Things to Do in Julian, California

How to Find Country Charm Near San Diego

Main Street in Julian, California
Main Street in Julian, California. Perttu Raivio//Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

People have been going to Julian for more than 100 years. In the late 1800s, they went to make their fortunes in the gold mines. The gold rush was short-lived, but unlike other gold rush towns, Julian never became a ghost town. Maybe it's just too pretty to leave. Not much has changed nearly two decades later, 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. It's cute but not in a dressed-up-for-the-tourists kind of a way.

Julian is one of those cute little towns that will charm your driver into pulling over and parking the car, just so you can walk around.

Julian's 4,200-foot 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.

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.

6 Things to Do In Julian, California

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.

Shopping: Antique stores and local craft shops can be found along the town's main street.

Apple Country: Julian is at its most charming (and therefore busiest) during the fall when the leaves change color, and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian's cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones to take home. They're all so good I've never been able to identify a favorite.

Eagle Mining Company: Explore the history of Southern California's Mother Lode, that short-lived gold rush of 1869. Tours at this mine will show you the underground operations and the gold milling process. You can also view the antique gold mining equipment on display. 

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

Kenner Horse Ranch: The woods around Julian are perfect for their scenic, guided trail rides, instructional rides, and horsemanship clinics.

Annual Events in Julian

The local Julian Apple Days Festival, held on a weekend in late September, attracts visitors from throughout the state. With wine tasting, games, and activities, it's fun for friends and families alike, but that means the town fills up with tourists.

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

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.

If you're visiting as a side trip from a nearby city, try to go during the week to avoid the crowds. Weekdays during other seasons are especially tranquil.

Where to Stay 

Lodging options around Julian, California 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 I-5 (north from San Diego, south of Los Angeles and Orange County) and US 79.