Help me chase the fall!
September 20, 2007 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for people's past experiences visiting Julian, California.

A little backstory: I'm originally from the East Coast (Northern New Jersey to be exact), but I now live in Los Angeles, CA. My favorite season has always been fall, and by the time I actually make it back home for the holidays in Dec, New Jersey is already well into winter. Recognizing that fact, my girlfriend suggested we book a cabin in the mountains surrounding Julian, CA for our Anniversary in the middle of October. The way the town was described to me was a "transplanted New Hampshire village". I want to get away from the palm trees and the beaches of Los Angeles.

I want all the trimmings: apple picking, hayrides, cider, pumpkins, pie - all of it. I've checked out the Julian Chamber of Commerce webpage, but I'm interested in what other MeFi'ers experiences have been at Julian. Whats your favorite part? Where do we go? What do we see? Lay it on me!
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've been there for the 4th of July parade, and it's a very cutesy little town. I'm not sure I'd characterize it as a "transplanted New Hampshire village," but it's definitely a little village, just more of a western one than a New Hampshire one.

The best part: The roads surrounding it, including the 78, are some of the best sportscar driving roads in the country. Just be careful on the curves, as it's not uncommon for spirited drivers to go spinning off the road and crash hard.

Here's an article about a French automotive journalist who was killed in January while test driving an Opel GT on the 78 in Julian. The article has a map so you can see where the fun/dangerous parts of the road are.
posted by The World Famous at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2007

Try to be there during the week, as it is significantly less touristy than on the weekend (not that it gets Disneyland-ish, but still). Eat at the Wrong Branch at least once, and make sure you go into Witch Creek Winery and chat with Tina-- she'll make you feel like you've known her for fifteen years. The wine is pretty good, too.

I don't remember the name of the place but there's a general store-ish establishment near the beginning of town that has all sorts of dried goodies, chocolate-covered raisins, honeycomb, etc., all made right there.

And it goes without saying that you have got to eat the apple pie. It's famous.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:48 AM on September 20, 2007

Julian's wonderful; the one thing my family didn't think about before we went was the altitude. If people with cardiac or respiratory problems are coming they're going to need to take it very easy.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:09 AM on September 20, 2007

"I want to get away from the palm trees and the beaches of Los Angeles."

To a certain extent Juilian is just a lot of tourists from Los Angeles. During the weekend the streets will be so packed with tourists that traffic slows to a crawl and parking is nonexistent.

I've never stayed in a cabin there, so maybe that's better. I'm certainly no expert. But the town itself has always seemed much more like a tourist theme park than anything else.

While still touresty, I prefer Sequoia and Kings Canyon for these sorts of get-aways.
posted by Vorpil at 10:13 AM on September 20, 2007

If you're looking for fall colors, Julian probably isn't the best place to go, but it does have a certain kind of autumnal ambience to it, enhanced by the ubiquitous apples pies this time of year. There are deciduous trees, but they're mostly local oak varieties, whose leaves basically turn tan--I went to college back east and it's just not the same out here, but there's not much you can do otherwise in SoCal. Otherwise there's a whole lot of pine; and remember that quite a bit of the forests surrounding town burned in the 2003 fires. Actually, I think there's a fire going on in the area right now. I'd recommend going in October, since Summer weather around here generally lasts through September and sometimes into the next month.

I don't think Julian can adequately be compared to an eastern village--it's really an Old West gold mining town. The Eagle Mine at the end of C street used to give tours, but I don't know if they still do. I didn't see any signs about them the last time I was there, a few weeks ago. Anyway, many of the buildings downtown date from early 20th/late 19th century, and they're definitely more western style than New England.

I don't know about hayrides, but you can have apple stuff coming out your ears if you wish. There are a bajillion orchards around town and in the nearby communities of Wynola and Santa Ysabel (stop at Dudley's Bakery in Santa Ysabel--it's an institution). Quite a few offer apple picking.

Julian's primary industries are tourism and apples, so do be prepared for tourists and a bunch of kitschy shops devoted to cat- or bird-related items, or crystals or handcrafts or what-have-you. There's a soda fountain at the center of town that serves a pretty mean sasparilla, and some other old-timey fountain drinks.
posted by LionIndex at 10:45 AM on September 20, 2007

The best part: The roads surrounding it, including the 78, are some of the best sportscar driving roads in the country. Just be careful on the curves, as it's not uncommon for spirited drivers to go spinning off the road and crash hard.

Even if you don't plan on driving crazy, a nice drive is to take the road south out of Julian towards Cuyamaca State Park, and then hang a left onto S-1 just north of Cuyamaca Reservoir to go through Laguna. You'll be driving on the eastern escarpment of the mountains, with a steep couple-thousand foot drop-off into the Anza-Borrego desert on your left in a couple places.
posted by LionIndex at 10:48 AM on September 20, 2007

Seconding the mid-week visit. September-November, Julian gets overwhelmed on the weekends by tourists from San Diego and LA. And the apple pie is absolutely mandatory.

Another option you might want to look into instead is visiting Idyllwild, although it's a little more of a mountain town than Julian.
posted by sbrollins at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2007

Clarification: The Julian fire is contained.
posted by LionIndex at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2007

I've been several times, making sure to take family and friends visiting from out east when they visit. I usually combine it with a trip to Anza Borrego State Park to hike into the palm oases, but that's not very Catskillsy, is it?

I've never spent the night near Julian because it's small enough to visit in one afternoon. If you want to stay in a cabin in the woods, I would definitely go north into the Sierras or even Big Bear.

Go on a Wednesday, for lunch. Walk around. Get an apple caramel drink at the coffeeshop on the south side of Julian. Take a walk in the cemetery. Get some apple butter at the store that sells candy and canned goods. Browse the bookshop. Buy pies to take home. Try to get an apple/pumpkin pie. Eat dinner at the Wrong Branch. Drive home during the beautiful sunset.
posted by billtron at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2007

What everyone else has said, but I also have to add that Julian is famous for all things apple, especially its apple pies. I used to visit there as a child, and we would always bring back several pies and freeze them, busting them out for special occasions. Sooooooo goooooood.
posted by msali at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2007

I'm sure I'm mostly unique in this regard, but almost every time I've been there I've found that a lot of the locals seem to be incredibly rude to tourists, or at least seem to make it somewhat clear that they'd rather you not be there. I always found that weird considering the town's main business is tourism pretty much. Then again, I guess that 's a good reason to learn to dislike tourists (although I figured it would be hidden better).

Like I said, I'm sure that other people's experiences don't mirror mine and I've just had bad luck.

It really is a beautiful area and I've always like going up as sort of an escape myself. The drop in temperature and just overall feel of it all makes it a very different place to spend time than here in San Diego. The cabin idea sounds like a good plan that will definitely give you a much different feel than being in LA.
posted by Stunt at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2007

I grew up in Julian! So feel free to email me with more specific questions.

Everyone's right--it is really busy on the weekends in the fall, so midweek might be better, but even on the weekend you can still have fun.
Apple picking is definitely on; look for places in Wynola which is a few miles before Julian if you're coming up 78 from San Diego.
I'm not sure if anyone does hayrides, but you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage from town around some of the back roads.

As for pie, Mom's is my favorite and the owners are much nicer people than the Julian Pie Co. people so I prefer to support them.
The apple butter place that billtron mentions is called the Cider Mill, and they also have excellent cider and caramel apples.

The Rongbranch Cafe (and the attached bar called the Boar's Head Saloon) are nice if you want a kitschy sort of old-westy experience, but the food is not great.
Romano's has very nice Italian food if you're into that, and the Wynola Pizza Kitchen is also good (they have a wood-burning oven and everything). Other good restaurants include the Julian Grille (more fancy) and the Julian Drugstore/Miner's Diner (basic burgers and sandwiches, not fancy), which is where the soda fountain is.
The Candied Apple Pastry Co. has wonderful desserts and sandwiches--I think the owners studied at the CIA.

Other fun things to do: climb up to the top of the old cemetery and see the pioneer graves and the view of the surrounding hills. There are fall colors, but not anything like back east, sorry.
You can also tour the Eagle mine--it's a bit expensive but I hear it's pretty interesting. (I've never actually gone!)
The Menghini Winery is also a fun place to visit--their wine is not amazing but it's still fun to go taste and the winery is cute.
You can also visit Volcan View Farm for locally grown produce.

Finally, if you're there when it's on check out the Melodrama that they put on in the town hall. It's all local people and you get to boo and hiss the villain. Very silly, but fun.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2007

A friend and I went there on a Saturday in the spring and had a great time. Obviously, we didn't pick any apples, but we did a lot of gawking at bikers and ate approximately our weights in pie. The drive out there is fun and I highly recommend the old cemetery. The websites of the pie places (I agree that Mom's > Julian Pie Co) seemed very geared towards picking season so I don't think they see very many non-SD or LA tourists at all other than for a few weeks in the fall. I definitely would go midweek.

I can't imagine that there'll be spectacular fall colors, though. I remember it being much more high desert than anything like back east.
posted by crinklebat at 4:18 PM on September 20, 2007

Ooh, Julian. It was my first experience of a proper looking American Pioneer town and I had a great time. I took some photos (self link, apologies). We bought some Julian Pie (best pie ever, I recommend the strawberry and rhubarb!). The cemetery on a hill is bizarre but wonderful. And sure, it was a little bit touristy, but in an informative way. I also enjoyed the drive up from San Diego, I thought it was stunning landscape, but that could just be because I'm still new to the desert ways of California.
posted by saturnine at 5:20 AM on September 21, 2007

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