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Julian, California: San Diego County's hilltop get-away

Updated on November 10, 2015
Throgmorton profile image

Go see, explore, take photos, and write it up! I love exploring places that I see on the Rand McNally Road Atlas or by serendipity.

Julian, California: An Introduction

Pine trees are found instead of palms. Apples orchards replace orange and avocado groves, and snow is sometimes commonplace in the short winter months. Quaint bed and breakfasts take the place of sprawling jet-set hotel campuses. It's hard to imagine this setting as part of San Diego, California, but the town of Julian is less than 45 minutes drive. Julian does not exactly fit the description of how San Diego County is imagined by non-locals and that's what makes it especially appealing to the residents of the county. It's a great place to get away and day trip or spend a couple of nights. The small town of 1,500 has a unique history beginning in the 1870s. Horse wagon rides, gold-mine tours, specialty shops and of course the local favorite, tasting a piece of Julian apple pie coupled with browsing antique stores are popular activities. A tourist trap it is, but don't let that stop you from having a visit. At 4,200 feet above sea level Julian is a unique destination in the county and a nice reprieve from the bustle of the dusty lowlands.

Main Street, Julian, California

Main Street, Julian.
Main Street, Julian. | Source
Looking toward the Julian Museum from Main & Washington Streets , Julian.
Looking toward the Julian Museum from Main & Washington Streets , Julian. | Source

Julian: A short history

Julian was settled as early as the 1850s but it really didn't get going until after the Civil War when gold was discovered in the vicinity. Among its earliest inhabitants were African-Americans and it was the center of the African-American community in San Diego for some time. The Robinson Hotel was the focal point of their community. Today a historical marker stands in front of the structure. In 1869 A.E. Coleman, a former slave, found gold in a nearby creek. Not without irony, many of the original prospectors in Julian were former Confederate soldiers. By 1870 the gold lode was found and it didn't take long before a settlement grew up around the claims. The first mine was named Washington Mine since the first claim was filed on February 22, 1870, George Washington's birthday. Apple trees were brought to the area shortly after and the cooler, moister air proved conducive to their growth. The famous Julian apple pie was born. The town is considered a historic district by the County and the State of California designated the town as state historic marker No. 412.

Julian, California: regional map

Julian, California:
Julian, CA 92036, USA

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San Diego:
San Diego, CA, USA

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Julian, California - when to visit?

What is your favorite time of year to visit Julian?

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Best time to visit Julian

Julian is great any time of the year but be mindful of the advantages and disadvantages throughout the seasons. As rule, if you dislikes crowds, stay away from Julian on weekends and holidays. Summer is the high season so if you do go during the summer try to avoid weekends. Summer also tends to be hot and dry in San Diego County and even Julian's high elevation won't shelter you tremendously from the heat. On the contrary, bring a hat and stay out of the sun as the higher elevation will result in more ultra-violet exposure. Autumn can be packed with crowds in Julian, especially on the weekends! The temperatures generally start to cool, especially the nights so Fall is a favorite time for San Diegans to head to the hills. Fire danger can be high during this time because of prolonged droughts and the 2003 Cedar Fire nearly wiped the town off the map. Winter is an excellent time to visit Julian. It will be cooler and can get cold and snowy. If it's raining down below in other areas of the county there's a good chance it will touch down as snow in Julian between December and March. The biggest caveat to visiting Julian, especially if it is snowing, or has recently snowed, is that EVERYONE in the county has the same idea of heading to the hills to see and play in the white stuff. Traffic can be horrible and stalled for miles. Spring is an excellent time to go. Weather is perfect although it could be rainy and cool if showers are heading over the county.

Julian: Seasonal (approximate) average high/low temperatures and precipitation

82.5 F
71 F
54 F
65 F
56 F
46 F
36 F
41 F
.25 inches
1.2 inches
4.75 inches
2.1 inches

Historic house and specialty shop, Julian, CA

Shop along Main Street, Julian.
Shop along Main Street, Julian. | Source

Julian Gold Rush Hotel Bed & Breakfast

Historic marker for Hotel Robinson, Julian.
Historic marker for Hotel Robinson, Julian. | Source

Julian: places to stay

Julian is a small town so don't expect chain hotels or sprawling resorts such as those found at Indian Reservations across the county. Consider a Bed and Breakfast or a small hotel if you want to overnight in Julian. There is a good selection. The Julian Gold Rush Hotel Bed & Breakfast is conveniently located on Main Street and offers 16 rooms among the main lodge and cottages. It has been recently renovated and bills itself as authentically historic. Just as cute, quaint, and charming is the Butterfield Bed and Breakfast which offers five cozy rooms. Offering 23 rooms the Julian Lodge offers rooms that lack the country western overkill but are otherwise comfortable and newly renovated. Off the beaten path but within walking distance of Main Street is the beautiful Oak Hill Inn. A quiet setting and simply decorated spacious rooms add to the stress-free environment. A private-pool makes this a nice option for couples as well as those with (quiet) kids. High end is the Orchard Hill County Inn offering 22 rooms including cottages. Overlooking the town, the Inn is exclusive with a folksy but elegant country décor and within walking distance of the town.

Julian, California - places to eat

The famous Julian Pie Company.  Well known for its namesake dessert.
The famous Julian Pie Company. Well known for its namesake dessert. | Source
Inside the Julian Pie Company.
Inside the Julian Pie Company. | Source

Places to eat, Julian

Granny's Kitchen. A favorite breakfast place in town.
Granny's Kitchen. A favorite breakfast place in town. | Source

Julian: places to eat

There is no shortage of places to eat in this small town and ranging from Mexican to American to Italian cuisine. Things to consider are crowds, noise-levels, group size and wait times, as well as price. Just about any place you eat will serve the famous Julian apple pie on the side. Julian Cafe is a good place to enjoy a hamburger and a piece of the famous apple pie. Other dishes there are hit or miss: avoid the taco soup and expect crowds on weekends as it's dead-center Main Street between A and B streets. The Julian Pie Company is not to miss and a good place to purchase a pie to take home with you. It's this company that sells its pies all over the county but try to save it for dessert as that's what they dish up. ice ream on the side also adds to the teat. Soups and Such Cafe offers ... soups and salads and sandwiches too. It's a local favorite and off Main Street upstairs. If you can't find it, just ask. Granny's Kitchen is one of the few, other than the bed and breakfasts, that offers breakfast in town. Pancakes are reputedly plate-sized. Find it on the east end of Main Street just past the junction of Main and C. At the intersection of Washington and Main is Miner's Diner which also offers breakfast. It's a good place to soak in the nostalgic atmosphere with an old fashioned fountain drink. Just before the junction of Main Street along 78 is the Rong Branch Restaurant & Gift Shop - perfect for eating and browsing or browsing while you are waiting on your order. If in doubt, the Burgers won't leave you hungry at this place.

Candles. Specialty shop along Main Street, Julian.
Candles. Specialty shop along Main Street, Julian. | Source
The Warm Hearth specialty shop, Julian.
The Warm Hearth specialty shop, Julian. | Source
The Birdwatcher specialty shop, Julian.
The Birdwatcher specialty shop, Julian. | Source

Julian: specialty shops

All it takes is the two block stroll down Main Street between Washington and C Streets to see one of the reasons why people come to Julian. It's great for browsing specialty shops ranging from antiques to leather goods. A good place for those niche or themed Christmas gifts. In between you can stop in at a diner for a meal or sit at a drug store bar stool and sip an old- fashioned float. The Julian Cider Mill on Main Street is a good place for preserved foods: jams, ciders, snacks. You can be sure that the much of it is locally grown too. On B Street you'll find the Bird Watcher, a wildlife themed store. T-shirts, home décor, and kitchen utensils are all for sale. At the east end of Main is Kathy's Dress Shop, a place to buy ladies' clothes and located in a historic house. The Julian Cider Mill, The Candy Basket, and the Warm Hearth of Julian are all located on or close to Main Street and offer items and more which reflect their namesake. Beautifully scented, crafted, and packaged soaps can be found in the small Julian Soap Company store at 2116 Main Street in an upstairs suite. Don't mistake them for candy!

Miner's Diner interior, Julian, CA

Drug store-cafe in Julian: Miner's Diner.
Drug store-cafe in Julian: Miner's Diner. | Source

Julian: things to do

You can't come to Julian without seeing a gold mine - that's how the town got its start. Try the Eagle and High Peak Mine tours on C Street. It costs 10 dollars and includes a "load" of history of the mine and town. Cash only. Yes, you can try your hand at gold panning too. A family friendly option is the Smith Ranch and Julian Gold Mining Railroad. It's a mini-RR so don't pin your hopes on a scenic narrow gauge, but a nice ride for kids and well connected with the gold mining theme of the town. It has affiliations with the LDS Church so there is a pitch to introduce you to the LDS Church (Mormons). You are never far from wine while in San Diego County and Julian is no exception to this: the Blue Door Winery is located on B Street while the Witch Creek Winery is located on Main Street. Cheers! Historical Tours of Julian on Washington Street offer walking tours of the history-rich town. Finally, a tour of the apple orchards is a must and picking is included in the Volcan Valley Apple Farm and Apple Starr Orchard.

Heading toward Julian, CA on SR 78

Looking east along SR 78 - the road to Julian showing Volcan Mountain in the background.
Looking east along SR 78 - the road to Julian showing Volcan Mountain in the background. | Source

Wagon rides, Main Street, Julian, CA

Horse carriage rides along Main Street.
Horse carriage rides along Main Street. | Source

Julian - local map

Julian Pie Company, 2225 Main Street, Julian, California:
2225 Main Street, Julian, CA 92036, USA

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Julian Cafe & Bakery 2112 Main Street, Julian, California:
2112 Main Street, Julian, CA 92036, USA

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Julian Lodge, 2720 C Street, Julian, CA:
2720 C Street, Julian, CA 92036, USA

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    • Throgmorton profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      ArtDiva - thank you! You can order the pie online through the Julian Pie Company website. I often send these as Christmas gifts.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Stopped for a while in this wonderfully historical little mining town of Julian on the way to Borrego Springs to visit a friend many years ago. Wish I had had a piece of the "famous" apple pie, but just passing through with no time to stay. Nicely written guide through one of the little towns that dot the map of California.


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