach.
That, of course, included Remi, who joined us here for a few moments.
We walked upstairs, where the rooms are filled with books and other memorabilia.
I saw a couple of bedrooms, and the typewriter Rogers used to convey his witticisms.
There were also sketches of Rogers …
… and some of the books he had penned.
Before leaving, our docents showed us a few more books they thought were worth reading about this multi-faceted man.
Meanwhile, Remi looked out over the back 40 as she awaited our walk toward the Inspiration Point Loop.
We strolled past the stables …
…. and what Rogers jokingly called, “The Barn that Jokes Built.”
Speaking of being buried, it was time for the old man to start the walk toward Inspiration Point. Tracy had me go ahead as she put paramedics on speed dial.
The views became increasingly better, however a haze meant that we could not get a greatest view of the ocean. On a clear day, it is said you can see all the way to Catalina.
At one point, we looked back on the Polo Field where stars like Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Rogers used to play. It is the last remaining public grass polo field in Los Angeles County.
Our docent told us that in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the polo field was used as a substitute for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where the Enterprise crew landed the Klingon vessel they had commandeered. President Obama is a Star Trek fanatic, and when he came to L.A., his helicopter once landed on the polo field. It didn’t crush any trash cans or leave a mark like the Klingon Bird of Prey did in the movie.
Other dogs joined Remi on the trail, who now had to lead me up the hill.
We spied houses where the other half live. It was a gorgeous day.
We reached another viewpoint overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and Remi told us this was the end of her uphill climb, so we obliged her wishes (as we always do)..
Back at the ranch, we walked into the converted garage and watched a film about Rogers There also tidbits about his life on the walls.
Meanwhile, Remi hoped she wouldn’t be the next subject of Will’s roping prowess.
Our short trip to Will Rogers State Park was now in the books, but we’ll return to search out some easy hiking trails for the three of us and learn more about this fascinating individual, who everyone should know about.
Rogers once famously said, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” and we certainly liked our visit to his house, park and our abbreviated dog hike. If you get the chance and it’s one of those beautiful Southern California days, Will Rogers Historic State Park and Ranch House makes for an interesting and peaceful diversion. Be sure and take the house tour. Bring your dog and have yourself a picnic. It might be a little out of your way, but just think of what Rogers might have said about that minor obstacle: “Where there’s a Will, there’s a way!”
Will Rogers State Park
1501 Will Rogers State Park Road
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
8 a.m. – Sunset
Parking $12 per car (Seniors $11)
Ranch House Tours 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Horse Riding Lessons available every day except Monday
Polo games every weekend, except Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day, from May to mid-October.
Dogs must be on a leash of no more than six feet in length and under the direct control of their owner at all times while in the park. They are not permitted on some trails (check website)