What to Do in Julian, California (Camping, Restaurants, Hotels and More)
This little mountain getaway is a perfect day trip from San Diego
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 boom town/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.
Table of Contents
- Julian Gold Mining Tours
- Apple Picking
- Downtown Julian
- Places to Eat in Julian (and Drink Cider)
- Julian Wineries
- Hiking in Julian
- Oasis Camel Dairy
- California Wolf Center
- Seasonal Events: Julian Apple Days and Julian Country Christmas
- Camping in Julian
- Julian Hotels, Lodges and Inns
- See Julian as Part of a Tour
- Julian, Ca Weather
- How to Get to Julian
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.
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.
(There is a Julian Mining Company Groupon for discounted panning for gold at at the moment.)
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.
There are a number of u-pick apple orchards as apple picking in Julian is incredibly popular. Apple picking season is in the fall and all ages love it. 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 (last year was slimmer than usual because of the drought, for example). Check this list of Julian orchards for more details.
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.
Places to Eat in Julian (and Drink Cider)
The Julian Market and Deli (no website) is 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 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, 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
There are dozens of hiking trails in and around Julian for all levels. Most are O.K. for leashed dogs. For a check here for a full list of Julian trails.
Oasis Camel Dairy
As one nears Julian on Highway 78, you’ll see an increasing number of cattle ranches, horses and other animals in fields beside the roads. Several of the most notable are business open to the public. One of the most notable is the Oasis Camel Dairy, which makes and sells camel milk soap, lotions and chocolate and also offer tours. Check their website for opening times.
California Wolf Center
The California Wolf Center is a rehabilitation center for wolves with an emphasis on 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 at the time of this writing, there are several good ones, including California Wolf Center.
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 (population 1,500).
Camping in Julian
While there are a number of places to go camping in Julian, William Heise County Park is among the most convenient because 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 spending the night, accommodations are cozy, comfortable and mostly family-owned. Top choices include:
- Wikiup Bed and Breakfast (pet-friendly)
- Orchard Inn (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor)
- Julian Gold Rush Hotel (located close to the Julian Mining Company)
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 customizable private tour can take you to Julian, hike Slot Canyon, Font’s Point for a panoramic view of Anza-Borrego State Park’s badlands and more with insider tips from a local. Or, go on a similar itinerary with a group.
Julian, Ca Weather
Julian, Ca weather is quite different than most parts of San Diego. 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. The current weather in Julian is:
How to Get to Julian
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 McDonalds 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 is your favorite thing to do in Julian?