Located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79, about 50 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small mountain community of Julian. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca Range and the south slope of Volcan Mountain.
Julian was founded following the Civil War, when displaced Confederate Veterans from Georgia headed West to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who were there in 1869 when cattleman Fred Coleman found the first flecks of gold in a creek. It was San Diego County's first and only gold rush. By 1934, the total gold production for the Julian region was estimated at between 4 and 5 million dollars.
Julian, named in honor of Mike Julian, was never big, at the most boasting a population of about 600---more than the number who reside within the historic district today. We began our walking tour of the town at the nearly one-hundred-year-old Town Hall.
The entire township of Julian is a Designated Historical District. Its image as an early California frontier town with pioneer store fronts, historic sites and guided tours of Eagle and High Peak Mines accounts for much of its modern appeal. Tourism is Julian's largest industry, making Julian the B&B capital of Southern California; cattle raising ranks second.
The 1890s historic landmark, the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, lies in the heart of the town’s historic district. It was initially owned by Albert Robinson, a freed slave from Missouri. Eventually, Albert grew the building into the Hotel Robinson, complete with fourteen guest rooms. It has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California.
Unlike other such camps, Julian survived after the mines played out because of its climate and rich soil. It proved to be a fine place to grow apples. At 4,235 feet, its cold-winter climate, unique among Southern California communities, proved ideal for growing apples. All Julian apples are sold locally as apple pies, apple cider or whole fruit. In October, 10,000 apple pies a week are baked in Julian, when Southern California tourists flock here for the fall colors, cool breezes, frontier atmosphere and its famous Apple Festival, held annually in October.
The Candied Apple Pastry Company and Mom's (photos above) are just two of the shops selling apple and apple-fruit combination pies.
As we continued our walk around town, we wondered how a visit here on a summer weekend would compare to our fall weekday trip to and around Julian. The final twenty-mile drive from I-8 to Julian on CA 79 was marked with multiple curves as the road climbed to Julian. The road was scenic, but we could imagine caravan-like groups of cars developing behind a slower driver; the result could likely lead to a lessened interest in the scenic aspects of the drive.
Once in Julian, we could imagine the crowded streets and parking lots filled on the outskirts of town. The crowds might reduce some of the town's charm, but
on the other hand, visiting on a day when the Miner's Diner was closed robbed us of the chance to take a stool at the counter and experience the charm of the old soda fountain.
The mercantile store was one of our last stops and
on our walk to one of the town's restaurants, we saw someone who must have been the Wandering Sage on the rooftop of one of the buildings.