Only a 60-mile drive northeast of San Diego, partially via a scenic winding road, Julian is an easy day trip. Because it's at 4,200 feet, Julian is one of the only parts of San Diego that experiences four distinct seasons. It snows in the winter and is quite sunny in summertime. However, Julian is particularly beautiful in the fall with temperate weather and delicious apples in season.
Downtown Julian — Photo courtesy of Allan Ferguson
Julian was founded after the Civil War when cousins Drue Bailey and Mike Julian found a lush meadow and happened to be nearby when a local cattleman saw flecks of gold in a creek. The town was eventually named Julian, after Mike, who was later named San Diego County Assessor. The gold rush was short-lived, lasting just shy of a decade, but people stayed in the mountain town and began farming. Apples soon became a crop of choice.
To this day, Julian is famous for its apples and apple pie, often hidden beneath the a white pie box with blue writing that Southern Californians recognize as distinctly Julian. The question is whether or not the crust underneath the lid is crumb or traditional. Luckily, these pies are in stores in and outside of Julian year-round.
Shelves of pies — Photo courtesy of Chris Radcliff
The Julian Apple Days Festival, held in the fall, used to be a one-day event but has become so popular, that it's now two months of daily activities, with the core of the activities happening on the first weekend in October at Menghini Winery. Yes, it's a winery and Julian is home to about ten of them that you can visit for tastings. J. Jenkins Winery even makes an apple wine that is worth a drive for. No, it doesn't taste like Martinelli's but rather like a Sauvignon Blanc in a beautiful bottle with apple blossoms on the label. Julian wines are sold at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty stores around San Diego, so they are also worth the drive.
Julian signature pie box — Photo courtesy of Joe Wolf
If you're planning on visiting Julian during the fall, you aren't the only one. Try to go on a weekday and book lodging well in advance if you need it. The Town Hall offers free maps for self-guided tours. Visit an apple orchard where you can sample varieties not offered elsewhere and enjoy them at their ripest. Do sample more than one apple pie and bring some home with you. It will be worth a few extra minutes on the treadmill and tough for even the most talented bakers to replicate. Pan for gold at the Julian Mining Company in Wynola (as seen on the Travel Channel) and even pick raspberries or watermelon while you're at it. Picnics during the fall are common, so bring your own or buy food in downtown Julian to bring with you.
If you ask San Diegans about Julian, most will say they don't visit this family-friendly town enough.