We lived in San Diego for seven years with multiple day trips to explore all the things to do in Julian, CA.
There was a lot of pie involved in those San Diego adventures, and it’s especially fun if you want to get that autumnal spirit going on a day trip from the city. The mountain town is also full of history and surrounded by some excellent hiking for outdoorsy folks.
Do you like the sound of that? Then check out all the things to do in Julian on your next trip!
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Is Julian, CA, worth visiting?
Julian, CA, is worth visiting for more than the apple pie. Yes, the apple scene is delicious, but Julian is also a great base for hiking the Cuyamaca mountains and exploring the town’s historical side. The Julian Historic District is a California Historical Landmark thanks to the role it played as a California Gold Rush town.
During its height, Julian’s population rivaled that of San Diego. People wanted to strike it rich, so they set up temporary housing in town to try their luck. Julian was also home to much of the county’s Black population back in the day.
Things to Do in Julian, CA
Let’s dive into all of the best things to do in Julian, CA, on your next trip to this charming mountain town. If you’d like a Google map of all these fun things to do in Julian, click on the link below:
GIMME THAT JULIAN MAP!
Make room for pie at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a great place to get the blood flowing on your day trip to Julian, CA, before you tackle Main Street and Julian proper.
We love the Stonewall Peak Trail, a fairly easy haul up until you get to the very end, where some scrambling up a rockscape is involved in avoidance of jamokes who didn’t learn the single-file line in elementary school. The entire trail is about 4 miles roundtrip and is rife with snakes.
Well, we didn’t actually see any snakes, but the pelt guy at the entrance said there were a bunch of them out there. It’s best to just say there are a bunch of snakes on this trail so no one complains to me about it later.
Hiking Cuyamaca Peak is a popular excursion if you’re looking for a more challenging trail. At just over 5.5 miles roundtrip, this is the second-highest peak in San Diego, offering a great view of the rest of the county at the top.
Note: For additional trails and day hike opportunities while you’re in the area, check out the state park’s guide to the area.
Check out the views at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.
The Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is another jewel in these parts with 2,900 acres of trails and viewpoints through a mixed conifer forest.
The most popular trail here is the 5-mile trek to the summit: Volcan Mountain. Steep inclines make this one a moderate level of difficulty, so make sure you’re prepared with the right hiking gear on this one. I brought Kimmy along on this one, which helped on the way up (she’s a puller) but didn’t help on the way down (she’s a puller).
It’s also very windy up there!
Explore the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve.
The nearby Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserves offers 15 miles of trails on gentler loops than the other parks, making this one a great option if you’re traveling with kids.
You’ll be literally heading over the river and through the woods on some of these trails, which is quite charming.
Those looking for more of a challenge may want to try the West Vista Loop Trail, about 5.6 miles roundtrip through oak trees and wildflowers when the season’s right.
Row your boat on Lake Cuyamaca.
If you’d only like your day trip buddy to make some room for pie first and you’re fine with your own available tummy reserves, rent a little boat on Lake Cuyamaca.
Have them row you along until their arms give out or until they give up and turn the motor on if you got a little dingy with one of those attached. Doesn’t that just sound adorable?
Go apple picking.
If you’re into the you-pick-apples thing, there are places to do that, even here in Southern California. Try the Apple Starr Orchard or the Volcan Valley Apple Farm, two popular and family-friendly options.
It’s just not something we usually go for on my Julian day trips from San Diego.
I can’t escape the feeling of, umm…this is someone’s actual job in most apple orchards, and we’re out there like, “This is so leeeeeeisurely and fun! Let’s do this thing in our free time that you do for crappy wages!”
Fun fact: Saturday Night Live had a hilarious take on it. Do check it out.
I won’t judge you if you want to get right into the pie, though.
Taste-test the best pie in Julian.
You’ll get all kinds of opinions on where the best pie is in Julian. The two main players are Julian Pie Company and Mom’s.
There are others, but try those without recommendations from me because I haven’t had them, not because they’re bad. Locals may tell you it’s all about this or that, but locals are notoriously saucy about their local things. Between the two big dogs, you’ll find lines at both if you slept in. Both are delicious and worth the wait.
Also, you probably came all this way for the pie, so what are you really going to do if not wait in line at this point?
We tend to do the Julian Pie Company because they don’t have apostrophe misuse on their signage and for their emphasis on all things cinnamon: cider donuts, donut holes if you’re there on the weekend, cinnamon ice cream, and cinnamon sauce.
Doesn’t that sound lovely?
If you’re allergic to cinnamon, there’s Soups & Such Cafe, where you can eat some soup or something.
Fun fact: Most recently, a friend of ours demanded anything BUT apple pie. He opted for a mixed-berry situation that I guess seemed fine but also a little bit anti-establishment.
Brian likes to sweeten his sweets as much as he can, so he typically opts for additional whipped cream alongside his pie and a humongous scoop of ice cream.
Shop for tchotchkes on Main Street.
If you’re into tchotchke shops, there’s quite a bit of that at The Warm Hearth of Julian, The Old Julian Garage, and The Julian Candy Basket, home to hundreds of varieties of candies. If you’re lucky while browsing, you’ll come across dirty hot sauces, decorative soaps, more soaps, wicker baskets, soaps, fringed tops, candy, and soaps.
Buy all the jam at the Julian Cider Mill.
One stop I always make is to the Julian Cider Mill for some jam, baby. Boysenberry? Check. Gooseberry? Check. Also, what is that even??? Prickly pear? We got you. Jam. Jam. Jam. They also sell all kinds of spicy nuts, taffies, dried fruits, and flavored honey. Many a dollar has been spent at the Julian Cider Mill.
Plan some charming tea time.
This is one of those hidden gems in Julian, CA. Head to Julian Tea and Cottage Arts if an afternoon tea sounds delightful post-pie. Just make sure to book a reservation ahead of time, as they can go all out with the finger sandwiches, scones, and assortment of teas depending on the experience you’re after.
Eat at the best restaurants in Julian.
I’m quite pleased to confirm that you can visit Julian without eating anything other than pie. It’s a thing I’ve pulled off on a number of occasions.
If you want something more “traditional” in terms of a “real” meal, you have options. Our favorite along those lines is the Julian Grille for classic cafe fare. They have a great outdoor patio for you to enjoy if it’s a nice day.
Here are a few more Julian restaurants for you to explore if the Julian Grill isn’t to your liking:
- Julian Cafe & Bakery: Enjoy Western-themed decor and more opportunities to shop local after your lunch at this popular cafe. You’ll find a variety of Julian souvenirs to peruse inside.
- Miner’s Diner: Relive old-fashioned soda shops of the good ol’ days or embrace those Riverdale vibes at this diner. If you have a sweet tooth undeterred by all the pie, their malts are pretty popular.
- Soups & Such Cafe: I already mentioned this one in jest, but it’s actually a popular lunch spot in town if you’re seeking comfort fare and, you guessed it, soup.
Sip on sangria at Blue Door Winery.
Are your dogs barkin’ from all the strolling? Julian as all kinds of cute stops that give off some relaxing vibes, especially if you’re interested in some wine.
Start at the cute Blue Door Winery tucked into a mini-shopping area on B Street. It’s always a touch too warm for red wine when I’m visiting, so the chilled red sangria is my bag, best enjoyed on the Adirondack chairs outside or on the inner patio. It’s also home to any manner of cute dogs, a bonus in my book.
If you like those wine times enough to seek out an option further afield, the Volcan Mountain Winery is a scenic stop at the foot of the Volcan Mountain. Their sparkling apple wine is the showstopper here if you’re lucky enough to visit when it’s not sold out.
Try Julian beer while you’re at it.
If you’re more into beer, Julian Beer Company offers up decent drafts, pizza by the gigantic slice, and barbecue-type sandwiches. I’ve had their Reuben sandwich with thick-sliced pastrami and it’s pretty fantastic. Brian loves their cheesesteak.
The Nickel Beer Company is another option, just east of Julian’s downtown. They typically have over a dozen beers on tap for you to choose from, including a hybrid of beer and hard cider made of local Julian apples.
Finish off with cider at Julian Hard Cider.
Our last stop on the way back home is always Julian Hard Cider, a couple of miles west of Main Street. The building it’s located in includes shops, a gallery, a food stop, and games that may or may not work.
Typically, we beeline for the cider, as I’m somewhat of a connoisseur.
Their original Harvest Apple flavor is always my fave. The others range from too sweet to resembling cough syrup. Sometimes there’s a random flavor guesting on their standby lists. You can order one of their flights or make your own for a couple of bucks per taster.
Hike Cedar Creek Falls.
This San Diego waterfall hike is noted on map apps as being in Julian, but there are multiple approaches. The San Diego River Gorge Trail starts in Ramona. That’s the trail we chose on our hiking day. You can also access this one along the Saddleback Trail, which is closer to Julian.
No matter how you get there, you’ll need a permit before you set out for your hiking adventure. This is challenging hiking in the Cleveland National Forest, and the authorities in charge just want you to know what you’re getting yourself into on this nearly 6-mile trek.
It’s challenging. You will work for that waterfall. It’s also my favorite waterfall hike in San Diego, so it has that going for it.
Chase Three Sisters Falls, too.
The Three Sisters Falls Trail isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s one of the most popular hikes in and around San Diego for a reason.
Honestly, I’m not sure why. Cedar Creek Falls is a better hike and generally more impressive all around.
If you want to see what all the hype is about, make sure you’re ready for over 4 miles of decent elevation gain and some scrambling. Bring plenty of water and shoes with good traction. You don’t need a permit for this but do need to display an Adventure Pass on your vehicle to park at the trailhead.
Note: Visit in the winter or spring for the most action from the falls themselves. This isn’t a great summertime hike because of the heat and the lack of waterflow.
Go wine tasting in Ramona.
This activity idea isn’t in Julian, but if you happen to have a weekend in Julian, you can easily tack on some time in nearby Ramona. It’s just a half-hour drive to incredible scenery and more delicious wine with vibes that are casual even for Southern California.
We spent a full week in Ramona on a recent trip back to San Diego, and I was so impressed by the friendly atmosphere of this underrated wine country. Chuparosa Vineyards was our favorite thanks to their Albariño.
Book some goat yoga at Blackledge Farms.
On the topic of Ramona, there is a bucket list experience here that has nothing to do with wine. It doesn’t have anything to do with pie, either.
I’m talking about goats, people. If you love them as much as I do, you’ll want to book a goat yoga session at Blackledge Farms. Just be warned that you’ll be forever changed after your experience. That’s how great this is.
More Julian, CA, Attractions
We’ve visited Julian a bunch of times, but it’s usually with a main mission in mind: Eat all of the pie. That means there are still some things we haven’t done on trips to the mountain town. Here are a few more Julian things to do on your next trip:
- Pan for gold on a tour with the Eagle Mining Co. at the Eagle and High Peak Mine. As I’ve mentioned before, gold was what brought people to Julian in the first place during the 1800s.
- Want to try your luck at another mine? Visit the Julian Mining Company, too. I’d suggest avoiding weekdays during the school year on this one. It’s a popular field trip destination.
- Visit the Julian Pioneer Museum for local history and artifacts from the town’s storied past. This is a great option if you’re looking for family-friendly things to do in Julian.
- The nearby Julian Pioneer Cemetery is also worth a stop for its historical value and somewhat creepy pet section.
- Hit up the California Wolf Center, a conservation and research site dedicated to the protection and re-establishment of wild wolf packs. The North American gray wolf and Mexican gray wolf are both represented.
- Attend the Julian Apple Days Festival, a two-day event usually held in September as a celebration of the fall season and all things apple.
- The Taste of Julian is a summer festival to show off a more diverse array of foods outside of the apple-based ones.
- Looking for things to do in Julian in winter? The Country Christmas is just what you’d expect around here and includes tree lightings, sweet treats, and the potential for snow that you won’t get in San Diego.
- Camp at William Heise County Park. The park offers not only a number of trails here — you’ll have access to 11 miles of hiking on your visit — but the most popular campgrounds in the area.
- If you’re already visiting Ramona for that wine I told you about, visit the Oasis Camel Dairy while you’re there. The family farm is focused on camel milk (it’s a thing!) and camel encounters.
Julian, California, FAQs
What is Julian, CA, known for?
Julian, CA, is best known for its delicious apple pie and mining history. For locals, the surrounding area is known for its hiking opportunities. You’ll have access to all kinds of outdoor adventures while you’re here.
Does Julian, California, have snow?
Julian, California, does have snow. Expect possible snow from November through February, sometimes even well into the spring, up in Julian. You’re at over 4,000 feet of elevation here.
Do I need snow chains to go to Julian?
You do need snow chains to go to Julian if you’re heading up to the mountain town in the winter months. Chains are required during the winter months at nearby Palomar Mountain, too.
Don’t assume that because you’re from the Midwest — that’s me! — you’re good to go. There are periodic checks up the mountain to make sure you’re prepared.
When is the best time to visit Julian?
The best time to visit Julian is in the fall. There’s a good reason for that. It’s apple time.
I usually telling people to go places during less busy times, but I just can’t do that here. Fall opens up a world of possibility to you in Julian, and allows you to try more varieties of apples grown right here in Julian.
Can I bring my dog to Julian?
You can bring your dog to Julian. There are quite a few dog-friendly patios in Julian, like the Blue Door Winery. If your dog loves to hike, most of the trails around here are fine for leashed pets. Just make sure that you bring plenty of extra water no matter when you visit.
Best Hotels in Julian, CA
As we’ve lived in San Diego, we visited Julian on easy day trips from the city. There are pretty adorable accommodation options in and around the mountain town if you’d like to stay awhile, though.
Check out my top picks from Booking.com below:
- Julian Gold Rush Hotel: Antique furnishings at this one will take you right back to the 1890s when the historic property opened. New owners recently took over, so enjoy the facelift.
- Julian Lodge: The vibes are all mountain town, but the amenities are modern at this lodge. Guests love the location and feeling like they’re living in a Western while there.
- Tucker Peak Lodge: Enjoy some tranquility on decks with mountain views at this scenic lodge. If you don’t want to be in the thick of it with all of the tourists, this is a great option.
Not interested in a hotel? I still start with Booking.com (they have cottages and apartments now!) then peruse Vrbo if I need more variety. Here are a few highly-rated options along those lines:
- Stay at the Blue Bird Cottage to enjoy all of the trappings of home in a peaceful setting. If you’re traveling with your pooch, this one is dog-friendly.
- If you’re here to hike, this holiday home offers easy access to both Julian and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
- This secluded mountain cabin sits on 40 acres at 6,000 feet, which means spectacular views all around for anyone who makes the trek.
Have you been to the city of Julian? What are your favorite unique things to do in Julian? Do you have any free things to do in Julian that you’d like to add? More importantly, what do you believe to be the best apple pie in Julian, CA? It says a lot about you.
Share it all with me in the comments!
Ready to Go to San Diego?
Your Flight: I use a number of tools to find cheap airfare, but if you’re looking to book during a particular period of time, especially during busy times (e.g. school breaks), you should use Skyscanner.
It’s a great tool for when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc.
To get to all of these Julian, CA, activities, you’ll need to get to San Diego, first. Deals to San Diego are tough to come by, as it’s such a desirable vacation destination, but they do happen if you’re able to watch flights for a while.
For adventurous folks who travel on the reg, I also subscribe to Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights. You’ll get cheap flight deals from your home base straight to your inbox.
Your Car: For all you California visitors, a day trip to Julian is an easy drive from San Diego that shouldn’t take you more than an hour and a half. San Diego County, as with much of California, is very car-centric. Need a car? Check prices before you go with an aggregator like Hotwire or Priceline.
Your Accommodations: Scroll up for my recommendations on where to stay in Julian if you’d like an overnight. I typically recommend sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com for your accommodation needs. Vrbo has become our go-to Airbnb alternative these days.
Hostelworld is an additional option for travelers on a budget. Reviews are plentiful, allowing for a safe, wallet-friendly stay if you’re cool with hostels.
Etc.: For general travel goodies, visit my Favorite Things page, or visit my Travel Tools page for more general travel information.
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Staying in San Diego for a while? Check out these posts:
- Visit North Park, San Diego’s Best Neighborhood
- A Guide to Top Things to Do in La Jolla
- The Whaley House: San Diego’s Most Haunted House
- A Guide to San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter
- San Diego’s Best Sushi Spots
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