The best things to do in Julian, California! Explore this charming mountain town, from its apple pie to its Gold Rush history.
The first time I visited Julian, I was doing a day trip from San Diego with a few of my college friends.
As we were navigating the winding Highway 79 to get up to the small town, I started feeling car sick. I remember wondering if Julian would actually be worth the hype.
Once we arrived, my questioning demeanor faded into the background. We drove through the historic Wild West facades along Main Street and found a place to park.
It felt like we had stepped back in time to the 19th century Gold Rush era and I couldn’t wait to start exploring.
We spent the rest of the day eating apple pie, visiting a cidery, and taking in everything that Julian had to offer. There was a lot.
Julian is one of those towns that sticks with you for years, so I wanted to put together a full guide on how to get the most out of a trip here.
These are my picks for the best and most fun things to do in Julian, California.
In this post, you’ll learn about where to find the best apple-themed goodies, where you can learn more about the town’s Gold Rush history, and where to get outside to see the natural beauty of the area.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
14 Best Things to do in Julian, CA
Indulge in Apple Pie & Apple Cider Donuts
You can’t go to Julian and NOT try the apple pie, it’s what Julian is known for!
With so many apple orchards in the area, the town of Julian features a variety of apple-themed treats. And the most famous of those is Julian apple pie.
There are two main pie restaurants in Julian town – Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pies. I personally think the Julian Pie Company has the best Julian apple pie, but there’s no harm in taste testing both to see which one you like better.
Just keep in mind that slices are big and rich at both the Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pies so it’s not a bad idea to share with a friend.
Another treat that shouldn’t be missed in town is apple cider donuts, which you can get from the Julian Pie Company.
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Try the Hard Apple Cider
If you’re looking to indulge in something a little harder than just a sugar rush, Julian is also known for its hard apple cider.
When I was in town last, I grabbed a bottle from Julian Hard Cider to drink when I got back to San Diego and it was delicious!
They have a few interesting flavors on offer, including Cherry Bomb (with cherries), Black & Blue (with blueberries and blackberries), Razzmatazz (with raspberries), Pearanormal (with mint leaves, pear juice, and lime), and even an apple pie flavor in case you need more apples.
There’s also Julian Cider Mill if you want to taste a few different ciders around town.
Go Apple Picking
Julian is one of the best apple picking destinations in California, so if you’ve never done it before, this is the place to experience it.
This is a great family-friendly activity but also a good date activity in town if you’re looking for romantic things to do in Julian since the orchards are so scenic.
Peak apple season in Julian is September and October, so you’ll want to plan your trip around then if you want to do some apple picking.
Otherwise, Julian also has fruit picking in the summer. This usually includes the option to pick strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries and runs from July through October at certain farms.
But back to the apples. There are quite a few apple farms to choose from, head to your favorite or choose a few to visit in the fall.
These are the U-Pick orchards I’d recommend:
- Volcan Valley Apple Farm
- Apple Starr Orchard
- Julian Farm & Orchard (part of Julian Mining Company)
- Calico Ranch
If you want to go apple picking in Julian, keep in mind that most orchards are only open on the weekends (Fri-Sun).
They also get packed during apple picking season since it’s such a condensed time frame, so get there early if you want to avoid the crowds.
Do a Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour
Julian is where San Diego’s first and only gold rush happened in 1870, and you can still see those historic remnants in the Wild West feel of Julian town today.
One of the best free things to do in Julian is to do a self-guided historic walking tour to take in the many sights from this unique time in history.
The Visit Julian website has a full list of places to visit. Here’s a look at the historic sights they recommend adding to your self-guided walking tour.
- Julian Town Hall
- F.A. DeLuca Store
- A.P. Frary, Jr. Residence
- Julian Jail
- F. L. Blanc Warehouse
- F. L. Blanc Rental
- Dr. Hildreth Office/Residence
- Hosking’s Rental Residences
- F.A. DeLuca Residence
- Hotel Robinson
- Wilcox Building
- Wheelbarrow Odometer
- Survey of 1894
- Levi-Marks Store
- Bailey-King House
- Drue Bailey House
- Pioneer Cemetery
Explore the Local Shops Along Main Street
As you walk down Main Street with its Western-style facades and dusty nature, it’s easy to feel like John Wayne might pop out of a saloon to challenge you to a duel.
Luckily, Julian just makes you feel like you’re in the Wild West without the actual dangers of that time.
Main Street, as the name suggests, is Julian’s main street in its historic downtown area. One of my favorite activities in Julian is to simply walk down Main Street and pop my head into its many shops.
A few favorites include:
- Julian Book House – For all my fellow book nerds who love a cozy bookstore.
- The Warm Hearth of Julian – For a random assortment of home decor, women’s clothing, accessories, furniture, toys, and books.
- Julian Candy Basket – An old-fashioned candy shop if you haven’t quenched your sweet tooth with apple pie yet.
- Wynola Junction Antiques & Collectibles – If you’re looking for unique antiques, this is the place to go.
Dive into History at the Julian Pioneer Museum
If you’re looking to get a fuller picture of the history of Julian town, a visit to the Julian Pioneer Museum is a must.
The museum, which was once the blacksmith shop for this small mining town, features a number of artifacts and exhibits.
This is where you can learn about the Indigenous Americans who once lived in the Julian area, as well as the Gold Rush era and pioneering history in San Diego County.
Since the museum is run by volunteers, it’s recommended that you call ahead to make sure they’re open before visiting. Their phone number is (760) 765-0227.
Tour a Gold Mine and do Some Gold Panning
If you’ve ever wanted to tour a gold mine and you’re making a trip to Julian, now’s your chance!
The Eagle & High Peak Mine offers hour-long tours of the gold mine with the chance to try some gold mining after learning about the process.
Another place that offers gold mining (but no gold mine tours) is Julian Mining Company.
Julian Mining Company also offers other kid-friendly activities like gem sluicing and a mine tunnel train ride, as well as a general store for grabbing some souvenirs before you head out.
The gold mining experiences are definitely aimed at kids, but touring a gold mine is a fun stop for all ages who want to learn more about Julian’s Gold Rush history.
See the Wolves at the California Wolf Center
One of the more unique things to do in Julian, the California Wolf Center allows you to learn more about San Diego County’s resident wolf packs and to see these impressive animals up close.
Wolves have been hunted and killed by humans in California for generations. Grey wolves actually went extinct in California in the 1920s, but they’ve slowly started coming back to California since 2011 from places like Oregon.
They’re still an endangered species, so nonprofits like the California Wolf Center help to make sure they don’t go extinct again.
Visit Lake Cuyamaca
Only a 15-minute drive from Julian town, Lake Cuyamaca is a 110-acre reservoir in the San Diego mountains. If you’re looking for places to camp near Julian, this is an ideal and scenic spot.
However, if you just want to do a day at the lake, there are plenty of options for things to do.
You can rent a boat, walk around the lake (it’s about three miles), picnic, do some birdwatching, or go for a hike. There’s also a restaurant near the lake that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers stunning views of the glistening water.
If you want to keep it simple, my recommendation would be to do the walk around the perimeter of the lake and either bring a picnic to eat along the way or grab lunch once you’re done at the restaurant.
Regardless of how you spend your time at Lake Cuyamaca, this is one of the prettiest spots near Julian and very much worth visiting.
Although there are clearly plenty of things to do in Julian, if you’re looking to do some outdoor activities in and around Julian, going on a hike is a good option.
Even though Julian is located in a mountainous region, temperatures can still get very hot in the summer. Because of this, if you’re hiking in Julian in the summer, it’s strongly recommended that you go in the morning and finish before the afternoon.
There are a lot of hiking options just outside of Julian, but these would be my top picks for the best hikes in Julian (and nearby):
- Volcan Mountain Trail (6-min drive from Julian) – The Volcan Mountain Trail is an out-and-back 4.9-mile hike that takes you to the summit of Volcan Mountain for sweeping views. In the spring it features colorful wildflowers too.
- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (15-min drive from Julian) – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the closest state park to Julian and features a variety of trails for all levels of hikers. A few trails that I’d recommend include the Dead Horse Falls Trail (2.5 miles), Stonewall Peak Trail (3.9 miles), or the Harvey Moore Trail (9.7 miles).
- Three Sisters Falls (30-min drive from Julian) – Three Sisters Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Southern California that also happens to be right next to Julian. If you only have time for one waterfall hike near Julian, this one should be it. Located in Cleveland National Forest, the Three Sisters Falls trail is a difficult hike that’s 4.1 miles roundtrip. However, the challenging journey is well worth it with a view of the three-tiered falls at the end.
- Cedar Creek Falls (40-min drive from Julian) – Looking for more waterfalls near Julian? The 5.6-mile Cedar Creek Falls trail takes you through backcountry hills and scenic flora on the way to a swimming hole and waterfall at the end. This is a difficult hike that requires a strenuous uphill climb on the way back, so only do this one if you feel comfortable with the idea of being on a stairclimber for an hour or so. The best time to see the falls at their fullest is either in winter or spring. This trail also requires day permits year-round to hike it, which you can reserve here.
Say Hello to the Camels at Oasis Camel Dairy
Another one of the more unique things to do in Julian is visiting the camels at the Oasis Camel Dairy.
With a visit, you can say hello to the camels, go on a camel ride, or, if you have more time, sign up for their camel camp to learn more about these fascinating creatures. They also offer private group tours that you can book online.
Before you leave, check out some of their camel milk skincare products that are made onsite.
If you’re wanting to just come for a quick visit without booking a private group tour, you’ll need to check ahead on their website for when their Open Farm Days are since they’re only on specific days.
Sample the Local Wine
It makes sense with how rich the soil is for growing apples and other fruits in Julian that it would also be rich for growing grapes.
Julian may not have the same level wine scene as what you’d find in nearby Temecula, but there are a few wineries in the area that are worth sampling if you’re into wine.
Here are a few I’d recommend stopping in at if you want to do your own self-guided winery tour in Julian.
Enjoy the Stargazing
Even though it’s just over an hour from San Diego, Julian has a way of feeling thousands of miles away from the big cities of California.
And this can especially be felt in its dark skies and great stargazing opportunities you can discover after dark.
Since 2016, Julian has been working on limiting light pollution and they were recently named the second dark-sky community in California by the International Dark-Sky Association.
In fact, Julian’s skies are so dark that it’s now part of the 1% of the US that can still see the Milky Way.
This is all to say if you’re into stargazing, Julian is a great place to do that.
So if you’re staying overnight in the Julian area, either spend some time looking up at the sky or see if you can go to one of their dark sky events that happen throughout the year. You can learn more about those here.
Take a Day Trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park
About an hour from Julian, Anza Borrego Desert State Park is one of the coolest parks to visit near town if you have some extra time in the area.
It seriously feels as if you’ve stepped onto another planet once you arrive at the funky desert landscape at Anza Borrego.
Go early in the day to do some hiking and drive through the rugged scenery, stopping at the panoramic viewpoints throughout the park.
If you’re up for an early day, Anza Borrego Desert State Park is especially stunning at sunrise with its purplish hues and dramatic backdrop. It’s also known for its wildflowers if you plan your trip for the springtime.
Just make sure to bring extra water, sun protection, and download your directions and maps ahead of time because cell service can be spotty.
Where to Stay in Julian
Although Julian can be a great day trip from San Diego, these are the three hotels in Julian that I’d recommend if you’re doing a weekend trip.
Camping Near Julian, California
If you’re looking for camping in Julian, there are a lot of great campsites around the town of Julian or just outside of it.
What to Pack for Julian
Unlike most of the rest of Southern California, Julian has proper seasons so you’ll want to pack appropriately depending on what time of the year you’re visiting. For winter and early spring, be prepared for some snow and below-freezing temperatures.
For late spring, summer, or fall I’d recommend bringing the following:
- Breathable layers
- Shorts/dresses/light pants
- Good walking shoes (especially for apple orchards)
- Hat for sun protection
- Plenty of water
- Hiking shoes, clothes, and hiking poles (if you plan to do any hiking)
- Camera/phone – there are so many good places to take pictures in Julian!
- Travel insurance
- Downloaded maps for getting there (cell service can be spotty through the mountains)
Tips for Visiting Julian
- Julian is one of those rare places in Southern California that has four seasons – As mentioned above, instead of summer and then more summer like most of the rest of Southern California, Julian has actual seasons. This means if you’re looking to get your fall foliage fix, you can do that with a short drive from San Diego. However, this also means you should be mindful about what you’re packing to stay warm and dry in the fall, winter, and early spring.
- If you’re going hiking, bring plenty of water and go in the morning – This is especially the case if you’re going hiking in the summer or early fall, but Julian can get very hot and a lot of hiking trails don’t have a lot of shade. Go early and bring plenty of water.
- Head to Julian early in the day if you’re doing an apple picking day trip – I’d even recommend planning to arrive as the apple orchards are opening. The traffic from San Diego can be brutal during apple picking season. So if you don’t want to wait in traffic, get up there early.
- Cell service can be spotty on your way up to Julian, download directions and maps ahead of time – There were multiple parts of the winding drive through the mountains where we lost cell service on our way to Julian. And with these small mountain roads, it can be easy to get lost. Make sure to download directions and maps ahead of time so you can navigate there even without cell service if needed.
- Don’t drink and drive – This is just common sense but don’t drink and drive! Julian has a lot of great wine and cider to sample, but that doesn’t mix very well with winding mountain roads. It’s also good to keep in mind that hard cider is usually higher in alcohol than your standard beer (close to 7% sometimes).
How to Get to Julian
Julian is located in San Diego County, about 60 miles from the city of San Diego. The easiest way to get from San Diego to Julian is by car via I-8 E and CA-79 N.
It usually takes around an hour and fifteen minutes to drive to Julian, although it can be closer to two hours with weekend traffic.
FAQs About Julian, California
How do you Spend a Day in Julian?
There are numerous ways you could spend a day in Julian. If you’re going during apple picking season, I’d recommend starting with a visit to one of the apple orchards earlier in the day.
Afterward, you can explore Main Street and its unique shops, grab some fresh apple pie and cider, do a self-guided tour of Julian’s historical sights, tour a gold mine, visit the Julian Pioneer Museum and California Wolf Center, and maybe round out the day with a hike or a visit to Lake Cuyamaca.
If you’re traveling with kids, you might also want to fit in some gold panning at Julian Mining Company or the Eagle & High Peak Mine.
What is Julian Known for?
Julian is known for its apple pie, cider, wine scene, and Gold Rush history. It’s also one of the best apple-picking towns to visit in the fall in California.
Is There Snow in Julian?
The mountainous area in and around the town of Julian is one of the few places where it sometimes snows in San Diego County.
With that said, there’s rarely more than a few feet of snow in any given year and most snowfall happens between January and March.
What is There to do in Julian in the Snow?
If it’s snowing while you’re in Julian, there’s still plenty to do. First off, there’s really nothing better than eating warm apple pie and drinking hot apple cider when it’s cold out.
You can also do any of the other indoor activities that Julian has to offer, such as visiting the Julian Pioneer Museum or Wolf Center.
Also, because the snow is usually so light, you can still walk around Main Street and even do a self-guided walking tour of Julian’s historical sights outside.
When it starts getting too cold, just duck your head into the next local cafe or restaurant to warm up with some more hot cider and apple pie.
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