Julian, California, is a former gold mining town up in the mountains, only about two hours or less from almost anywhere in San Diego, Riverside or Orange counties. Founded more than 100 years ago, Julian is rich in history and still full of rustic ambience, transporting visitors to what seems like a faraway retreat to another era. Known for its abundant apple orchards and resulting delicious apple pies, Julian has even more to offer visitors who want to get away from the big city hustle and bustle—charming boutiques, enticing wineries, cozy bread-and-breakfasts, rollicking theatre, gourmet restaurants and picturesque hiking trails.
I recently traveled the scenic, winding road to Julian with a group of food and wine writers and we relished the experience. Here’s what you can do in just 24 relaxing and enjoyable hours in Julian:
Our first stop for a late lunch was a special treat that was a pleasant surprise in such a seemingly remote location. Jeremy’s on the Hill is family-owned by Cordon Bleu-trained chef, Jeremy Manley, and his mother, Teresa. Jeremy, who has been cooking since he was a young boy, is talented way beyond what might be expected from a 26-year-old chef. Besides creating and producing innovative and delicious cuisine, he is energetic and dedicated. Recently he established a popular food truck business and also took over Julian School District’s school nutrition program. Almost everything Chef Jeremy serves is made from local, seasonal, and usually organic sources. (For tantalizing details on our meal at Jeremy's, go to an earlier Examiner article.)
We spent the night at the cozy Julian Lodge, built in 1885 and conveniently located right off Julian’s Main Street. Our room had a comfy bed and was lovingly furnished with tasteful antiques. A very nice continental breakfast with great coffee, juices, breads and rolls is included each morning and served in the lodge’s pleasant dining area. The Lodge is ideal for a relaxing getaway that is close to the shops and many attractions in Julian. Rooms are reasonably priced, starting at about $85.
Santa Ysabel Casino, where we spent a few hours and had dinner, is what I would call a boutique casino. It is small, friendly, and features some special touches such as a bar offering multiple craft beers from area breweries and an impressive variety of wines, many from some excellent local wineries. Especially unique is the menu of over 70 tequilas that included several special tequila tasting flights. Tequila flights include a luscious margarita with the tequila of your choice. The casino’s Orchard Restaurant offers an extensive menu with many options, including steaks, seafood and salads. We sat at a table overlooking a beautiful valley with Lake Henshaw and Palomar Mountain in the background. The food was equally appealing. I particularly savored the spicy shrimp cocktail and my husband loved his fresh chicken salad and hamburger sliders. And, of course, some of us tried our hands at the slots and even won a few dollars. This casino is a congenial, relaxing place to spend a few hours.
We started our day at Peacefield Orchard, a serene, pastoral orchard with a long history and some very old trees, such as one affectionately referred to as Granny Gravenstien, which, at more than 115 years old, still produces apples. There are seven varieties of apple trees in this orchard and also pear trees and unique prune plum trees. During the fall season, the orchard opens to pickers and would certainly provide a fun, family experience.
Next we were treated to a scrumptious breakfast at the Fajita Grill, located in the historic De Luca House (built in 1893) and featuring an appetizing array of authentic Mexican dishes all made from scratch with fresh ingredients. After our stroll through the apple orchard, we enjoyed a relaxing morning on the Grill’s outdoor patio where we savored wonderful coffee and juices and great meals. Our only challenge was deciding what to order since the Mexican specialties offered included such delicious options as chilaquiles con heuvos, steak ranchero, red or green enchiladas, Mexican breakfast burritos, chili rellanos, and various appealing omelet options.
During breakfast, we met gracious Maurice Wright, who owns the local franchise of Transit Van Shuttle, which would take us in luxurious style to the final stop on our whirlwind tour of Julian. We learned that Transit Van offers many services, including tours of the area and wine tours, along with airport pick-up and delivery. We all really enjoyed our comfortable ride to J. Jenkins Winery through some of the lovely winding hills around Julian.
Located two miles north of Julian, this charming tasting room sits in a scenic valley at the foot of Volcan Mountain in the midst of a bucolic apple orchard and ten acres of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir grapes. We tried a tasting of six wines. (A $6 tasting includes a logo glass.) We were particularly surprised and impressed with the Dolcezza wine, made only from apples. Expecting a very sweet taste, we were surprised with the delicious crisp, fruity taste of this wine, which was wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day. We liked it so much that we brought home two bottles. We also enjoyed a subtly sweet and citrusy 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a rich estate 2011 Pinot Noir made in the Burgundy style with nice minerality and berry overtones. We also especially liked the Pommier Apple Port with a sweet fruit forward taste that makes it an ideal dessert wine. (We imagined how delectable this port would be over vanilla ice cream.)
Alas, we had to bid farewell to Julian, but we were amazed at how much we did during our 24 hours there and left knowing we would come back because there is so much more to do. We only scratched the surface. You definitely need to save time to wander up and down the main street, peeking at art galleries, shopping in unique shops and sampling apple pies. The fall months are the most beautiful time in Julian with warm sunny days and cool invigorating nights. Right now Apple Days are being celebrated and feature all kinds of special apple-oriented activities. The popular fun-filled Julian Apple Days Festival is coming up soon on October 5 and 6. It’s time to make plans now.