The Top 10 Things to Do in Julian, California

Autumn By The Lake
Denise Vasquez / Getty Images

Julian, California first drew the attention of gold miners in the late 1800s, with people flocking to the area hoping to make their fortunes in the gold mines. Not much has changed since that short-lived gold rush, and today's Julian continues to exude small-town charm and country friendliness. Located 60 miles northeast of San Diego, the town makes for a great day trip from America's Finest City. Its 4,200-foot-high location in the Laguna Mountains gives it a climate that's unusual in sunny Southern California, with four distinct seasons prime for apple picking in the fall and hiking in the summer. Read on to discover the top things to do in Julian.

01 of 10

Search for the Milky Way

Milky Way above dead trees on a partly cloudy night
Kevin Key / Slworking / Getty Images

One of the only places in the U.S. where you can see the Milky Way, Julian was officially accredited as an International Dark Sky Community by the International Dark-Sky Association in May 2021—the second in California to earn this recognition. Stargazers from all over flock here to marvel at the spiral galaxy, which can be enjoyed in and around town, including at Lake Cuyamaca and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. For astronomy buffs, consider planning a trip to Palomar Observatory for a guided daytime tour, or during late summer for the annual Julian StarFest.

02 of 10

Learn About the California Gold Rush

Gold Rush
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Explore the history of Southern California's Mother Lode, that short-lived gold rush of 1869. Tours at the Eagle Mining Company will show you the underground operations and the gold milling process. View the antique gold mining equipment on display, or pretend to be a miner for a day as you pan for gold. You can also indulge your inner treasure-seeker at Julian Mining Company, where gem sluicing and gold panning are popular activities. Come during late spring for Gold Rush Days, when you can step back in time during historical encampments, reenactments, and demonstrations.

03 of 10

Sample Local Apples

Apple Pie
Allison Cherry / Getty Images

Julian is at its most charming (and therefore busiest) during the fall when the leaves change color, and local apples ripen. In September and October, you can stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, buy some of your favorites, or pick your own. In late September, the Julian Apple Days Festival attracts visitors from throughout the state with wine tastings, games, and activities. But even if you travel to the town outside of apple season, be sure to stop by Julian Pie Company or Julian Cafe and Bakery for a slice of apple pie—with a generous scoop of ice cream, of course.

04 of 10

Summit Mountain Peaks at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Eduardo Fonseca Arraes / Getty Images
14592-14674 CA-79, Julian, CA 92036, USA
Phone +1 760-765-3023

With more than 100 miles of trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a hiker's dream. There are several ways to reach the top of Cuyamaca Peak, the second tallest point in San Diego County at 6,512 feet. The most popular method is to take the Azalea Trail up and the Lookout Fire Road down. Totaling 7.7 miles, the trek is worth the effort; from the summit, you'll get a sweeping view of the surrounding area, including the San Diego River basin and Mexico to the south. Stonewall Peak also boasts stunning views of Anza Borrego, the Laguna Mountains, and occasionally the Salton Sea. It's best reached by taking the 3.9-mile, out-and-back Stonewall Peak Trail, which is rated as moderately difficult due to the number of switchbacks. The park also has two campgrounds, Paso Picacho and Green Valley, and a visitors center.

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05 of 10

Visit the California Wolf Center

Alaskan Grey Wolf
Ritu Vincent / Getty Images
K Q Ranch Road &, Tall Pine Rd, Julian, CA 92036, USA
Phone +1 760-765-0030

The only wolf reserve in San Diego County, the California Wolf Center serves to safely return wolves in the U.S. to their natural habitat. You can visit the center's conservation facility by booking a one-hour guided tour with an expert, who will introduce you to the center's resident wolves: a North American gray wolf pack and a Mexican gray wolf pack. The Wolf Conservation Tour offers insight into North America's wolf conservation efforts, while the Behavioral Enrichment Tour gives visitors a chance to observe the wolves and learn more about their behavior and family structure; public and private tours are available for both options. At the visitor center in downtown Julian, there are a number of exhibits on wolf biology and ecology, as well as education programs and a nature store.

06 of 10

Hike the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

Volcan mountain wilderness preserve, California, America, USA
Sierralara / Getty Images
1209 Farmer Rd, Julian, CA 92036, USA
Phone +1 760-765-4098

This 2,900-acre nature preserve features mixed conifer forests and coastal and desert landscape. The most popular hike, the Volcan Mountain Trail, is a 4.9-mile, out-and-back trek that takes you up the summit of the mountain. With just over 1,200 feet of elevation gain, the trail is rated as moderately difficult, but worth it for the views at the top. For a shorter hike, the Five Oaks Trail is a 2.8-mile, out-and-back trail that's loved for its beautiful scenery and great birding. If you want, you can combine this trek with the Volcan Mountain Trail; note that locals recommend taking the Five Oaks Trail on your way up because it's less steep.

07 of 10

Sip Local Wine

Volcan Mountain Winery

Volcan Mountain Winery / Facebook

If you've never had apple wine before, make a beeline to Volcan Mountain Winery, located 2 miles from downtown Julian. They grow more than 20 varieties of apples here, which are then used to make a number of tasty wines, including a sparkling Pomme D'Amour, a Pommier port-style dessert wine, and the award-winning Dolcezza. You can sample these wines, along with other local reds and whites, in either the tasting room or on the patio, situated at the base of Volcan Mountain. Meanwhile, San Diego's Blue Door Winery has a Julian outpost, where they serve up their red, mostly natural, varietals by the glass and bottle. Be sure to swing by their tasting room for their house-made sangria.

08 of 10

Go Fish at Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca
Denise Vasquez / Getty Images
Lake Cuyamaca, California 92036, USA

Located at 4,620 feet above sea level, the 110-acre Lake Cuyamaca is a prime destination for anglers. As the water stays cool all four seasons, the reservoir is able to house the only year-round trout fishery in San Diego County, and in fact stocks some 45,000 pounds of rainbow trout any given year. Bass, too, is common, as are bluegill, crappie, catfish, and sturgeon. Note that you must have both a valid Lake Cuyamaca fishing permit and a California State Fishing License; state licenses can be purchased online or at the lake's tackle shop.

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09 of 10

Tour the Julian Pioneer Museum

2811 Washington St, Julian, CA 92036, USA
Phone +1 760-765-0227

The Julian Pioneer Museum features a collection of historical artifacts dating all the way back to 1869, a year before the town was founded, to the beginning of the 21st century. Located inside a circa 1890 building, it houses everything from mining equipment and Victorian-era pianos to vintage clothing and an original Julian City buggy and sleigh. As the museum is run by volunteers, be sure to call ahead to confirm that it's open.

10 of 10

Take a Walking Tour

Shops on Main Street.
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

Pick up a map for a self-guided tour, or simply walk around: Julian's historic center is easy to explore on foot. Pop into the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, a national historic landmark that dates back to 1890, before browsing the antique stores and local craft shops lining Main Street. Check out Julian Arts Guild Gallery, which highlights oil paintings, jewelry, photography, and more from local artists. At Julian Station, you can sample local hard cider, made from a 352-year-old recipe, and on certain nights of the week, kick back and listen to live music.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Julian, California