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The ultimate road trip to Julian

Hit the road and head to San Diego County’s charming mountain town — we’re sharing all the details about what to do, where to eat and drink, and where to stay.

A view of downtown Julian in San Diego County's mountains.

The historic town in San Diego County’s mountains is tiny in size, but big in charm.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Table of Contents

Itching to get out of town? Skip those pesky airport security lines and jump in your car for a mini road trip to Julian, our county’s charming, tiny mountain town steeped in Gold Rush history. From hiking trails and goldmine tours, to apple crumb pies at Mom’s Pies — we’re spilling all the details on how to have an unforgettable time in the cute community that also happens to be a California Historical Landmark.

Pro tip: While you can visit Julian year-round, we recommend a road trip in the spring, summer, or fall. If you visit in the winter, be sure to check road conditions via Caltrans ahead of time and pack snow chains, just in case. You should also check the weather and peek at conditions via Julian’s webcam.

SD Julian Mining Co

The Gold Rush town still shines in the gold mining department.

📍 Essential info

Drive time: ~1.5 hours
Year city was established: ~1870
Est. population: 1,300+

🎟️ Experience

Eagle Mining Co.
Experience what it was like to work in a 1870s-era goldmine through a 1-hour, family-friendly mining tour. You’ll learn about the tools of the trade, the lives of early Californians, and you’ll even get to pan for gold. Tours are available daily starting at 10 a.m.

SD Eagle Mining Julian

A tour of the Eagle Mine is a must.

Photo via @drmangor

Julian Mining Company
This spot offers family-friendly activities like gold panning, gem “sluicing” (sifting through ore to find gemstones), tomahawk throwing, and a mini mine tunnel train ride. Visit Saturday, 10-4 p.m., or Sunday, 12-4 p.m.

William Heise County Park
Enjoy nearly 11 miles of scenic hiking at this 929-acre park known for its gorgeous forests of oak, pine, and cedar trees surrounded by mountain meadows. You can also stay overnight at the campground or rent a cabin.

SD William Heise County Park Julian

A morning hike at William Heise County Park.

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve
The 5-mile, round-trip hike to the Volcan Mountain Trail summit takes about three hours to complete, but the views are gorgeous. Pro tip: Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.

SD Volcan Mountain Preserve Julian

Hiking at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.

Santa Ysabel County Preserves
Hikers, cyclists, and equestrians love this 4,600-acre sanctuary known for its rolling hills, wildflowers, grasslands, and oak woodlands along its 15 miles of trails. If you’re up for a challenge, try the 7-mile Kanaka Loop Trail.

SD Desert View Trail Julian William Heise Park

Desert View Trail at William Heise County Park.

Julian Pioneer Museum
Explore artifacts that tell the history of Julian from 1869 to the turn of the last century, and see how locals worked, cooked, and traveled. The volunteer-run museum is open Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Julian Arts Guild
A showcase of works from local artists across mediums like oil painting, pottery, photography, and pastels. The gallery is only open on weekends, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

California Wolf Center
Take a guided, one-hour tour to learn about wolf conservation and see the wolves that live at this reserve. Tours are by reservation only; check out the facility’s visitor center and nature store on B Street in downtown Julian, too.

Julian Cider Mill
Shop for locally-made specialties like fresh-pressed cider made from Julian-grown apples, honey, jams, candy, dried fruits, mustards, apple butter, and more.

SD Julian Cider Mill

Local snacks for days at The Julian Cider Mill.

Julian Farm and Orchard
This 25-acre sustainable farm offers u-pick opportunities throughout the year — depending on what’s in season — like daffodils in early spring, berries in the summer, and apples in September. You’ll also find a petting zoo, a rock climbing wall, picnic areas, and tractor-pulled hayrides.

Calico Cidery
This apple and pear orchard specializes in hard ciders available by the flight, pint, or growler. Sometimes, if conditions permit, the ranch offers u-pick opportunities.

SD Moms Pies Julian

Mom’s Pie is pure happiness.

Photo via @chrysreyna

🍔 Eat and Drink

Mom’s Pie House
Your first order of business while in Julian: Eat pie. Mom Anita Nichols created this concept in 1984 and it became a sweet staple of the community. The menu features flavors like apple, apple cherry, rhubarb strawberry, bumbleberry, and more — made in flakey or crumb styles. You can order pie by-the-slice or whole. It’s open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Julian Pie Company
Sure, you can buy these pies at the grocery store — but they’re better straight from the source. Liz Smothers started this beloved pie shop in 1986, and it continues to be run by her family. The mouthwatering menu features many apple pie varieties; don’t miss the Boysenberry Apple Crumb. It’s open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Julian Station
This spot features a restaurant and three tasting room experiences: Julian Hard Cider, Julian Wine & Chocolate, and The Cooler Craft Beer Tap & Tasting Room. The hub also features specialty shops, live music on the weekends (1-4 p.m.), and a patio and outdoor game area with pretty mountain views. Hours vary by business.

Julian Beer Co.
Hops and history? This 6-barrel brewery and restaurant can be found at the Bailey House, the former home of Drury “Drue” D. Bailey. — the founder of Julian. The craft beer is made from hops grown onsite, and the tasting room features 18+ rotating taps. The menu boasts savory BBQ (try the Brisket Sandwich), pizza, and salads. It opens daily at 11 a.m.

SD Nickel Beer Julian

A flight at Nickel Beer Co.

Photo via @nickelbeerco

Nickel Beer Company
Founded in 2013 by the owners of O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego — Tom and Lindsey Nickelthis craft brewery offers 16 taps of beers like the Apple Pie Ale (a beer and cider hybrid), the Take a Hike, and Volcan IPA. Look for the green building about a half-mile east of downtown Julian; it opens at 1 p.m. Monday-Friday, and at 11 a.m. on weekends.

The Julian Grille
Treat yourself to a juicy steak or seafood dish, and a cocktail or two. The patio is pup-friendly, too. It opens daily at 11 a.m.

SD The Julian Grille

The Julian Grille is downright dreamy.

Golden Apple Julian
Try the classic biscuit dishes for breakfast or pop in for lunch to try the burgers, sandwiches, salads, and sides. Save room for a treat at the bakery — the Julian Apple Cider Donut (made with local cider) is not to be missed. It’s open Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and weekends, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

SD Kalis Garden Cafe Julian Road Trip CG

The Karne Asada Fries at the plant-based Kali’s Garden Cafe.

Photo via @kalisgarden21

Kali’s Garden
This quaint cafe specializes in plant-based dishes (we see you, Jackfruit Burger and Kali Asada Fries), plus organic coffee, tea, and pastries. It opened in June 2023

Rongbranch Cafe
Find burgers, barbecue dishes, chicken pot pies, and more at this eatery in the heart of Julian that has real country western vibes. It opens daily at 9:30 a.m., but it is closed on Tuesdays.

SD Rongbranch Cafe Julian

Mosey over here, partner — the Rongbranch Cafe.

Photo via @amyllanas

Volcan Mountain Winery
The vineyard, winery, and tasting room is nestled at the base of Volcan Mountain, about 2 miles from the center of Julian, and is open Friday-Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Don’t miss the apple wines made from estate-grown Julian apples.

Blue Door Winery
This charming tasting room specializes in French and Italian reds. Its Julian location is open daily, 12-5 p.m.

Dudley’s Bakery
As you drive into or out of Julian along State Route 78 in Santa Ysabel, drop into the longtime bakery for its famous fresh bread and sandwiches. There’s an espresso bar, too. It’s open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends.

🏨 Stay

Julian Gold Rush Hotel
Established in 1897, this historic inn touts itself as “the oldest operating hotel in Southern California.” The vintage Victorian charm runs deep — from the hotel’s veranda to the canopy beds in the rooms.

Julian Lodge
Built in 1885, this mountain retreat features 23 guest rooms and is steps away from Main Street and the tiny town’s charming shops and restaurants.

Quiet Mind Mountain Lodge
Relaxation and wellness are at the heart of this retreat, where guests can unplug with spa treatments and enjoy the serenity of the mountains. The lodge is ~9 miles south of Julian, and many of its rooms feature views of Lake Cuyamaca.

Inviting Julian Home
At ~$411 per night, this 1,400-sqft, 2 BD, 2BA home for up to 10 guests features scenic views and a hot tub.

Fairytale Cabin
At ~$203 per night, this 1BD, 1BA rental for up to three guests has those magical, cozy log cabin feels.

SD VRBO Julian rental

The “Inviting Julian Home” rental.

Photo via Vrbo

Magical Mountain Hideaway
This quaint, 1BA cabin studio is surrounded by trees and is located about a mile from Julian. Up to two people can sleep comfortably here, at ~$160 per night.

Fantastic for Families and Pets
Just one mile east of downtown Julian, this 2BD, 2BA private mountain home sleeps up to six guests, with rates starting at ~$225 per night.

Amazing Cabin with Kids Loft
At ~$201 per night, this historic property with modern amenities is just steps from downtown Julian. The 1BD, 1BA home features a loft with queen and twin beds for the kids, and can accommodate up to seven guests.

Incredible Mountain Views
This ~$247 per night, 4BD, 2BA, dog-friendly home can accommodate up to six guests and is less than a mile from Julian’s Main Street. It’s surrounded by pine, oak, and manzanita trees.

A-Frame Cabin
Averaging ~$190 per night, this 900-sqft cabin sits high on a hill, offering views of the mountains. It has 2 BD, 1BA, and sleeps up to six guests.

🚘 Wait a minute, San Diegans. Before you head out the door, find the cheapest places to fill up your gas tank and stock up on road trip snacks from Venissimo Cheese. Also, bookmark this map so you have no trouble finding all of our recommendations while visiting Julian.

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