The town of Julian, California is nestled in pine and oak forests just about an hour northeast of the beach loving city of San Diego. Julian is truly a step back in history with its unique distinction of the entire town being a designated California Historical Landmark. But what does that title actually mean?
A California Historical Landmark simply translates to the fact that all of the buildings and developments in the town are first reviewed by the Architectural Review Board of the Julian Historic District before construction or modification. This strict code keeps the Julian Historic District true to its historic roots with its wood saloon style buildings, shaded flowered walkways and cowboy feeling all around Main Street in town.
History of Julian
Even the way the Julian got its name has a unique story behind it. European settlers on the western quest for gold, land, and fur first traveled into the area in 1851 and the town proper was settled by Drury, Frank, and J.O. Bailey. These rough and tumble brothers, along with their cousins, Mike and Webb Julian, were passing through the region from San Bernardino en route to Arizona in 1869. The purpose for this journey was to join the confederate army as America was entering the deadly Civil War. But the brothers and cousins did not quite make it all the way to Arizona as leader Drury Bailey found the area enchanting and opted to settle here instead.
So how was the name Julian chosen for this new settlement between the family members? Well, the name Julian was decided on after Mike Julian because, according to local folklore, “Mike was better looking” than any other member of the Bailey family. And with that a town was born.
The town soon grew from a tent city as gold was discovered and many miners flocked to the area searching for riches. Surprisingly, gold ended up not being the main source of commerce. In 1873, while miners dug deep into the hillside hoping to strike it rich, James Madison brought a wagon load of young apple trees into the mountains. After planting the first orchard he was blessed when the fruit trees ended up thriving in the clear, fresh air of what is now known as San Diego County. They did so well that apples still hold a prominent place in Julian with dumpling themed restaurants, multiple orchards, and an apple pie festival using only the best of the locally grown selections.
This apple loving, old mining town is surrounded by vast green space, rolling rocky landscapes and wildlife. There are miles of trails nearby to explore from a short day hike to even thru hiking a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Here are a few to check out:
- Volcan Mountain: This popular trail is about 5 miles in length and just above 1,200 in elevation gain. The well maintained trail is an old road that brings you to the summit of the Volcan Mountain Air Beacon. Much of the trail is exposed so bring lots of water and sunscreen.
- Lake Cuyamaca Loop: Only 5 miles in length with an elevation gain of a mere 124 feet this trail is a pleasant stroll around a refreshing lake. There are also picnic tables and grass areas to stop at for lunch.
- Stonewall Peak: This 4 mile out and back is located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and boasts of the views the park has to offer. This relatively easy trail is popular with stairs at the end right before the summit.
Events and Activities
Julian is a colorful town with a deep pride and welcoming spirit. One of the must do activities when visiting steeped in the town’s founding history is to visit one of the local orchards. At Apples and Art Orchards not only can you pick your own variety of tasty apples but after simply head back to the owner’s house and make your very own refreshing apple cider. Another bonus? You get to feed the leftover pulp from pressing the apples to the resident chickens. At Volcan Valley Apple Farm you can bring your pup along, as long as they are well behaved. The farm features over 8000 trellis grown apple trees spread about 10 acres. Plus the location is nestled between two wineries so after the kids have fun you can have a more adult activity as well.
Not able to make it out to an orchard? Stop by the Julian Cider Mill in town. This store since 1975 has been selling locally grown apples, pears, preserves, raw honey, French prunes, Italian plums, dried fruits, nuts, candy and delightful caramel apples. It is a great way to support local farmers and partake of some delicious treats.
Another step back in history you can enjoy with the entire family is The Eagle Mining Co. Here you are able to take a mining tour to pan for gold, see the preserved milling and extraction processes and watch a simulated Boothill. The tours are educational and a unique experience as you explore 1000 feet of underground old mining tunnels and 24 acres of old prospect land.
Lastly, when in Julian make sure you take a trip up to the Julian Jail located on 4th and C Streets. The existing concrete structure was built in 1914 to house folks from drunken brawls, gun fights and more. The first jails were actually wooden structures dating way back to the 1870s before a more substantial structure was erected.
The Julian Jail is a tight squeeze at the size of only 17 feet long, 14 feet wide and 10 feet high, with two cells to house short term prisoners before being shipped off to San Diego. Temperatures in the mountains where the jail is located got pretty cold during the winter as the cinder blocks often would ice up. But one benefit the prisoners had of being locked up was that the Julian Jail was the town’s first building to be equipped with indoor toilets.
Where to Stay
Now that you know about the enticing history, delicious apples, and beautiful wilderness, you might be wondering where to stay while visiting Julian. There are a wide range of options for quaint bed and breakfasts, Mountain lodges and camping.
- Quiet Mind Mountain Lodge and Retreat: This retreat is known for its focus on having a peaceful nature experience and serene Buddhist wellness center. The lodge is located overlooking Lake Cuyamaca just outside of Main Street Julian. Amenities include an onsite library, yoga and meditation classes, outdoor jacuzzi, infrared sauna and more.
- Julian Gold Rush Hotel: You can take a relaxing stay in this wonderfully maintained historic bed and breakfast. All the rooms have air conditioning for the hot summer months and a free breakfast to start the day off right with each morning.
- Stagecoach Trails RV Resort: If you want a more rustic camping vibe this is the place for you. Here you can opt to bring your own trailer, horses, tent, or rent from one of their uniquely themed cabins. The resort has a pool, fire ring and is very horse friendly with an entire section, Horse Country, devoted to making your horse happy.
This small town is large in history, community pride and a welcoming spirit. From night gazing at the milky way, hiking the unique terrain or horseback riding like a true cowboy or girl, Julian is a wonderful place to stay awhile.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus