Julian, CA is the Perfect Mountain Get Away for a Weekend or a Day!
Julian, CA is a favorite destination of mine because of the small town charm, quaint shops, famous bakeries, and laid-back attitude of the residents. I can feel myself decompressing and relaxing as the trees start to change from the palms of southern California to tall pines lining the narrow roads leading up the mountain to Julian. The air gets a little crisper and the smell of sea gives way to the refreshing scent of fall leaves and fruit orchards the higher we climb in elevation.
Julian is a the perfect destination for day trips or a weekend get-away, especially in the autumn. A quaint town situated in the mountains of southern California, Julian has an abundance of character and something for everyone. The tree-lined streets and old-fashioned store fronts with wooden awnings are the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings.
The main town of Julian is only a handful of blocks long and a few blocks wide, but it is packed with bakeries, restaurants, and shops to explore. Don’t be fooled by the small size of the town – you will only scratch the surface of all there is to see and do with one day. And at the end of the day, you will already be planning your next trip back.
Famous Apples of Julian
Julian is famous for its apples and apple products, from apple butter to apple pie, and fall is the best time for fresh apple products and seasonal specialties. September through December is the best time to get specialty apple items that are not available other times of the year. Autumn is the only time of year when you can get freshly pressed apple cider from Julian apples at the Julian Cider Mill (usually September through December depending on the harvest size and availability). And if you want to get one of the famous apple pumpkin crumble pies from the Julian Pie Company, you will need to buy your slice or pick up a whole pie by Thanksgiving. This is a family favorite in our house and the only pie my son will eat.
Many of the shops have apple food products or apple themed gifts, but the Julian Cider Mill is definitely the best place to stop to get all things apples. They shop is always packed and for good reason. This is where you can find apple butter, apple syrup, apple jam, caramel apples, apple cider, apple candy, and just about any other form of edible apple you can imagine. And if you get claustrophobic just thinking of the crowd inside the store, don’t despair! They have an apple cart in front of the store where you can walk up to buy your caramel apples, apple cider or bags of apples.
On this day trip to Julian, Fritz and I were determined to figure out which Julian bakery had the best pies. Sure that one of the bakeries would stand out has having the best pie, the flakiest crust, the sweetest apples, we made a point of trying slices at all three of the main pie shops.
We truly tried to choose one pie as the best, but in the end we found it impossible. Even side by side comparisons only convinced us that each one was it’s own slice of heaven. Instead, we settled for our current favorite flavors at each shop (warning: our favorites can change without any notice!).
Our Favorite Pie at Each Pie Shop:
- Apple Alley Bakery – Apple Crumble Pie
- Mom’s Pies – Apple Boysenberry Pie
- Julian Pie Company – Apple Pumpkin Crumble Pie (only available in the fall through Thanksgiving)
Apple Alley Bakery
We tried our first piece of pie at the Apple Alley Bakery. This old fashioned cafe and bakery offers sandwiches, soups, salads, pastries, and (of course!) pies. The inside of the small restaurant looked and smelled like grandma’s house with the aroma of fresh baked pies on the air, teddy bear decorations, and framed snapshots of awards and newspaper articles hanging on the walls.
We stood in line, which is the norm at all of the bakeries, in order to place our order. The inside of the restaurant was small, with only about eight tables for seating. More seating is available in the courtyard wrapping around the side and back of the restaurant, with inviting red picnic tables shaded by trees and umbrellas.
The pie did not disappoint, and lived up to the grandmotherly vibe of the bakery. We ordered a slice of the apple crunch pie, warmed but plain with no ice cream, which the server delivered to us at our outside table. It was delicious! Buttery and flaky crusty, crumble topping with the perfect amount of cinnamon, and large chunks of sweet apple.
The line for Mom’s Pies extends out the door of the bakery and down the sidewalk, often all the way to the end of the block. As is true for all the bakeries in Julian, don’t let the line deter you! It moves fast and is worth the wait.
On this day, the time waiting passed very quickly because of the very friendly couple from San Diego in line in front of us. They shared their opinions of the pies at Mom’s (their favorite pie shop in Julian), told us about their visit to the Volcano Winery (which is now on our must-see list), suggested a road trip route for Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks (also on the must-see list), and kept us entertained with great conversation.
As the line moves from the sidewalk into the bakery/restaurant, those in line get an up close view of the desserts on display. By the the time you get all the way to the point of ordering, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time staring at an array of pies, cookies and dumplings – trying to choose one is nearly impossible. Our new friends ahead of us in the line decided to order whole pies instead of the two slices they originally planned after looking at all that mouthwatering goodness for so long.
Fritz and I ordered a slice of the apple boysenberry crumble with two forks, seated by the woodstove while the slice was warmed for us. Mom’s also serves lunch, and has family style seating inside the dining room with booths along the walls and long tables with benches in the center of the room. The atmosphere is cozy, reminding me of holiday get-togethers where family all squeezes together to get everyone around the table and everyone is smiling despite the cramped conditions because of the shared togetherness.
The boysenberry apple crumble pie is a favorite at Mom’s and comes highly recommended. The boysenberry is the perfect amount of tartness to compliment the sweetness of the apples and the crumble, all in a delicious crust. We tried to decide which pie was our favorite – the apple crumble from the Apple Alley Bakery, or the apple boysenberry crumble from Mom’s Pies – but it was too tough to decide which was better!
Julian Pie Company
Julian Pie Company has several locations to choose from, including a walk-up window to order whole pies or slices to-go. The first location is located in Santa Ysabel, on the corners of highways 76 and 78, just 7 miles before you get to Julian. If you want to beat the crowds, this is a great place to stop to get your pies on your way in or out of Julian.
In Julian, there are two more locations for Julian Pie Company for you to enjoy. The shop on the northwest edge of town includes seating inside and umbrella covered tables outside. By late morning, expected to stand in the line that extends out the bakery doors, through the outdoor seating area, and up to the street.
The second location in Julian is located on the main street in connection with the Julian Cafe. This is the location with the walk-up window for ordering whole pies and slices. We were fortunate to come during a rare lull in the afternoon with only a handful of people in line in front of us for the window.
We ordered two slices of the pumpkin apple crumble pie to go – one for Fritz and I to share, and one to bring home to our son as this is his favorite pie and the only one he will eat! Even with sharing the previous pies, we were just about at our limits of how much pie we could eat, so our plan was to have one bite for each of us, then take the rest home.
Because we ordered our slices to-go, we were expecting the slices to come in boxes, but the pie was served ready to eat in cardboard dishes and topped with whip cream. Not what we expected! And it made it more difficult to transport the pie slices home.
Despite this minor disappointment that the slices weren’t in boxes, the pie itself was absolutely delicious! Apple pumpkin crumble pie is everything that is perfect for autumn. The first time my son told me about this pie, I was skeptical and resistant to try it. Apple pies and pumpkin pies are perfection in themselves, but mixed together just didn’t sound appealing. How wrong I was! This pie is the perfect mixture of tangy and sweet, nutmeg and cinnamon, buttery crust and crumble. It is the perfect companion to a hot cup of coffee on a crisp autumn day. Whatever your preconceived notions might be about this pie mixing pumpkin and apple together, my advice is to get over it and try it. You will be glad you did.
Coffee Shops in Julian
Speaking of hot coffee and how well it goes with pie, my favorite coffee shop in Julian is Regulars Wanted Beanery Corporation. It’s a favorite of the locals as well as the town visitors, and for good reason. Along with great coffee, they also offer a host of other drinks, such as teas and hot apple cider. The bakery offers everything from cookies to breads to cakes, and large plates of eggs, potatoes, and bacon paraded out of the kitchen at a steady pace.
The seating is plentiful here with tables in the main dining room, more in a large back room that felt like an old fashioned porch, and outside dining in the garden area in front of the restaurant. We sat in the back porch at a table with comfortable bright blue chairs, covered in orange cushions enjoying the fall colors on the hills beyond the back yard.
Fritz sipped on hot apple cider while I enjoyed an excellent coffee from Mexico that went perfectly with the banana bread and coffee cake we decided to sample. The coffee cake was good, but it’s the banana bread we recommend the most. The bread is served in thick slices with a crust of oatmeal and the right amount of cinnamon to compliment the banana.
Shopping in Julian
Whether shopping for yourself or looking for the perfect gift for someone special, Julian is a great place to spend the day browsing the stores. There are lots of clothing stores and boutiques with a wide array of styles between them all, but it’s the specialty shops that I like the most. I’ve featured some of my favorites below, but the range of treasures to be found extends beyond what I have listed.
I highly recommend that you allow yourself the time to stroll up through the town and take in the stores for yourself. Along with all the specialty shops, bakeries, and restaurants, you’ll also find the small-town versions of the local grocery store, liquor store, and convenience store which shouldn’t be missed. Stop in to get the true flavor of mountain town living.
Yogi Picnic Baskets
Yogi Picnic Baskets is a treasure of a store that we stumbled into on this visit to Julian. The shop has fantastic picnic baskets, of course, and so much more. I’m not the best shopper because I can only browse for so long before I get bored, but in this store I found myself taking the time to look at everything, often lingering to touch and examine items closer.
Gloria, the owner of the shop, is friendly and as interesting as the rest of her store. Along with the picnic baskets and household decor, she also sells local antiques. An amazing, French wooden desk dating to the 1860’s from the original Julian schoolhouse is featured in her store, along with a medicine cabinet mirror from 1906 that once hung in a ranch outside of Ramona.
The Yogi Picnic Baskets shop is the ideal place to find something special for friends, romantic wedding gifts, wine and specialty-drink themed items for throwing the perfect party, or unique pieces of furniture and decor for your home.
Julian Tea & Cottage Arts
The Julian Tea & Cottage Arts shop is another must-see for me on any visit to this little mountain town. We are big tea drinkers in our house and always have at least two pitchers of ice tea in the refrigerator at all times. This shop has a HUGE selection of teas, every kind imaginable for every taste.
The cottage (built in 1898) serves luncheons and tea at 11:30, 1:00 and 2:30 in their cozy dining room. Inviting tables adorned with tablecloths, lace doilies, flower-printed napkins and classic tea sets make the perfect setting for a tea party. If sitting down for an afternoon tea is not on your agenda, the Julian Tea shop will happily make a hot or ice tea to-go.
The shop sells everything tea related – tea in bags, loose-leaf tea, tea cups, tea mugs, tea pots, tea napkins, tea towels, tea spoons, tea infusers, tea books, tea cookies, and anything else a tea related for tea lovers. Venture to the back of the store, past the selection of cookbooks, and you will find a narrow stairwell leading to the second floor of the cottage. Upstairs is a treasure trove of kitchen items, handmade aprons made to look like 50’s and 60’s era dresses, vintage hats and gloves, and gifts for children.
The Book House
My favorite used bookstores is the Book House in Julian. Situated in an old house turned into book haven, this store is a wealth of treasures. Around every corner is another room filled with another genre of books from the popular to the rare.
Julian Cider Mill
The Julian Cider Mill is always packed with people, but it’s worth the trouble to elbow your way in and make your way along the tables and shelves packed with great jams, butters, syrups, candies, trail mixes, fudge, and a hundred other mouth-watering foods.
This is a favorite place of mine for gifts. It’s easy to put together a great basket of sweets and treats that are sure to delight anyone on your list.
If the crowds are not your thing, never fear! They have an old-time wagon out front selling caramel apples, apple cider, apples by the bag, and other tasty treats. I recommend a hot apple cider to sip on while watching the crowds go by.
As you would expect from a Mercantile, this shop has a fantastic array of gifts and items from clothing to home decor. I could finish all my Christmas shopping in one stop at this store – and maybe even end up with a fabulous handcrafted Myra Bag for me from Santa!
The town is full of gift shops, but somehow each one manages to stay unique and the Julian Mercantile does not disappoint. Take your time in this shop.
Knitting by Merilee
Marilee hand-makes every item in her shop, from the whimsical and cute to the elegant and luxurious. She features knit hats that look like characters from famous cartoons, headbands with fluffy Ewok ears, sweaters for babies and toddlers, fingerless gloves for texting, and much more. Each item is expertly hand-crafted and high-quality.
Restaurants in Julian
The only issue with a day trip to Julian is that it’s not possible to try all the great food choices available in just one day, even if you arrive in time for breakfast and leave after dinner! For such a small town, there are a lot of options for eating out and a good variety of restaurants.
You won’t find a bunch of chain restaurants here, or fast food. In fact, expect to wait a while at many of the restaurants – settle in, relax, and enjoy a coffee or a cocktail while you wait, because home-cooked meals don’t come out of the kitchen fast. I love that many of the restaurants post signs warning customers that that food made with fresh ingredients from scratch will take a while.
One of those restaurants with fresh ingredients and home-cooked meals is Soups & Such Cafe. This eclectic cafe is cute, cozy, and and worth the wait. The staff makes you feel at home from the moment you arrive with their smiling banter and friendly service. The menu includes soups made from scratch daily, burgers, sandwiches, and salads. It’s traditional American fare but with a flare.
We tried the curry tuna sandwich, the BLT, sweet potato fries, side salad, and veggie soup. All of it was superb! The curry, raisins and olives made for the best tuna sandwich ever, and the unexpected creaminess of the vegetable soup was absolutely delicious. Fritz even liked the sweet potato fries, which normally are not one of his favorites.
Julian offers classic American restaurants Mexican restaurants, Italian restaurants, pizza, burgers, pies, and so much more. Every time we visit, we find another hidden gem like Soups & Such Cafe offering great, unique food. I highly recommend you venture in to any of them, try something new, and prepare to be delighted.
Dogs Visiting Julian
Julian is a great place to bring your four-legged fur buddy. We saw lots of people waking with their dogs all around Julian, and many of the restaurants have outdoor seating to accommodate dining with your dog. You won’t be able to enter many of the shops with your dog, but you can definitely enjoy watching the all the activity from one of the many benches situated along main street.