Radiating the aura of the Old West, Julian offers an abundance of early California history, quaint Victorian streets filled with apple-pie shops and antiques stores, fresh air, and friendly people. While Wal-Mart and McDonald's have invaded formerly unspoiled mountain resorts such as Big Bear and Mammoth, this 1880s gold-mining town has managed to retain a rustic, woodsy sense of its historic origins, despite the arrival of a Subway sandwich shop.
Be forewarned, however, that downtown Julian can be exceedingly crowded during the fall harvest season. Consider making your trip during another season (or midweek) to enjoy this unspoiled relic with a little privacy. Rest assured, apple pies are baking around town year-round. But autumn is perfect; the air is crisp and bracing. Julian gets dusted (sometimes buried) by snow during the winter; spring prods patches of daffodils into bloom.
The best way to experience Julian is on foot. Two or three blocks of Main Street offer plenty of diversions for an afternoon or longer, depending on how much pie you stop to eat. And don't worry, you'll grow accustomed to constant apple references very quickly here -- the fruit has proven to be more of an economic boon than gold ever was.
After stopping in at the chamber of commerce in the old Town Hall -- don't miss the vintage photos in the auditorium -- cross the street to the Julian Drug Store & Miner's Diner, 2130 Main St. (tel. 760/765-3753). This old-style soda fountain serves sparkling sarsaparilla, burgers, and sandwiches, and conjures images of guys in buckskin and gals in bonnets. Built in 1886, the brick structure is one of the many well-preserved buildings in town on the National Historic Register; it's jampacked with local memorabilia.
The Eagle and High Peak Mine, built around 1870, at the end of C Street (tel. 760/765-0036), may seem to be a tourist trap, but it offers an interesting and educational look at the town's one-time economic mainstay. Tours take you underground to the 1,000-foot hard-rock tunnel to see the mining and milling process; antique engines and authentic tools are on display. Tours are usually given beginning at 10am, but hours vary so it's best to call ahead. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children under 12, $1 for children 5 and under. At the Smith Ranch, 2353 Ethelwyn Lane (tel. 760/765-2288; www.pioneerways.com), you can ride on a narrow-gauge railroad, explore a gold mine (then pan for gold), and get a general immersion in the old-time ways. A variety of tours is offered; the 1 1/2 hour train-and-gold mine excursion is scheduled Monday through Saturday (reservations are required). The cost is $15 adults, $12 ages 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and under.
There's more local history on view at the Julian Pioneer Museum, 2811 Washington St. (tel. 760/765-0227). It's open April through December, Thursday through Sunday 10am to 4pm; weekends only 10am to 4pm the rest of the year. And no historic survey of Julian is complete without a visit to Pioneer Cemetery (www.juliancemetery.org), a hilltop graveyard straight out of Our Town or Spoon River Anthology. It can be accessed by a stairway on Main Street (which becomes Farmer Rd.), just past A Street; at one time this steep climb was the only entrance, but now you can also get there by car via A Street.
A ride with Main Street Carriage Company (tel. 760/765-0438) is a quintessential Julian experience. You can clip-clop through the heart of town in a horse-drawn carriage, getting a narrated historical tour along the way; tickets are $7 adults, $3 children 10 and under (up to 6 or 7 people can be accommodated at a time). Your carriage awaits at the corner of Washington and Main streets; hours are usually Friday noon to 4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:30pm.
Animal lovers might also want to look into the California Wolf Center (tel. 760/765-0030 or 619/234-9653; www.californiawolfcenter.org), located about 4 miles from town. This educational and conservation facility offers public programs on Saturday at 2 and 4:30pm (10am and 2pm in fall and winter), and Sunday at 10am (reservations required; $10-$20 adults, $5-$10 children); tours include a visit with the resident wolf pack. Private tours can be arranged Monday through Friday ($25 per person).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.