Things to Do in Julian, California

How to Find Country Charm Near San Diego

Shops on Main Street in Julian
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

If you like small towns and would rather go apple picking or hiking than party all night at the latest and greatest club, Julian, California may be just the destination for you.

People started going to Julian more than a century ago. They started in the late 1800s, hoping to make their fortunes in the gold mines. The gold rush ended quickly, but the people stayed. Maybe they thought it was just too pretty to leave. Not much has changed since then, and that's the charm of the place.

Whatever the early settlers' reason was for staying, today's Julian exudes small-town charm and country friendliness. Julian is one of those little towns that will charm your driver into pulling over and parking the car, just so you can walk around. It's cute but not in a dressed-up-for-the-tourists kind of a way.

Julian's 4,200-foot-high location in the Laguna Mountains gives it a climate that's unusual in sunny Southern California, with four distinct seasons. It will be cooler than LA or San Diego in the summer but may be cold (and it might even snow) in the winter.

There's just one caution: If you want to go somewhere that has fancy resorts with swimming pools and spas and lots to do, Julian may not be the best place for you.

7 Things to Do In Julian, California

Take Walking Tour: Pick up a map for a self-guided tour at the Chamber of Commerce office at the Town Hall (corner of Main & Washington Streets). Or just walk around if you don't care so much exactly what you're seeing. Don't worry about getting worn out or lost, though. Julian is a small place that's easy to explore on foot.

Go Shopping: Antique stores and local craft shops line the town's main street.

Sample Some Local Apples: 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. Any time of year, several of Julian's cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones to take home.

Visit the California Wolf Center: You can tour this facility which is home to several packs of North American and Mexican gray wolves. 

Catch Gold Fever: 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. You can also view the antique gold mining equipment on display, and you can be a miner for a day as you pan for gold. You can also visit the Julian Mining Company as you indulge your inner treasure-seeker.

Get Obsessed with Dark Skies at the Observer's Inn: Their Sky Tour is pure geek fun at its best. You can visit a private astronomical observatory and enjoy the view through their research-grade telescopes.

Go For a Ride at the Kenner Horse Ranch: The woods around Julian are perfect for their scenic, guided trail rides, instructional rides, and horsemanship clinics.

Annual Events in Julian

Late June is time for Gold Rush Days when you can step back in time during historical encampments, reenactments, and demonstrations.

In July, you can watch an old-fashioned Independence Day parade in Julian.

The Julian Apple Days Festival in late September attracts visitors from throughout the state. With wine tasting, games, and activities, it's fun for everyone, but that also means the town fills up with tourists.

In December, you can enjoy the festivities at the Julian Country Christmas, including Victorian Christmas Teas and holiday home tours.

When to Go to Julian

People enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm and beautiful surroundings, but recommending the best time to visit is hard.

Fall is its most beautiful season and a good time to sample apples and enjoy a slice of apple pie. Unfortunately, with Julian so close to two major cities, it gets so crowded that it loses most of its charm for a while.

If you want to go to Julian to enjoy its quieter charms, go at another time or visit during the week to avoid the crowds.

Where to Stay 

Lodgings around Julian are limited and fill up early during the fall, especially during the Apple Festival. Many places require two-day minimum stays on weekends and holidays, and some charge hefty cancellation and early departure fees. Ask about policies before you make a reservation.

How to Get to Julian, California

Julian, California, is about an hour's drive north of San Diego. Driving times vary from Los Angeles depending on your starting point and traffic. Allow about two hours from Long Beach off-peak and more during commute hours.

Get there via Interstate Highway 5 (north from San Diego, south of Los Angeles and Orange County) and US Highway 79.