Throughout Southern California, Julian is known for its apples. With at least seven varieties grown in nearby orchards, this is the place to pick, purchase, and eat delicious apples. But that’s not all Julian has to offer. This small town is also full of mining history, charming shops, and natural wonders.
Julian is located about an hour northeast of San Diego and 2.5 hours southeast of Los Angeles. If you just have a day to spend here, it will be worth the trip. But you could also make this a terrific weekend getaway.
Here’s what to do in Julian in the fall.
1. Learn About Local History
After the discovery of gold in the area in 1870, the town of Julian began to grow. Housing, shops, and services were needed to support the miners. The gold rush only lasted 30 years, and then Julian became a farming community known for its apples.
Today, visitors can learn all about local history at the Julian Pioneer Museum. Explore the collection of vintage clothing, household and mining equipment, and Native American artifacts. To continue the exploration, follow the self-guided historic walking tour organized by the Julian Chamber of Commerce.
2. Go Apple Picking
Apple picking is a classic fall activity, and Julian is the place to hand select the apples you’ll take home. The season for apple picking is short and can change from year to year, so be sure to call ahead to check availability.
Apple Starr Orchard is a great option for a selection of organic apples and pears. The grandkids can participate, too, since many of the trees have long branches. You can also ask to borrow a picking pole.
Calico Ranch Orchard has been growing apples since the 1930s! In addition to a selection of apples and pears to pick, Calico also sells cider.
If you’d like to pick strawberries and raspberries in addition to apples, Julian Farm & Orchard is for you. They also offer a variety of fun activities including hayrides, a petting zoo, archery, and axe throwing.
3. Savor Apple Pie
The apple pie alone is reason enough to make the drive to Julian. Forget about your diet and come prepared to pig out on a big slice of warm pie, preferably served a la mode. Better yet, take a whole pie home to share with friends and family.
Julian Pie Company not only sells these delicious treats, but all of the apples used in their pies come from their own orchards. This family-owned business has been in operation since 1989, and today it’s run by the founders and their children and grandchildren. In the event you don’t like apple pie, don’t worry -- they also carry other options like blueberry, strawberry, and rhubarb.
If you want a pie like the ones your mom used to make, head to Mom’s Pies. Try the basic apple pie or one of many delicious varieties like apple crumb or apple boysenberry. Or for something different, order an apple dumpling baked with nutmeg, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
4. Pan For Gold
Long before Julian was known for its apples, it was a gold-mining town. In fact, during its heyday in the late 18th century, there were 200 gold mines in operation in the area.
Today, some of the mining tunnels have been restored and opened to the public for tours. Visitors can learn about the dark and cramped conditions miners were subject to for 12 hours a day. Eagle Mining Co. offers tours seven days a week; they include access to the museum, underground tunnels, and even the gold-panning area. After the tour, you can enjoy a picnic lunch on the historic grounds.
5. Shop For Unique Gifts, Crafts, And Antiques
There are plenty of great gift shops and boutiques to explore in Julian. Antique collectors will want to check out Wynola Junction Antiques & Collectibles, where 30 dealers sell antiques, glassware, quilts, tools, toys, and more in a 3,500-square-foot space. To purchase Julian souvenirs, be sure to visit Warm Hearth on Main Street. Peruse their selection of locally made jams, jellies, barbecue sauces, and coffee. Crow and Lilac sells natural bath and beauty products including soaps, scrubs, and body lotions.
6. Learn About Wolves In The Wild
The California Wolf Center is committed to the return of wolves to the wild. To this end, they provide educational opportunities for visitors and a refuge for wolves. On a visit, you’ll see two breeds of wolves: the Mexican gray wolf and the North American gray wolf.
If you’re strolling the shops and cafes of Julian’s Main Street, you can enjoy the free visitor center, which offers exhibits on wolf biology and ecology, information about conservation, and children’s activities. Be sure to check out the nature store located in the visitor center.
To learn even more about wolves -- and have the chance to see them in their habitat -- be sure to book one of their tours.
7. Sample Local Wine And Cider
Not every apple in the region is used to make pie. With the growing popularity of hard cider in the United States, Julian has begun to offer a nice variety of this adult beverage. And fortunately, there are places to sample the cider before buying. At Julian Station or the Miner’s Saloon, visitors can sample products by Julian Hard Cider. Check out their quirky ciders including Pearnormal, Razzmatazz, Apple Pie, and Cherry Bomb.
If wine is more your style, that’s just fine. There are several wineries in the region, and most offer tasting rooms. For a relaxing location that features impressive red wines, be sure to try Volcan Mountain Winery. Buy a bottle of wine to enjoy with a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon taking in the scenery. Or try a glass of ice-cold sangria at the Blue Door Winery. This former livery stable is now a charming and comfortable tasting room. For the opportunity to sample a variety of wines from the higher elevations of San Diego County, head to Julian Wine & Chocolate. After sampling the wines, be sure to try some of the locally made chocolates.
8. Be Amazed By The Dark Skies
Due to light pollution, the Milky Way cannot be viewed in most of the U.S., but Julian is an exception. Visitors with an interest in astronomy can take advantage of the town’s designation as a member of the Dark Sky Network and enjoy excellent views of stars and planets in the night sky. Local residents regularly organize free viewing events and provide powerful telescopes to assist.
9. Enjoy Some Comfort Food
After a busy day apple picking, cider tasting, and exploring mines, you’ll be hungry. If you’re looking for a great burger or some tasty barbecue, you won’t be disappointed in Julian. This town is full of restaurants serving up delicious comfort food.
The Julian Grille serves classic American fare in a cozy cottage built in the 1920s. You can’t go wrong with their BLT, chicken pot pie, or baby back ribs. Miner’s Diner -- located in the first brick building in Julian -- is the quintessential 1950s diner with a menu featuring burgers, fries, and milkshakes. If you’re looking to grab food for your picnic, then head to Soups & Such Cafe. Indulge in the barbecue brisket burger, or for something lighter, opt for the half sandwich and soup combo.
If you’re not looking for a full meal, but want a break from sightseeing, try Julian Tea & Cottage Arts. Located in an old miner’s house, this is the ideal place for tea, scones, and finger sandwiches. Take some time after tea to browse the shop, which features English teapots and tea accessories. If you’re coming on a weekend, be sure to make reservations.
What To Know Before You Go
Winter can get pretty cold in Julian, so it’s not the ideal time for a visit. If you’d like to be here during the peak of apple season, plan a trip during the fall, but do be prepared for crowds. Spring and summer are also lovely and a bit quieter.
Throughout Southern California, Julian is synonymous with apples. The delicious fruit is definitely a reason to make the trip here, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Julian and its environs offer visitors much to do for a day trip or weekend getaway.