For many people who inhabit America’s largest cities, a vacation can often mean escaping the hustle and bustle to enjoy scenic views and small-town charm.
A good example and great getaway spot — particularly for those who live in or near San Diego County — is historic Julian, California, a quaint mountain destination just an hour or so outside of the big city.
Known for its world-famous apple pies and as a town built on the gold rush, Julian has plenty to offer those who never hit the mother lode.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dave Klumph with the Julian Chamber of Commerce to get the rundown on all the affordable activities the town offers from a local’s perspective.
What brings the most tourism to Julian, and what are some of the can’t-miss attractions?
I think people come here for the history and quaint nature. Julian is historic, and we try to keep the downtown area as historic as possible. So you couldn’t put up a fast food restaurant unless the outside looked like it belonged in an old-fashioned town.
A lot of people also pass through on the way to the desert. So they’ll stop here to get supplies and eat and then head down to the desert for camping.
Julian also serves as a getaway from the bigger city, and not just local San Diegans, although we see a lot of people from San Diego County coming here, but they come from Orange County, Canada, Japan, and China. We see people here from Germany and the Netherlands. Sometimes it’s a day visit, and sometimes they stay a week or more.
How much is the history of the town a draw for visitors?
In 1869, A.E. “Fred” Coleman, who was a freed slave came through with his family, and they found gold in one of the creeks. That led to exploring for gold in the area, and millions of dollars worth of gold were taken out of the ground. There is a mine up here that you can tour, do some gold panning, and see the rock-crushing equipment. We also have an event called Gold Rush Days that draws a lot of people to experience our history.
We have the Julian Pioneer Museum there, and that’s open Thursday through Sunday and you can get in for a $3 donation. There’s the mine tour, which is $10 for adults and less for kids — a lot of people come here to experience that.
Apples, pears, and some other fruits were brought into the community here in the late 1800s, and they did really well and even won some awards.
So we started making pies, and now we’re famous for having been a gold-rush town, and then having lots of pies of all different flavors.
What is the most popular time of year to visit Julian?
I think it’s mostly August to February. People like to come here when it’s cold. We have snow that varies between just a few inches to a few feet.
Festivals also bring a lot of tourism. We have excellent pies of all types, and we’ve had the Apple Days Festival here for years at one of the wineries, but this year it might be spread out a little differently.
One of the reasons why Apple Days is changing more into a seasonal thing and probably spread out over a couple of months is we get so many people coming up here; thousands of people come up to pick apples, so it becomes a traffic issue.
As far as activities, there’s the Grape Stomp Fiesta that brings a lot of people up here. We have up to 10 wineries that do samples. We have an Italian band that plays, and then there are two large vats — one for adults one for kids — and you get to climb up and step down into the vat and squish the grapes. People just have a blast going into a vat and stepping on grapes. It’s a wonderful event, and we’ve been doing it for years.
We also have the Blues Bash coming up, and we have Country Christmas with a tree lighting ceremony in November. We have Taste of Julian and Sip of Julian, which are local dining and drinking events that are a little smaller than some of the others. And all of those are listed on our website, as far as special events on our calendar.
What are some of your personal favorite things to do and see in Julian that are free or inexpensive?
There are a lot of hiking trails all around the area, so that’s one of my favorite things to do here. We also have some nice restaurants and the museum is interesting to go through, with a lot of historic artifacts there.
We even had two women who were roller derby players in Los Angeles come here just for the hiking, and people throughout the year do that, as well.
Right now, we have Pacific Crest Trail hikers, who are leaving the border at Campo and heading north, and so quite a few of them get a ride up to the town and get refreshed and head back down and continue on their hike
What are some popular local dishes or restaurants to try that won’t break the bank?
We have everything from Mexican food to Italian food. We have some high-end restaurants with trained chefs and then restaurants where $10.95 gets you soup, a sandwich and a piece of pie for lunch. So it’s really a variety.
Do you have any advice for tourists looking for affordable lodging in and around Julian?
On our website, you’ll see our lodging list. We post it under Chamber of Commerce Documents, and it lists the names of all the places, their locations, and also the pricing, which can change.
There are about 60 different lodging members that we list on that — some of them are in town and quite a few are out and about in the community. Prices range from $70 a night to up to several hundred dollars, depending on the location