A visit to Julian is like stepping back in time to the Gold Rush Days. Set in the Cuyamaca mountains about an hour outside of downtown San Diego, there are plenty of fun things to do with kids in Julian, California. This quaint town is filled with history, fun and (my favorite) food! Whenever my husband gets a craving for fresh baked apple pie, we load up the kids and take the drive east to Julian. It’s a slow and easy day trip from our southern California home. We park in one of the neighborhoods, walk lazily up and down the streets, have lunch, grab a pie and head back home. However, it would be easy to spend several days here and still not see or experience all Julian has to offer.
What to Do in Julian
Depending on the season, Julian has a variety of activities to keep visitors busy. Visit one of the local wineries for a tasting. Take a historical tour or pan for gold. Pick up a bag of Julian apples at one of the many orchards. Hike a mountain trail or go horseback riding. San Diegans know that when the first winter storm hits, everyone will flood to Julian in search of snow!
The actual downtown of Julian is walk-able. Historic buildings line the streets, converted now to restaurants, shops, businesses and hotels. Occasionally a horse-drawn carriage rides down Main Street. There is a historical cemetery in the center of town. Bathrooms are reserved for patrons only and the employees are strict on that policy however there are paid toilets in the center of town.
Where to Stay in Julian
There are quite a few bed and breakfasts, cottages and hotels available and most have a laid-back rustic feel about them. I have camped several times in the Cuyamaca mountains and we have also visited Lake Cuyamaca for fishing. The camp sites and lake are about 15 miles out of town. Sadly, most of Cuyamaca State Park burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire but the historical town of Julian was saved.
Where to Eat in Julian
The Bailey Wood Pit Barbeque is our favorite lunch spot. The heavy scent of barbequed pork and brisket draws you in from a block away. The garlic and parmesan fries might be a bit strong for kids but the restaurant offers delicious regular fries as well.
I highly recommend arriving just before opening because this place gets packed quickly. The restaurant is small and usually understaffed. Last time we ate here we had to wait 20 minutes for a table and another 45 minutes for the food. Hard with little ones, but if you don’t mind waiting, the food and handcrafted beer are amazing.
It’s All About the Apples in Julian
Our visit always includes a stop inside the Julian Cider Mill. We buy ourselves a jug of boysenberry apple cider, apple blossom honey in a teddy bear squeeze bottle and honey straws for each of the kids. There are various samples throughout (wasabi peanuts are a surprise favorite) and a vast selection of candy. The store is rather small and in cold weather, a hot pot-bellied stove is stoked in the middle of the shop, making it a challenge to move at times. Leave strollers outside if you can.
The highlight of a trip to Julian is definitely the apple pie. There is much debate on who has the best in town but our favorite (after trying many!) is Mom’s Pies. They have a small shop in town and another just down the road. The line is often out the door and down the street. We alternate between the Apple Flakey and the Apple Crumb and it is best served hot with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.
And if you didn’t have enough to eat, be sure to hit Dudley’s Famous Bakery on your way out of town. Known for delicious breads and fruit bars, they make a nice souvenir to take home from your visit to historic Julian.