Every fall, San Diegans flee our gorgeous shoreline and palm trees to soak up the golden, crimson, and tawny leaves falling from the trees in and around the nearby mountain town of Julian.

The location of San Diego County’s first and only gold rush, Julian is now best known for its abundance of apple pie shops and quaint downtown. November is a favorite time to visit, when the changing leaves show off their vibrant colors and there’s a crispness to the air that pleads for the warmth of a thick sweater and a steaming cup of apple cider.

Exploring Downtown

Julian’s small downtown is filled with shops peddling toys, scented soaps and candles, and folksy knickknacks. Pop into Julian Cider Mill for a free sample of apple cider, or purchase a full cup for just a dollar. You can pick up a tasty souvenir of honey, nuts, dried fruits, candies, apple butter or jam while you’re there.

Pose for a unique family portrait with Old West costumes, hats, and props at Grandpa’s Old Time Photo

Throughout November, visit Town Hall for the Fall Arts & Crafts Show. Towards the end of November and through December, kids can participate in Julian's many Community Christmas events.

Family Dining

Looking for child-friendly fare? Krisie Morgan of the Julian Chamber of Commerce recommends Miner’s Diner for children “because it’s got the old-fashioned soda fountain that kids love.”

My family’s favorite dining spot is the Rongbranch Restaurant for its home-style cooking and affordable children’s menu, with favorites like chicken nuggets, quesadilla, or kids’ fish with a drink and a side. The small onsite gift shop stocked with toys makes a nice diversion while waiting for your pulled pork sandwich or bestselling blue cheese and pear salad.

Pies & Other Sweets

Delicious pies of many varieties are served throughout town, but apple is the flavor of choice in Julian. Meander down Main Street inhaling the sweet smells from the homey cafés offering pies, cobblers, and dumplings before settling on where to get your fill of goodness.

Mom’s Pies
always has a line of hungry customers eager to bite into one of their fruit-filled pies topped with a choice of American flaky crust or French crumb top.

San Diego resident Nicki Burnworth heads to Julian at least twice a year for a taste of Mom’s pies. Why was she willing to wait in the long lines? “Because their pie is the best. Absolutely.”

We passed other visitors gobbling up slices of to-go pie seated on outdoor benches who swore by the apple-pumpkin pie baked at Julian Café & Bakery.

As regular Julian visitors and pie connoisseurs, my family returns again and again to the Candied Apple Pastry Company. In addition to three varieties of apple pies (traditional, Dutch apple crumb, and sour cream), this shop can satisfy sweet cravings with baked goods like cookies, chocolate croissants and custard éclairs.

Leaf Peeping

Work off your well-enjoyed calories by hiking through the numerous trails that surround the town. The scent of pine trees mixed with fallen leaves slowly sinking back into the earth feels a world away from San Diego’s beaches and big city vibe.

Lake Cuyamaca is a 10-minute drive south of Julian’s downtown on Highway 79. Walk the 3.5 mile trail surrounding the lake, or rent a paddle boat to enjoy the view from the water. Fishing gear and campsites are available to rent as well. 

More Family Fun in Julian

Just three miles west of downtown is Julian Mining Company. Fall activities include apple cider making, tractor-drawn hayrides, and a petting zoo. Kids can pan for gold and search for gems like miners year-round.

Co-owner Gina Cross said, “I think kids like gem sluicing the best. We get a lot of repeat customers for that.”

Interested kids can purchase bags of gems or gold buried in dirt and then pour water over their sluice box to uncover their hidden treasures.

Accommodations for Families

Although Julian is an easy day trip location for San Diego residents, you may want to consider making the most of your getaway by staying overnight. Book a room at Julian Lodge, which has larger rooms in which guests can spread out or at Tucker Peak Lodge, a bed and breakfast that welcomes children and offers two family suites.

Maryanne Sandkuhl, who owns and operates Tucker Peak Lodge with her husband, says the inn is named after their grand-dog, Tucker, the inn’s CEO (Canine Executive Officer). Upon check-in children can select a treat from Tucker’s treasure chest, which is filled with toys and other goodies. A hot breakfast is included and the five-room inn offers such kid-pleasing amenities as a pool table, pinball machines, toys, and free sparkling cider.

The Journey

The drive to Julian takes only about an hour and a half from downtown San Diego. We chose to drive Highway 78, which passes wineries and apple orchards. Ask the kids to make the sounds of the animals spotted on the farms along the way. You’ll be serenaded by the sounds of horses, cows, goats and sheep from the backseat. On the way home, you can pick up farm-fresh eggs at Pine Hill Egg Ranch on Highway 78 in Ramona.

Alternatively, take Highway 79 past Lake Cuyamaca. Either route provides a colorful show of fall foliage. Stop by the Julian Pie Company on Highway 79 in Santa Ysabel, to pick up a pie and bring autumm home with you.

Candied Apple Pastry Company
2128 4th St.
Grandpa’s Old Time Photo
2116 Main St., Ste. 1D
Julian Café & Bakery
2112 Main St.

Julian Chamber of Commerce & Town Hall
2129 Main St.

Julian Cider Mill
2103 Main St.
Julian Lodge
2720 C St.
Julian Mining Company
4444 State Highway 78
951-313-0166            www.julianminingcompany.com
Julian Pie Company
21976 Hwy. 79, Santa Ysabel 760-765-2400
Lake Cuyamaca
Miner’s Diner
2134 Main St.
Mom’s Pies
2119 Main St.
Pine Hill Egg Ranch
25818 Highway 78 in Ramona
Rongbranch Restaurant
2722 Washington St.
Tucker Peak Lodge
3975 Eagle Peak Rd. 760-765-3975

Colleen Lanin is a freelance writer and editor of TravelMamas.com, a site for parents who want to travel with children … and stay sane! Photos provided by the author.

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