In the lush rolling hills and mountains, just 60 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small tourist town of Julian, California. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two.
It’s a popular destination, for those in the know — people who want to get out of the city for the day, to hike, see historic sites or explore the backroads within the bucolic scenery. Some visitors come here just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.
Julian, like so many towns in the Southwest, was founded on mining. Back in 1869, gold was discovered here, marking the beginning of San Diego’s only gold rush. The town thrived briefly and became the hub of the area for business and social gatherings. During the boom there were 50 houses, a schoolhouse, restaurants, saloons and, of course, a brothel or so.
While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining. At an elevation of 4,200 feet, it had a mild climate and rich soil, ideal for growing quality fruit. As early as 1893 Julian apples took some of the top prizes in the Chicago World’s Fair.
Although Julian is best known for its apples (and pies), visitors also enjoy touring the area’s wineries. One, the Menghini Winery, even hosts a unique event every year. The 23rd annual Grape Stomp Fiesta, to be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 7, is a family event where visitors can climb inside an 8-foot-wide redwood tank and trample to their hearts’ content. The fiesta features live entertainment, food, wine and beer. The event is a community fundraiser with many local vintners taking part.
To explore Julian, set out on foot for a historic self-guided walking tour. There are about 30 places to check out including 20 that have plaques explaining the history of the building or place. The Pioneer Museum is worth stopping in as well; its collections run from American Indian artifacts to antique furniture and tools, to one of the best displays of antique lace in the state.
This time of year Julian’s average daily high temperatures are in the mid- to high 80s, with temperatures in the 60s at night.
There are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around Julian. One great destination is the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The park encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of forest; it’s primarily mixed conifer forest but also includes manzanita, elderberry, scrub oak, chamise and California wild lilac. One great trail reaches the summit, where you will have sweeping views of the orchards and vineyards below and even far-reaching views of the coast. It’s about a 5-mile round-trip hike, with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. From Julian take Farmer Road 2.2 miles, turn right for 50 yards and left onto Farmer Road. Drive about one quarter mile and park on the right near the preserve sign.
For information on upcoming events, lodging, camping and restaurants contact 760-765-1857 or visit https://www.visitjulian.com.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.
From Boulder City, take U.S. Highway 93 west to the 215 Beltway. Continue west to Interstate 15 and head south for 278 miles. Take California State Route 79 exit toward Indio for 0.3 mile. Go left on California State Route 79 for about 60 miles to Main Street, Julian.