As old Western mining towns go, Julian isn’t nearly as upscale as Park City. It’s definitely less funky than Bisbee. It’s less authentic than Bodie. And it’s less historically significant than Virginia City.
However, it has two assets those other places don’t. First is apples. Julian is surrounded by orchards. The second asset is its location. Julian is within 2-3 hours’ drive from 15 million people, hundreds of whom flock to this San Diego County mountain town to stroll, shop and, of course, eat.
Julian is located in the Cuyamaca Mountains at an elevation of 4,000 feet. This is a transition zone between oak- and chapparal-covered hills and pine forests. Gold was discovered here in 1870. It resulted in a modest gold rush that didn’t last long. Nobody got fabulously rich. But many of the miners were farmers who found the conditions here ideal for growing apples.
Visiting Julian — how do you like them apples?
The center of town is a two-block stretch of Main St., where you’ll find weathered wooden buildings containing shops and cafes. Parking in this area can be a problem, especially on holiday weekends. If you can’t find a space on Main St., you’ll find parking lots not far away. Try to arrive by mid-morning. But Main St. isn’t the only action. As you drive into town, you’ll notice more shops and cafes north of town with their own parking lots.
I think it should be a road-tripper’s law that if you visit Julian, you’re required to eat some apple pie and consider taking one or two whole pies home. Just about every restaurant and café offers fresh apple pie. My choice was the Julian Pie Company, where you can get Dutch apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Awesome! This, of course, was strictly for research purposes.
For a list of attractions, shops and eateries, go to www.historic-julian.com
A majority of Julian’s visitors are day-trippers from San Diego. So you won’t find any big chain hotels or motels here – just lots of quaint bed-and-breakfasts. The web site offers listings.
Down the road
Julian and the surrounding area offer lots of outdoor activities as well. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Mt. Laguna Recreation Area are south of town via SR 79. Both offer camping. Head east on SR 78, and you’ll corkscrew down the Banner Grade to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
North of Julian on SR 79 is Mission Santa Ysabel, which dates back to 1818. It was an asistencia, or sub-mission, managed by Mission San Diego de Alcala. The present church was built in 1924. There’s a small museum on the church grounds. Visitors are welcome from 8 to 4 (until 5:30 from Memorial Day to Labor Day). Donations are appreciated.
Here’s a tip for road-trippers. Mesa Grande Rd., which leaves SR 79 just north of Mission Santa Ysabel, winds 12 miles through gorgeous cattle ranching country to SR 76 near Lake Henshaw. This is a great route if you have a sports car or motorcycle. Or even a Hyundai Elantra GT.
Julian is a fine place to visit year-round, but I like spring the best. The hills are a dazzling green, and wildflowers bloom along the highways. Spend a half day to a full day in town, depending on how much you like to shop.
Julian is just an hour’s drive from San Diego. To get there, simply take Interstate 8 east to SR 79, then head north. Total distance is about 60 miles. From Los Angeles and Orange Counties, you have a choice of two routes, both of which are about 130 miles. The fastest route is via I-5 south to Oceanside, then SR 78 directly to Julian. The scenic route is via Temecula, reached by SR 91 and I-15. Exit at SR 79 south, then drive 59 miles through beautiful countryside to Julian.
Enjoy your apple pie!