Borrow My Itinerary for an Amazing Trip to Julian—a Charming Pioneer Town in San Diego County

Check Out This Itinerary for a Trip to the Charming Town of Julian CA in San Diego County, Julian CA, Julian San Diego

Borrow My Itinerary for an Amazing Trip to Julian—a Charming Pioneer Town in San Diego County

About an hour and a half away from the bustling, beachy city of San Diego lies a charming mountain town that’s as sweet as the apple pies it’s famous for. I’m referring, of course, to Julian, a town founded in the late 1800s during the Gold Rush that has since become a year-round destination for families, couples, best friends and everyone in between. 

On my last trip to Julian, my partner and I needed a quick weekend escape to recharge and recuperate after an especially busy couple of months, and that’s exactly what we found. From the stunning Airbnb to the crisp Cuyamaca Mountain air, here are the top-nine highlights from our recent getaway—feel free to borrow them to build your own itinerary! 

imageCredit: Jordan Nishkian

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Credit: Jordan Nishkian

If you’re heading to Julian, I recommend booking your stay at Dark Sky Den—truthfully the most stunning, cozy and relaxing Airbnb I’ve ever stayed at. We were both blown away by Dark Sky Den’s natural beauty (hello, birdsong and sweeping panoramic views) and the care and intention that went into its design, which is a hallmark of its host’s conscious style.

“As an interior designer, I wanted to create an all-natural escape that really soothes the senses. I like to think of Dark Sky Den as a contemporary haven of calm and comfort, both inside and out,” shares Sara Plaisted, host of Dark Sky Den and leader of Nook Creative Co. “I love working with natural materials and textures, and mixing things that are old and new so a space feels lived in and has a sense of history. In the end, I just want people to leave feeling better than they did when they arrived.” And that, we did!

imageCredit: Jordan Nishkian

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Credit: Jordan Nishkian

For those visiting Julian on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you have to make a stop at Julian Farm and Orchard. No matter what time of year you’re in town, this U-Pick farm has something fun to do. We went in early October, so we were able to enjoy some of the last apples of the season, along with blackberries, strawberries and incredible wildflowers. “Our strawberries are ever-bearing and they keep producing while the weather is warm enough for them, and all our raspberries and blackberries are thornless,” General Manager Eva Elmblad says. Aside from the fields, visitors can enjoy activities like crafts, axe-throwing, farmyard games, rock wall climbing, a cider press demonstration and a petting zoo full of sweet and happy animals. Julian Farm and Orchard loves to celebrate seasonal holidays, especially with its fall pumpkin patch and winter ice skating rink.

Traveler’s Tip: Julian is a rare gem in California—a town with a true display of all four seasons! While we chose to go during autumn because it’s our favorite time of year, Julian has something for everyone year-round. 

As soon as we smelled The Julian Beer Company’s smoker, we immediately jumped in line. There’s a reason this place has a line of people jutting out the door. After ordering a beer, a hard kombucha, a brisket sandwich, some pulled pork and a side of mac and cheese, we walked our piled-high tray to the patio to enjoy the afternoon sun and plenty of people-watching. There wasn’t any more room in our stomachs to try the pizza, but we got to see a lot of other patrons walk by with some delicious-looking pies.

Sipping the Day Away

Julian is home to so many fantastic wineries and breweries, including the aforementioned Julian Beer Company. There’s also Nickel Beer Company, Menghini Winery, Volcan Mountain Winery and Blue Door Winery. Each has its own personality and unique selection, so you really can’t go wrong. Our personal favorite stop was Nickel Beer Company—I loved the Apple Pie Ale, and my partner was a big fan of the YPA 2K—and don’t miss stopping by Blue Door Winery for some sangria and some attention from Ollie, the shop dog!

Apple Everything

imageCredit: Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

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Credit: Aubrey Odom

As I said earlier, Julian is known for its apples, so make some room for apple cider, apple pie and—our personal favorites—apple cider doughnuts. We got our fix of apple cider doughnuts every morning from the famous Julian Pie Co., and we indulged in a slice (actually, two) from the home of Yelp’s Best Pie in California, California Mountain Bakery. For hard cider, I recommend Calico Cidery—it has a really fun and open barnyard atmosphere (including some chickens), a knowledgeable staff and a beautiful view of the orchard. Bring some food and enjoy!

When we took this trip, my partner and I were in desperate need of resetting from our typical hustle and bustle. Aside from spending mornings on the Dark Sky Den porch with our books and a cup of coffee, our favorite time spent outdoors was a quick hike around Lake Cuyamaca. On our hike, we saw a gorgeous clearing, an old mine shaft and a model of what a miner’s home would have looked like when the area was in use.

imageCredit: Julian

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Credit: Julian

We loved how walkable Julian’s main strip was! In one afternoon, we had the pleasure of wandering through a truly massive gift shop called The Warm Hearth, perusing through ​​Moonshine Magic crystal shop and watching the owner of Cedar Rio burn custom designs into a hat at her Hat Bar. One hidden gem we particularly loved was the Old Julian Book House, a used bookstore run by an incredibly sweet retired couple out of a historic home. On that note, if it’s history you’re looking for, keep an eye out for plaques around town, or take it to the next level with the Julian History Hunt.

Traveler’s Tip: Although it’s a small town, it’s one you’ll want to take a few days to explore. Try to plan to be there through the weekend—there are some businesses and attractions that are either closed or have limited hours during the week.

imageCredit: Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

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Credit: Ryan Jacobson

As people who spend most of our time in cities, my partner and I were really looking forward to a celestial display, and we were not disappointed. Julian is a Dark Sky Community (accredited by the International Dark-Sky Association), meaning that the town is actively working on reducing its amount of excess light pollution. This results in better balance of darkness for wildlife and humans alike—a concept which led to Airbnb’s namesake.

“With the Dark Sky Den, I hope to bring education and awareness to not only how incredibly awe-inspiring our universe is, but how lighting affects our health and wellbeing—both inside and outside the home,” Plaisted explains. “Hopefully, people will bring back some of these dark-sky lighting ideas home with them.”

imageCredit: Patrick Fore on Unsplash

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Credit: Patrick Fore

If you’re in Julian on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, don’t miss the chance to head over to Julian Station. It’s a local hotspot with three tasting rooms, a delicious Mexican restaurant and a bunch of shops and boutiques to explore and enjoy. You’ll find people flocking to the back patio to enjoy live music every weekend from 1-4 p.m. while treating themselves to some friendly competition in the arcade and play area.

Born and raised near the Pacific Coast, Jordan Nishkian is a California girl through and through. She graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a BA in Creative Writing and a BA in Anthropology, and her favorite place to be is curled up in a comfy chair with a book in her hand and a pen in her hair.