In recent decades, Julian, Ca has been primarily known for its apples and for various apple products like pies and cider. Historically, gold was discovered nearby in 1870 and it became a boomtown/tent city of aspiring gold rush miners.
Today, whether you’re making a day trip from San Diego or plan to stay longer, what to do in Julian, Ca, includes more than just old gold mines and apple orchards, but both remain a central focus. In fact, the mountain town is even a California Historical Landmark.
We’ve put together all the top things to do in Julian CA, as well as our top hotel suggestions and how to get here.
Julian Gold Mining Tours
There are several companies offering gold mining tours so that guests can learn more about San Diego’s only gold rush. This is such a unique thing to do, making it one of our favorite Julian activities.
Julian Mining Company
For those who want a taste of gold mining without the commitment of an extended tour, the Julian Mining Company, located just a mile or so from downtown Julian, offers the opportunity, popular with kids, to pan for your own gold, alongside some edutainment about the local mining history.
Eagle and High Peak Mine
Eagle and High Peak Mine offers one-hour tours of what it was like inside an 1870s gold mine. Guests wind their way through the old mine tunnels and can also pan for gold.
Apple Picking in Julian California
There are a number of u-pick apple orchards in the area, as apple picking in Julian, California, is incredibly popular. Julian apple picking season is in the fall and all ages love it. It’s romantic with your partner and cheerful fun with your kids.
Orchards provide bags or baskets to fill and poles to grab apples with. You can even pick pears here, especially at pet-friendly O’Dell’s Organic Orchard. The largest orchard is Volcan Valley Apple Farm.
It is always best to check which orchards are still open for a u-pick adventure at the time of your visit as harvests vary.
The commercial/business part of downtown Julian is actually very small. It’s really mostly a single street (the aptly-named Main Street) of several blocks. It’s very picturesque and has a bit of an Old West look and feel.
In keeping with this spirit, you will doubtlessly see a horse-drawn carriage tour by the Julian Carriage Company, a very popular thing to do here.
Tourists enjoy shopping for antiques, crafts, yarn, hand-knit accessories and specialty foods on Main Street in a small-town atmosphere.
Julian Pioneer Museum
If you’re interested in American history, don’t miss out on this pioneer museum. Located in an 1800s blacksmith shop, the little museum is an opportunity to peer into the rich history of the area.
From the lifestyle of Native Americans in the area, to the frenzied activity of the Gold Rush. There’s a lot to learn about and enjoy here.
Places to Eat in Julian (and Drink Cider)
The Julian Market and Deli are popular for those who may want a picnic lunch to take to a campground, hiking or elsewhere.
If there’s one thing to eat in Julian, please make it apple pie. It’s extraordinary. Julian Pie Company is the most popular. It’s possible to buy pie by the slice (with toppers such as ice cream or even melted cheddar cheese), whole pies or pies to bake at home. Their little Main Street cafe offers good coffee, jugs of apple cider, and a lovely little patio area to sit in.
The other popular spot is Mom’s Pie House, also located on Main Street. They have another location in Wynola on the way to Julian where you can even take a baking class to learn how a perfect apple (and other) pie is made.
Craving a milkshake or burger? Then head to Miner’s Diner and Soda Fountain for classic treats and eats. This 50’s diner has a history dating back to 1885 as it has over time been a general mercantile store, pharmacy, cafe, and gift shop.
Apple cider is also available at many Julian restaurants in regular and hard apple cider form. A visit to the Julian Cider Mill, family-owned and operated for over 30 years, may give you more insight into the process and the final product. During apple season, they’ll press cider on an antique press in view of visitors.
Head 4 miles west of Main Street and you’ll land at Julian Hard Cider‘s Miner’s Saloon, located in an old apple packing facility. Here, it’s possible to sample their award-winning hard ciders made from Julian apples (though you can find their suds all over Julian and elsewhere in San Diego).
In recent years, Julian has also received attention for the number of well-regarded wineries in the area. Popular San Diego wineries like Orfila and Witch Creek Winery have wine tasting rooms on Main Street.
San Diego wineries like Volcan Mountain Winery, located about 2 miles from downtown Julian, have vineyards with cozy tasting rooms on property. You’ll find the Dolcezza apple wine here which I tasted when the winery was under previous ownership. Despite Dolcezza meaning “sweet” or “sweetness” in Italian, to me, it tastes more like a Sauvignon Blanc with hints of apple.
The wine is made from 100% mixed variety apples grown at the winery. A visit here is also a fun thing to do in Julian with dogs as this winery is pet-friendly.
Menghini Winery is another small production Julian winery with vineyards and apple orchards also at the base of Volcan Mountain. They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. Visitors are welcome to bring their own lunch.
Hiking in Julian, CA
There are dozens of hiking trails in and around Julian for all levels. Most are okay for leashed dogs. If you’re interested in the Californian wilderness, head just out of town on one of these trails.
Volcan Mountain Trail
Looking for gorgeous vistas over the rolling hills and the distant ocean? The Volcan Mountain Trail inside Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is a moderate out and back hike with picturesque views.
It’s the most popular hike in the area, so don’t expect to be the only ones there. If you’re in Julian during wildflower season, it’s even more spectacular.
Sunset Trail and Big Laguna Lake
This beautiful hiking trail is best between April and September, when the lake is at its fullest. It’s also a great running trail, with minimal elevation gain and a comfortable distance of 4.2 miles.
Five Oaks Trail
Another fantastic hike in the Volcan Mountain Reserve is the Five Oaks Trail. It’s shorter than the Volcan Mountain Trail, and very popular among bird-watchers.
Check here for a full list of Julian trails.
Oasis Camel Dairy
As one nears Julian town on Highway 78, you’ll see an increasing number of cattle ranches, horses and other animals in fields beside the roads. One of the most notable is the Oasis Camel Dairy, which makes and sells camel milk soap, lotions, and chocolate. They also offer tours.
So, if you’re looking for one of the most unusual Julian things to do, how often do you get to tour a camel dairy? Check their website for opening times.
California Wolf Center
The California Wolf Center is a rehabilitation center for wolves. The center emphasizes public outreach to increase awareness of these beautiful animals, reduce wolf-livestock conflict, and promote wolf recovery in California.
This endangered species has been absent in the wild in California since 1924 until recently, thanks to the center’s efforts. The center is home to several packs of grey wolves and offers public and private tours. Reservations are required to visit.
It’s not a bad idea to check Groupon for Julian discounts as some of the attractions on this list are known for offering these deals from time to time.
Seasonal Events: Julian Apple Days and Julian Country Christmas
The single event Julian is most known for is the annual Julian Apple Days festival, held around late September each year. It’s a celebration of all things apple including a pie contest, crafts, multiple food vendors and much more family fun.
It’s also a popular destination during the holidays for tourists to see a wintry, old-time Christmas at the Julian Country Christmas with sleigh rides, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Santa and more old-fashioned fun. These are the single two most crowded times of the year to visit the tiny town of Julian CA (population 1,500).
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Lake
While small, Julian is a brilliant base for an incredible amount of nature explorations. This gorgeous park is open to camping, hiking, horseback riding, and a lot more. Explore meadows and creeks, and bring a picnic to enjoy on the banks of Lake Cuyamaca, which is also a popular fishing spot.
Camping in Julian
While there are a number of places to go camping in Julian, William Heise County Park is among the most convenient. It’s about a 10-minute drive from the conveniences on Main Street. It’s a lovely state park with various camping (tent, camper, group tent, cabins) and hiking opportunities.
The cabins are simple but clean with wooden bunk beds (bring your own sleeping bag and pad), small table and chairs, a propane-fueled faux fireplace, electrical outlets and lights. Each cabin also has its own fire ring and picnic table outside, too. Book as far in advance as possible. The cost of our most recent cabin was about $65/night.
Julian Hotels, Lodges and Inns
You won’t find any big hotels in Julian. If you’re spending the night, accommodations are cozy, comfortable, and mostly family-owned — perfect for mountain getaways. I help people plan vacations to San Diego so may be compensated if you book tickets, tours, and hotels through the links below.
Julian Gold Rush Hotel
Step back in time, to the gold rush heyday of Julian. This charming inn is an 1890s historic hotel, with old-world decor and wonderful service. If you’re looking for accommodation that is an experience in itself, this hotel is the perfect place for you. The location is also ideal, a quick walk from the Julian Mining Company. It’s also the oldest hotel in Southern California.
Wikiup Bed and Breakfast
If you prefer to have your own space while traveling, this lovely little B&B offers individual units. Each has their own kitchenette, balcony, and private bathroom. They’re totally self-contained, but if you’d prefer a little company, take a stroll through the garden or kick off a conversation in the shared lounge.
Tucker Peak Lodge
Head just a little way out of town for spacious wood-floored rooms at this elegant lodge. You’ll enjoy mountain views and your own fireplace in your room, so you’re guaranteed a snug stay. The lodge also has games and a library to keep everyone entertained, even on a rainy day.
See Julian as Part of a Tour
If pressed for time, a common way to experience Julian and other gorgeous mountain spots in San Diego is via a full-day tour. This small tour can take you through Julian, on small hikes in Anza-Borrego State Park, and elsewhere with insider tips from a local.
One day may not be quite enough to experience the full beauty of the area, but you’ll see some of Julian and its surroundings.
Julian, California Weather
Julian, California weather is quite different than most parts of San Diego County. At an altitude of over 4000 feet, it actually does snow there lightly in winter. Temperatures also reach higher highs and lower lows than in the coastal regions.
It’s important to check the weather before heading there but simply note that it’s usually advisable to wear layers if spending a full day in Julian. Even if it’s warm during the day, it can be quite chilly in the evening.
How to Get to Julian San Diego
Depending on where you are in the San Diego area, the picturesque town of Julian, Ca can be a 1 to 1.5-hour drive north and east into the mountains, mostly on Highway 78. It is a gorgeous, but winding two-lane road so be sure to take measures if prone to car sickness.
The last significant town you’ll pass on the way there is Ramona. There are several gas stations and other stores, chain fast food restaurants (and other sit down restaurants) like Rubio’s and McDonald’s here in case you may want to make a strategic stop on the way to Julian.
If you’ve passed Ramona but still want to stop before arriving in Julian, Dudley’s Bakery on Highway 78 in Santa Ysabel has been a famous local institution for over 30 years. It’s about a half-hour or so before downtown Julian. Note that the parking lot there can get very crowded on weekends.
What are your favorite things to do in Julian?