TGIP: Thank God it’s National Pie Day!

Pie purveyors create sweet comfort by the slice

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important! To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.
―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Good morning. There are many things to celebrate today: National Handwriting Day, Measure Your Feet Day (I only ask….why?!), and National Pie Day!

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 23: National Pie Day

National Pie Day is today, a January 23 holiday. Today is a special day that is set aside to bake all of your favorite pies. On this day, you are also encouraged to bake a few new pie recipes. And most importantly, it’s a day to eat pies! The American Pie Council created this day simply to celebrate them.

A great way to celebrate National Pie Day is to bake some pies and give them away to friends, neighbors, and relatives. You never know, you may be starting a tradition of pie giving between your friends and family.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day celebrates one of America’s favorite desserts. No matter how you slice it, pie in just about any form makes a crowd happy. Fruit pies, berry pies, cream pies, pecan pies—they are mouthwatering servings of homemade goodness. 

Whether it is apple, pumpkin, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, peach, Key lime, lemon meringue, coconut cream, sweet potato, mince, or countless more, the sweet, savory tastes are as American as… well, you know.

Many people think that Pie Day is March 14, but that is Pi Day—the celebration of the famous mathematical constant when people also eat pie.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Boulder, Colorado, school teacher named Charlie Papazian takes credit for founding National Pie Day. Around 1975, he declared to his students that his birthday—January 23—would be known as National Pie Day. Charlie likes pie and he celebrates with candles on his birthday pie.

Charlie also founded the American Pie Council and that group registered the holiday and began promoting National Pie Day celebrations in 1986.

It’s a holiday simply to celebrate pie, because pie so deserves to be celebrated!

I’ve been pondering pie lately and why it, perhaps more than any other food, is so endearing. Pie somehow takes us back, like old songs do, to those who remember when moments worth recalling. And why I wonder, does it seem as if the pie has become the cool kid on the dessert block … again? Trendy or not, pie satisfies our sweet tooth and carries us back in time to those fun times. It deserves its own day.

You can join the celebration by baking your pie since it’s easy as, well, pie. Or consider your options: Plenty of pie purveyors have perfected the art of creating sweet comfort by the slice.  A good pie, after all, is like a hug. The better the pie, the bigger the embrace! I recently went looking for full-on-tackle hugs—the ultimate pies—and found them.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of pies

Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about them through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in reeds which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as coffyn. There was more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them coffins like the crust in England. As in Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.

Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today—the most traditional American dessert. Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years that we now commonly use the term as American as apple pie.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day by the numbers 

  • 6000 BC: Earliest date pie is traced back to
  • 186 million: Pies sold in stores each year in America alone
  • 23,236 pounds (10,540kg): Weight of the largest pie ever baked
  • 1675: Pumpkin pie makes its first appearance in a cookbook
  • 47: Percentage of Americans think pie is comforting
  • $9,500: Price of the world’s most expensive pie
  • 1 in 5: Americans have eaten a whole pie by themselves
  • 9: Percentage of Americans prefer eating the crust first
  • 1644: Year that pie was banned by Oliver Cromwell for being a pagan form of pleasure
  • 18: Percentage of men that say their wives bake the best pie
Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Pie Day

Eat some pie: Naturally, the best way to celebrate National Pie Day is to eat a slice of your favorite—or try a new and adventurous flavor

Bake a pie: Baking a pie can be as easy as, well, pie. Look up a recipe online, in a cookbook, or ask a family member to share a favorite recipe

Share a pie: If you make or buy a pie, share it; by its very nature, pie is meant to be eaten with others

Sample different slices of pie: When life gives you choices, you don’t have to only pick one

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Share your favorite pie recipe with friends and family: Baking with others brings a whole new ingredient to your recipe.

Eat a whole pie by yourself: Sometimes you just need to indulge in the sweeter things in life but I recommend eating a pie in more than one sitting.

Host a pie night: Gather family and friends for a pie celebration—everyone must bring one homemade pie for the pie buffet (More than 100 folks with 100 pies?)

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enter a pie bake-off: Many organizations hold pie baking contests; if you’re feeling proud of your baking skills, try showing them off at your local bake-off

Host a pie-making contest: Invite the best pie-makers in town to compete for prizes in various categories; ask cooking teachers, pastry chefs, and pie lovers to be judges (Contact the American Pie Council and they will send you a sample pie judging sheet)

Eat more pie: You can always have another slice, preferably warm and a la mode.

Do pie stuff: Sing pie songs, read pie books, quote pie poems, make pie charts.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pie Facts

The oldest known pie recipe was for a rye-crusted goat’s cheese and honey pie in ancient Rome about 2,000 years ago

Related pie days

  • National Pi Day (March 14)
  • National Cherry Pie Day (February 20)
  • National Blueberry Pie Day (April 28)
  • National Pecan Pie Day (July 12)
  • National Peach Pie Day (August 24)
  • National Pumpkin Pie Day (December 25)

No matter how you cut it, pies are a great reason to celebrate.

So preheat your oven or visit your local bakery, grab a slice, and celebrate the simple, delicious pleasures of good pie.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> People are also reading…

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.

―Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Why the Saying Should Be As American as Pumpkin Pie, Not Apple

I think we should be saying as American as pumpkin pie

When life gives you pumpkins, make pie.

—a play on Elbert Hubbard’s words

Pie is revered in the modern American household. Juicy apples mixed with sugar and cinnamon make much-anticipated appearances in the kitchen throughout fall and winter. Rich, creamy spiced pumpkin and sweet potato pies are delivered on Thanksgiving. Deep burgundy red cherry pies are served on Christmas.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve all heard the phrase countless times before: As American as apple pie. Many people never question it. Apple pie is on the menu at most American diners and Normal Rockwell featured the dessert in several of his illustrations. It’s unmistakably American—and yet that well-worn cliche isn’t historically accurate. When you dig into the history of the earliest days of the American colonies you’ll find that the pie most connected to this country’s roots is pumpkin, not apple.

Pumpkin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkins are native to North America. Columbus wrote about pumpkins he saw from his voyages and brought some back as did subsequent explorers so people in Europe were familiar with them as early as 1492. Pumpkins and other squash were some of the first crops colonists planted when settlers arrived in America in 1621.

And then there’s pie. There’s been a love for pie in North America from the very first settlers to their present-day ancestors. Early settlers cut up pretty much anything that could grow, baked it between two pieces of crust, and called it a pie. Culinary tastes of the era meant that almost all vegetables grown in the colony were baked in a pastry crust.

Pie generally meant something a little more savory. Tarts were dishes where they added lots of sugar. That was the difference between a pie and a tart in the 17th century.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A matter of fillings

Pumpkin, not an apple, was the dominant pie filling in the early American colonies as apple orchards hadn’t been planted yet. New England without apples is difficult to picture but the first decade of the Plymouth colony was mostly appleless.

Related article: How as American as Apple Pie Came to Be

William Blaxton planted the first apple seedlings trees soon after he arrived in Weymouth, Massachusetts just south of present-day Boston in 1623.

Pumpkin patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once apples were abundant in the colonies, pie recipes popped up that combined sliced apples and pumpkins with butter and a little spice. These original pies, however, were more vegetable-heavy. They used sliced pieces of pumpkin or squash mixed with spices and butter and then baked in a pastry crust. Pumpkin pies with a whipped, fluffy texture became widespread after the advent of Libby’s canned pumpkin puree in the early 20th century.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How pumpkin pie was traditionally served

Pumpkin pie in the 21st century is relegated to dessert—a savory and sweet cap to an already decadent meal. Thanksgiving seems incomplete without it.

But pies weren’t reserved for special occasions in the pilgrim household. Meals were served family style and pies were set out with the rest of the main courses rather than being presented at the end of the meal. Once the family sat down to eat the pies weren’t sliced, either.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you served a pie in the 17th century you’d cut the top crust off, scoop out the filling, and then you’d take little bits of crust to go with it. So pie acted like a container to hold the rest of the filling in.

About that crust: There seems to be some confusion about the uses of early pie crust. New England’s early settlers called pie crust pastry or paste and typically the ingredients were simple: hot or cold water depending on the type of pie, butter, and flour. These crusts, sometimes known as the coffyn became rock hard during the baking process leading to the misconception that the crusts were tossed into the garbage once the filling had been consumed. America’s settlers, however, were much more industrious and recycled the pastry for future use.

Pumpkin patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You would eat the pastry with the next meal with broth to soften the pastry. You didn’t throw it away. Because when people go through all the trouble to grow food like wheat or rye or other grains and harvest it by hand and thresh it and grind it, they aren’t going to throw it away. They might not feed it to the lord of the manor but somebody is going to eat it.

Related article: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

The term coffin might sound off-putting when applied to your dinner but it simply described the pie as a basket or box. This dining method proved popular throughout medieval Europe. For one, it required no additional dishes and could be eaten by hand, no utensils needed. And that’s not the coffin pie’s only practical purpose.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Janet Clarkson’s book, Pie: A Global History, she writes that this hefty pastry case served as a container similar to a lunch box. It was a way for people to both transport their food and preserve it (especially important before refrigeration when people needed a way to make their food last). Sometimes, the baker carved a hole in the top of the crust and poured melted fat into the hole to act as a seal against intruding air thus keeping it fresh for an extended period.

Pastry crust didn’t catch on in America until the 1640s, however, when the settlers began growing wheat and rye in the colonies. Maize, the corn favored by the Native American people already living on the land the pilgrims had colonized made soggy pastry that fell apart. So, for the first 15 years, the colonies operated there was no crust made in New England—and therefore very few pies.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there was one exception: When the long-serving governor of the Plymouth Colony William Bradford married in 1623, rye from England was used to make 12 venison pies.

Even before pie crust became commonplace what the pilgrims did not do was bake pumpkin pies inside a hollowed-out pumpkin. This cooking method is a widespread myth, plain and simple.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This misconception might stem from a 16th-century source who wrote that pumpkins the size of an acorn squash were hollowed out then sliced bits of pumpkin and apple were added and baked together. The real dish would have looked and tasted more like an acorn squash side dish, not a sweetened pumpkin pie. But even so, there is no record of that dish even being cooked in the colonies, only in 17th century England.

Related article: 8 Creative Ways to See Some Fall Color

That’s very different than taking this giant field pumpkin and hollowing it and pouring in four quarts of cream and a pound of sugar and baking that forever and a day.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As American as pumpkin pie

Pies were undoubtedly a major part of the cuisine in the New England colonies. Until Amelia Simmons published her cookbook in 1796—the first cookbook written in America by an American—reprints of cookbooks from England where pies had long been a staple dish circulated in the colonies. The pilgrims ate plenty of pies, just not apple pie.

Related article: Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It would take a little more than 20 years after the first successful colonies before apples appeared in pies or anything else. America’s earliest settlers filled their pies with what grew most abundantly in their backyards and that was a pumpkin. So next time you’re thinking about celebrating America, pull out the pumpkin pie recipe you’d usually save for Thanksgiving. 

Related article: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

Worth Pondering…

The pumpkin lies yellow beneath the cold skies, it’s luscious and mellow and ready for pies.

—Walt Mason, The Pumpkin

O’ pumpkin pie, your time has come ’round again and I am autumnrifically happy!

—Terri Guillemets

But see in our open clearings how golden the melons lie; enrich them with sweets and spices and give us the pumpkin-pie!

— Margaret Junkin Preston

I picture pumpkins at a farmer’s market piled happy and high awaiting a new home where children will carve them into scary faces or mothers will bake them into pie or stew.

—Jenny Gardiner, Slim to None

The pumpkin is a uniquely American plant, widely regarded as one of the most magical plants in all the world.

—Seth Adam Smith, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern

Advice from a pumpkin: be well-rounded, get plenty of sunshine, give thanks for life’s bounty, have thick skin, keep growing, be outstanding in your field, think big.

— Unknown

How as American as Apple Pie Came to Be

How apple pie became American

Pie is…the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.

The New York Times, 1902

The saying as American as apple pie has been around for centuries. Traced back as early as 1851, this expression is used to express patriotism, usually heard when discussing things like baseball, beer, or rock-n-roll. But in a country where apples aren’t native to the land—nor is the pie for that matter—how did apple pie become so embedded in the American identity?

Apples and other vegetables at a farmers market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This flaky, fruit-filled dessert conjures memories of holidays huddled around the dinner table, steam rising from the lattice crust of a pie on the windowsill, and generations celebrating and enjoying time together. But apple pie wasn’t invented in the United States. As is the case for many aspects of American cuisine, the majority of its ingredients hail from abroad.

This fall, tip your basket to William Blaxton when you pluck a plump apple from a tree, bob for apples on Halloween, or cherish your grandmother’s amazing apple pie on Thanksgiving.

Apple pies in Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reverend Blaxton, among other claims to fame, planted the first seeds that would fuel a pioneering nation and give apples an image of all-American wholesomeness.  

A bookish, eccentric loner, the early English settler nurtured what historians believe were the first apple orchards in what is now the U.S. in present-day Boston in the 1620s. His name Blaxton is often modernized as Blackstone. A true pioneer, he settled Boston five years before the Puritans and in Rhode Island a year before Roger Williams. 

There may be historical characters who did more than he did for apples in America but he was certainly the first—or at least the first known—to bring this exotic crop to our shores. 

Apple tarts in Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s national heritage is flavored with references to the sweet, juicy fruit. America’s biggest city is called the Big Apple. Wholesome institutions are as American as apple pie. Johnny Appleseed created an American legend spreading the gospel and the apple across the heartland. 

Food historians and scientists believe the fruit is native to Central Asia in what is today the Tian Shan forest in Kazakhstan. Wild apples were domesticated there and spread along the Silk Road to Europe. The apple evolved along the Silk Road and in Europe before making it to England and then America via the New World’s early colonists.

Apple orchard in late fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only apple indigenous to North America is the sour and small crabapple which doesn’t fit in well with desserts. Sweet apples have found a second home in the US; it produces the most apples in the world, next to China.

The apple reached Europe at least by the time of Ancient Greece and Rome and arrived in the Americas only after the explorations of Christopher Columbus sparked the greatest period of food fusion and cultural integration in world history. 

Related article: Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

The people of the New World in addition to apples soon savored Old World foods such as rice, onions, and coffee. Europeans, Asians, and Africans discovered Western Hemisphere flavors such as corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. 

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

William Blaxton is believed to have been born on March 5, 1595, in Lincolnshire, England to John and Agnes (Hawley) Blaxton. His mother died when he was boy. He was ordained by the Church of England in 1621 then lost his father the following year.

As the news of English settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth trickled back to England, Blaxton set off for the New World as chaplain aboard the ship Katherine.

Apple pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blaxton arrived in Wessagusset in what is now Weymouth, Massachusetts just south of Boston in 1623. It was an ill-fated settlement. Captain Richard Gorges who led the expedition hastily returned to England. Blaxton stayed behind and ventured a few miles north to the Shawmut Peninsula the site of present-day downtown Boston in 1625. The Puritans, led by John Winthrop, arrived five years later. 

The staid Puritan reformers and the oddball Anglican minister did not hit it off. So, for the third time in 12 years, Blaxton (or Blackstone) started a new life on his own. 

Apple orchard in late fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Because of theological and territorial disagreements with his new neighbors, Blackstone moved west in 1635 to enjoy the solitude and tranquility of a place he called ‘Study Hill’ in the Lonsdale section of Cumberland on the east bank of the river that now bears his name,” writes the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. “This move gave him the unique distinction of being present-day Rhode Island’s first permanent English settler.”

Apple experts say the earliest known American varieties likely descended from Blackstone’s Boston fruit trees. Blaxton’s first orchard was planted at the corner of what is now Beacon and Spruce streets in the heart of Boston between Beacon Hill and Boston Common. Blackstone planted his apple orchards from seed according to all reports while controlled varietals are grown by grafting.

Apple Alley Bakery, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roxbury russet named for a Boston neighborhood is the earliest known American apple variety and is traced to 1635, the year Blaxton left for Rhode Island. Heirloom apples—Rhode Island greening and yellow sweeting—also likely came from his first orchards.

Apples could also be dried, baked, distilled into vinegar—or, most commonly in colonial times—fermented into cider. They proved perfect food for the pioneers who were spreading across the continent. 

Related article: Day Trip: Julian, CA

William Blackstone died on May 26, 1675, in Cumberland, the Rhode Island town he first settled in 1635. The name Blackstone remains common throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land he sold to the Puritans became Boston Common founded in 1634 just before he left the Shawmut Peninsula. It is the oldest public park in America today. It predates Central Park in New York City, for example, by 224 years.

Boston boasts a downtown Blackstone Street, a Blackstone Grill, and a Blackstone Elementary School. The Blackstone River which meanders through both Massachusetts and Rhode Island is named for him. The Blackstone River National Historical Park was created under President Obama in 2015. Rhode Island features numerous memorials including a William Blackstone Memorial Park in Cumberland. The city of Pawtucket, an old mill town on the Blackstone River introduced a monument to Blackstone in 2021. It features him reading a book upon a bull reflecting one of the tales of his eccentricity.

Julian Cafe and Bakery, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When British troops invaded Brooklyn during the American Revolution in 1776, the British were stunned by the splendor of the orchards. The redcoats “regaled themselves with the fine apples which hung everywhere upon the trees in great abundance,” wrote author David McCullough in 1776, his epic work of history. 

According to the American Pie Council, Americans consume $700 million worth of retail pies each year—and that doesn’t include those that are home-baked or sold by restaurants and independent bakers. That’s a lot of apple pie.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though I’ve made the case here that apple pie isn’t so American after all, one could argue that just because something originated somewhere else doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t become a source of national pride elsewhere. America took the apple pie to heights it had never seen before and elevated it as a treasured part of its lore and history. And though it wouldn’t be fair to call apple pie “American” without acknowledging its past, the baked good seems to be just at home here as anywhere else in the world.

Worth Pondering…

Apples are just like us. They come in many colors, many sizes, and many shapes. They are well rooted, just like we all want to be. They are collaborative, communicative, and they gift us with beautiful fruit. Apples teach us what it means to be alive and joyful on earth.

—John Bunker

Day Trip: Julian, CA

The center of Julian is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apple pie. Head an hour east of San Diego and check out this charming small town—and bring your appetite.

With a friendly, small-town feel, four distinct seasons, and enough fun to make for a stacked itinerary—including a wolf conservatory, hundreds of miles of trails, charming cafes and cideries, and more—Julian is perfect for a day trip, a weekend escape, or a longer stay. Here’s how to make the most of your visit.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush. See where gold was discovered, shop stores housed in historic buildings dating back to the 1870s, hike and picnic amid oaks and pines, and sample Julian’s famous apple pie.

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Cuyamaca Mountains, much of Julian’s rustic charm has to do with the fact that it’s preserved its roots as a Western mining town gone boom. The town experienced a population spike in the 1870s following the discovery of gold in a nearby stream by formerly enslaved cattleman A.E. “Fred” Coleman; the find spurred the area’s first and only gold rush which lasted until about 1900.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bronze plaque near Town Hall also commemorates the city’s early Black history as Julian once boasted the majority of San Diego’s Black population: in the 1880 census, 33 of 55 Black residents living in San Diego County lived in the Julian area.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around that same time, another enterprising gentleman, James Madison (not the fourth president), brought a wagonload of young apple trees to the area. The trees flourished in the mountain environment and became one of the reasons people from all over SoCal continue to visit Julian today.

More on Julian: The Charms of Julian

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Foodies will have a field day here, especially those with a sweet tooth. A warm slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream feels decadent anywhere else but in Julian it’s essential! Julian Pie Company is the most well-known bakery in town so be prepared to wait in line. Moms Pie House is equally delicious. Both have whipped cream, caramel sauce, ice cream, and sharp cheddar cheese as pie toppings, so pick your pleasure.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feeling thirsty? There are several wineries around Julian including Blue Door Winery just off of Main Street. Julian Beer Company is another fun place to unwind with several options on tap including Julian Hard Cider. If you’re looking for a caffeine boost, stop by Regulars Wanted Beanery, a cute cafe that serves breakfast all day and some of the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to visit is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch. Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler.

More on Julian: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Tucked into the base of Volcan Mountain at just above 4,000 feet elevation, Menghini Winery is the oldest winery in Julian and the second oldest in San Diego County. Located just 2.5 miles outside of town, the winery is a small-batch operation that produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, rosé, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Their tasting room is open seven days a week and visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on their expansive grounds.

As part of Julian’s Apple Days Celebration, Menghini Winery will be hosting a two-day Apple Days Festival on Saturday, September 23, and Sunday, September 24, 2022. The weekend-long event will feature music and dancing, an antique tractor display, children’s games and activities, gold panning demonstrations, a beer, and wine garden, food and merchandise vendors, contests, and more.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several historic sites to explore around the town including The Eagle Mining Co. which offers guided tours of its underground tunnels. The family-friendly town has horse-drawn carriage rides, old-fashioned candy shops, and more activities that will take you back in time.

As is often the case in California, hiking is an essential pastime in Julian. About 20 minutes outside of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has hundreds of miles of trails to traverse.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 100 miles of trails that accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The two family campgrounds, Paso Picacho and Green Valley are open and on the reservation system spring through fall. Green Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet and has a creek that runs through the middle of the campground. Green Valley has 81 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More on Julian: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Paso Picacho, 5 miles north, sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The most popular hikes start from this camp including the 2-mile hike up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet) and the 3.5-mile hike up Cuyamaca Peak (elevation 6,512 feet) both of which offer breathtaking views of the deserts to the east, the coast to the west, and Lake Cuyamaca at the bottom. Paso Picacho campground has 85 campsites.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s also the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve—go for a gorgeous, yet moderately strenuous hike that will see you crisscross your way through a mix of scenic conifer forest and desert—and the challenging 4.1-mile Three Sisters Falls out-and-back trail in Cleveland National Forest with a two-mile, 980-feet descent that includes some bouldering, climbing, and traversing before you reach the sparkling falls and the natural swimming pool beneath.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For something truly out of this world, Julian’s night skies make for prime stargazing, giving visitors magnificent views of the Milky Way, planets, and constellations. Amateur astronomers will want to book a Sky Tour at Observer’s Inn where you’ll use research-grade telescopes to view planets, open star clusters, nebulae, star systems, and the moon. Plan a visit around upcoming celestial events for an unparalleled look at the heavens.

More on Julian: Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

Julian is an old gold mining town, now famous for its apples and apple pies

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining.

In the lush rolling hills and mountains, just 60 miles northeast of San Diego, is the small town of Julian. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederated, 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 found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike Julian, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor. The town was never large; at the most, it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became San Diego’s county seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short-lived, lasting from 1870 until around 1900 with some mining still later on. But the pioneers stayed and began farming the rich land.

Related: The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, and other delicacies and enjoy U-picking.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until mid-October. But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Related: The Charms of Julian

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart, and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Julian is an official California Historical Landmark, meaning that any new development must adhere to certain guidelines that preserve the town’s architectural integrity. Once you’re settled in, get your bearings with a self-guided walking tour and explore Julian Town Hall, historical homes, and the Pioneer Cemetery as well as the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Southern California and one of the first businesses in San Diego County to be owned and operated by African Americans.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the longest-running mining operations in town, The Eagle Mine is a popular spot to take a tour and try your hand at panning for gold as they did in the olden days. Julian Mining Company also has all your gold-panning needs covered, plus gem mining, tomahawk throwing, and train rides.

Related: Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s also worth checking out the outstanding collection of historical artifacts at the Julian Pioneer Museum where you can learn about how local Indigenous groups and pioneer settlers lived and worked as well as The Barn Vintage Marketplace just outside town in Wynola, a great spot to shop for vintage keepsakes, furniture, and souvenirs. Be sure to say hello to the sweet emus who call the latter home.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You won’t be leaving this little town hungry and for a trip down memory lane, Miner’s Diner is the spot. Operated within the Historic Levi & Co. building (the first brick building erected in Julian, 1885) the historic significance doesn’t stop there. From the eclectic mix of vintage signage to old prescription medications which line the shelves to the numerous photos of the town and the building, customers receive an understanding and experience of old Julian which is available nowhere else.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to 1929, this charming vintage soda shop has classic diner fare on deck—stacks of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, burgers, dogs, and melts included—plus a “Fun Stuff” menu where you’ll find old-timey treats like phosphate soda, ice cream floats, thick shakes and malts, banana splits, and, yes, apple pie.

Related: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1977, the California Wolf Center is home to several gray wolf packs including one of the rarest and most endangered species, the Mexican gray wolf. Reservations are required to visit so schedule one of three different tours to learn about wolf conservation and meet with the wolf packs.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

Where is the Best Apple Pie in America?

Exploring the possibility that the best apple pie in the U.S. is in the little gold rush town of Julian, California

It’s no exaggeration to say that America has a fascination with apple pie. In fact, it’s an obsession. And pretty much every town in the country claims to have the best.

Apple dumplings from Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I can understand the fixation; for as long as I can remember, of all desserts, hot apple pie with a scoop or two of ice cream will get me every time. I think I must be a little bit American!

So when I discovered we were just a day trip away from a town famous for its apple pies, I was very excited.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. Like so many towns in the Southwest, Julian was founded on mining. In the winter of 1869, former slave A.E. “Fred” Coleman, a cattle rancher who lived near present-day Julian, found gold in a mountain stream.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

His discovery kicked off the area’s only gold rush. Today, visitors can get a taste for gold rush-era Julian by panning for gold at the Julian Mining Co. or taking an hour-long tour into old mineshafts at the Eagle Mining Co.

The town thrived briefly and became the hub of the area for business and social gatherings. During the boom, there were 50 houses, a schoolhouse, restaurants, saloons, and, of course, a brothel or two.

Julian© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While many boomtowns eventually became ghost towns, Julian had more to offer than mining. At an elevation of 4,200 feet, it has a mild climate and rich soil, ideal for growing quality fruit. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, Julian proved to be a fine place to grow apples.  

Another scrumptious dessert: Why I Love Blue Bell Ice Cream

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As early as 1893 Julian apples took some of the top prizes in the Chicago World’s Fair and are still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. Julian apples, “Twenty-one varieties of well-grown and carefully selected apples”, received the Bronze Wilder Medal, a top honor, from the American Pomological Society at the 1907 Tri-centennial Exposition held in Jamestown, Virginia.

Apple picking season in Julian arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October. You can buy just-picked apples and fresh-pressed cider without leaving Main Street at the Julian Cider Mill or head to any number of U-Pick locations outside town, like Calico Ranch or Apple and Art Orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the harvest you can still enjoy the spoils: there’s no shortage of bakeries in town, and everyone you ask will have a personal favorite.

Another scrumptious dessert: Along the Kolache Trail

There are four pie shops here:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The biggest name in town (and possibly in the West) is Julian Pie Company. Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry more than 20 pie varieties, apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and “apple memories,” bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the drive home. Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all around SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly pie crust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple, and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, Mom’s Pies are a close runner-up. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious. At Mom’s Pie House, you’ll find a laundry list of pie options and other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Another scrumptious dessert: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

True to its southern California roots, beer, wine, and hard apple cider isn’t hard to come by in Julian. A good place to start is Calico Cidery, a dog-friendly cider farm and super scenic spot to lounge under the shade of huge oak trees and sip handcrafted hard ciders made from apples and pears grown exclusively on their ranch.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun fact: It was on the property of Calico Ranch that Fred Coleman first discovered gold in 1870, sparking the Julian gold rush.

Over at Nickel Beer Company (1485 Hollow Glen Road; ½- mile east of downtown Julian), 16 taps of house-brewed beer and plenty of outdoor seating are always on the table—just don’t miss the Apple Pie Ale, Volcan IPA, or Hidden Fortress Double IPA and feel free to grab a growler for the road.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Road), you can pull up a chair outside of the cider bar and try a flight of ciders with adventurous names like Razzmatazz and Freaky Tiki (though of course, you can’t go wrong with their traditional Harvest Apple).

Another scrumptious dessert: Getting in our Licks on National Ice Cream Day

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is also a popular destination for those who want to get out for the day, hike, see historic sites, or explore the scenic backroads. It’s not on the way to anywhere for most folk, but if you’re even close it’s well worth visiting for a day or two. Many visitors come just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

10 Best Things to Do this Fall

From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, here are the best ways to get out and safely enjoy the season

As the air cools and the leaves start to fall, America offers countless experiences to seek out with your family and friends. From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, take time to get out and enjoy the seasons best while keeping in mind the guidelines for safe travel.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some seasonal events have been canceled. Disney World’s popular event Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been cut for 2020 as well as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. While certain yearly Halloween traditions may be canceled this year such as visiting a haunted house you could still participate in other outdoor fall activities including pumpkin picking and navigating corn mazes.

Hiking to Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go hiking

Hopefully you’ve been taking a chance over the last few months to get outside for a breath of fresh air along a nice hike. But if you’re looking for a reason to finally break out the boots or sneakers, the multi-colored leaves and crisp air of fall provides the perfect backdrop to enjoy a wilderness area. Nature centers, recreation areas, local and state parks all offer a variety of trails and sights for hiking in the outdoors.

Pumpkin patch at Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit a pumpkin patch

Explore a pick-your-own pumpkin patch for the perfect pumpkin! Vine-ripening pumpkins are perfect for Jack-o-Lanterns, decorating your home or RV, or baking Grandma’s famous recipes. Picking out your very own pumpkin, decorating it, and carving it is one of the very best parts of fall. Not only are pumpkins fun and festive, but they’re delicious to eat in so many ways! There’s nothing that signals fall quite like a trip to the pumpkin patch.

Pumpkins to trick out your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin carving

Just because we’re trying to keep our distance doesn’t mean we can’t decorate our homes and RVs. That of course, starts with pumpkin carving. Hopefully you’ve had some experience gouging out these gruesome gourds, but if not, there’s a host of designs online. This is a perfect activity with family and friends of all ages and also yields a good reason to roast some pumpkin seeds.

Picking apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go apple picking

What perfectly pairs with the crisp air of fall? Biting into a delicious, juicy apple! When the crisp fall air and soft light descends, it’s time to break out your best argyle sweater and go apple picking. Enjoy the fresh fall air while you pick your own Cortland, Macintosh, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, and Honey Crisp apples then bring them home to make pies, crisps, and other treats. Check with apple orchard first for picking hours and conditions and COVID-19 rules and regulations.

Apple pies at Moms Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall food

With the end of summer we’re gearing up for shorter days, longer nights, cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, sweatshirts, and football. Not only is the weather changing but also the way we’re cooking, from using fresh fall produce, like squash, sweet potatoes, and apples, to creating warming (and, okay, gluttonous) comfort food dishes, like stews, pot pies, and mac and cheese.

Corn maze at Southgate Crossing, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get lost in a corn maze

Are you ready for some corn-fusing fun? Wind your way through acres of corn. Local corn mazes are now open and each one offers something a little bit different between now and November. Many corn mazes this year will have wider paths and additional passing lanes where maze-goers can distance themselves from others at points where they must decide which way to go; some are reducing the number of those decisions or eliminating dead-end options. Phone ahead as some mazes require pre-registration.

Indian corn for fall decorations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall decorations

Along with pumpkins, there’s several ways you can dress up your RV for the fall. Buy some gourds at the grocery store or make a fall wreath with some of the fallen leaves from your hike in the country. If you’re a Halloween fanatic there’s no better time to spook your home-on-wheels.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a long bike ride

If you’re like most people, you either bought a new bike or rekindled your love of biking during the early months of quarantine. The leaves starting to turn and a nice bite to the air will keep you peddling longer. Most cities and towns have paved trails for bikers that range from short connecting rides to long excursions. It’s time to start planning your next trip.

Quilting is a popular hobby © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hobbies

While fall can bring a lot of fun outdoor activities, it also harkens winter and months spent inside. So if you’ve got down time, now is a good time to start a new hobby? Start knitting scarves and toques for your family. Or maybe get on goodreads.com and join your friends in their mad dash to complete end-of-year book reading challenges.

Quilt Garden Trail in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out your area’s calendar of events

For everything that doesn’t fall into one of these general categories, check out your area’s tourism website for upcoming events. There you may find movies under the moonlight, art installations, walking tours and much more.

Worth Pondering…

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

—George Eliot

Best Road Tips to close out Summer

Road trip-worthy travel ideas for summer’s golden hour

The weirdest summer in generations is coming to a close and while the Summer of the Road Trip will no doubt transition into the Autumn of the Road Trip, there’s still time to squeeze out a few drops of summer fun before fall shows up. So by all means, hit the beach, visit a lake town, taste the latest vintage. Head out to some of America’s most treasured outdoor spaces for warm nights and brilliant stars. Pick some apples and watch the fall colors emerge. Yeah, this summer’s weird, but it’s still out there.

Daytona Beach, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you need inspiration for things to do this month, we’ve got a few ideas so you can safely sate your travel bug. Here are some of our favorite places to go this September—all are road trip-worthy. 

Take one final beach getaway

September is a severely underestimated month to hit the beach. In the before times, that was largely because of school being back in session (less crowds!) and post-Labor Day price drops (less money!). And despite jumping the gun on all this pumpkin spice “fall” nonsense, the weather out there is still great. 

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s worth visiting Edisto Island just for the drive down Highway 174, a National Scenic Byway featuring live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Once on the beach, the geographical isolation maintains a lost-in-time feel. There’s an intriguing mix of family vacationers and locals here.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hurricanes have taken their toll on Edisto Beach with erosion leaving a mere strip of beachfront at high tide—the positive side of which is the boneyard beach left behind at Botany Bay Plantation where trees emerge from the surf as the ocean overtakes the maritime forest. 

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto is quiet and the rules reflect that. Parking is easy at any of the 37 public beach access points. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed from May 1 to Oct. 31. Edisto’s dining scene is mostly fried-seafood-and-beer joints like the timeless Whaley’s.

…Or visit a lake town

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best beaches aren’t always on the ocean: Michigan, for instance, offers 3,000 miles of pure coastal bliss on four Great Lakes. The case of the best Michigan beach town remains unsolved but in Wisconsin, the obvious answer is Door County. 

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And in Arizona, camp and swim at Patagonia Lake State Park. Nearly 80 miles south of Tucson, Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular destination where you can hike, camp, fish, boat, and bird watch. The lake has separate areas for swimming and boating. The park is limiting admission to help promote social distancing and has reached capacity as early as 9 a.m. on some busy weekend days. Mask use is required in ranger stations, restrooms, and other buildings as well as whenever you cannot maintain social distance.

Explore Central California, in and beyond Yosemite

Amador City in Gold Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that school’s back in session—whatever that means—the crowds in national parks should be dwindling. That should mean it’s easier to nab a pass into Yosemite which has been operating on a reservations-only basis to keep the usual crowds (4 million a year) at bay. But if you find yourself denied access to Half Dome, don’t fret. Just outside of the park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a historic part of California most tourists don’t even realize exists. In Gold Country, nature’s just as stunning, the Old West charm is abundant, and the options for adventure are endless.

Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to the California wine region you didn’t even realize existed, the antithesis of Napa. The town of Murphys is overflowing with the stuff, courtesy of 25+ tasting rooms dotting Main Street—and thanks to their abundance of patios and converted parking lots, most are open..

Go apple picking

Apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get those picnic baskets ready: its apple picking season! Whether your favorite, Honeycrisp or Red Delicious, a day trip to an apple orchard (many of which are family-run) can be a pleasant escape from the hectic pace of the modern world. Still, most farms are operating differently this year, so expect timed entries and socially-distanced festivities. Drink some cider. Savor a fresh-baked apple pie.

Hit New England for that summer-to-fall sweet spot

Von Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple picking is cool and all, but OMG, who’s excited to peep some leaves? While there are many places to catch fall colors, there’s nothing quite like New England, a region that’s cornered the market on that crisp, golden, late-summer, early-fall feeling. 

Fall splendor in the parks

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re thinking about visiting a national park this fall, you’re in luck. There’s a secret many travelers with flexible schedules have long known: national parks are best in autumn. Of course, that’s not true of every national park—there are more than a few that are best visited at other times of the year. But, generally speaking, fall can be a spectacular time to visit the nation’s parklands. The temperatures have dropped and the crowds have thinned, meaning you can enjoy the scenery while social distancing. Just remember, as winter draws nearer, snow can cause road closures at Glacier, Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

The Charms of Julian

There is always a reason and a season to visit Julian

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79, about 50 miles northeast of San Diego and 100 miles south of Palm Desert. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the beautiful Cuyamaca mountains and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original mining-era buildings in Julian are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of this small town and the famous apple pies of the region.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking. The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was never big, at the most it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became the San Diego County seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego County’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short lived, near over in less than a decade. But the pioneers stayed and turned to the land for their livelihood. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, the rich land and mountain weather proved to be ideal for apples and orchards cropped up around the town.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall, when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, pies, and other delicacies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 4,235 feet, Julian’s high elevation provides clean air, blue skies, and four distinct seasons, unusual in sunny Southern California. The first cold spell of fall prompts a blanket of color as the trees prepare for a winter of gentle snowfalls. Sledding and snowball fun add to the season’s activities.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its tiny, four-block-long Main Street is home to country stores, wineries, bed and breakfasts, galleries, and fine restaurants.

A year-round getaway, Julian has a wide variety of activities for visitors. Enjoy a cool summer evening riding down Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage or explore the many gems that dot Main Street.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a tour, sample wines from the local wineries, visit the historical museums, ride a horse through serene meadows or hike to the top of Stonewall Mountain for a panoramic view that goes on for miles. Julian has something for everyone’s taste regardless of the season.

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.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Housed in the restored walls of the Treshil blacksmith shop, Julian Pioneer Museum offers artifacts from the Julian of yesteryear―wall to wall photos of local pioneers, examples of mining equipment, an old carriage, clothes, and household items. You’ll leave with a taste for what life was like when the town was established.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike other gold rush towns, Julian never became a ghost town. Maybe it’s just too pretty to leave. Whatever the reason, today’s Julian exudes small-town charm and country friendliness.

I enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and the delicious apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our recent visit, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. And, that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

Julian is well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round

Julian is a year-round getaway for the day, a weekend, or longer. Julian is also well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round.

Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall, when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own. Any time of year, Julian cafes serve apple pies and sell whole ones.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit to Julian, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. They’re all so good I’ve been unable to identify a favorite.

Julian Pie Company

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using apples from their own apple tree farm (which boasts over 17,000 apple trees), Julian Pie Company crafts apple pies with moist centers and flaky or crumb crusts.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Julian Pie Company became a reality for Liz Smothers in September of 1986. It all started when she and a neighbor began peeling apples for a local pie shop where she was soon employed to bake and sell pies. Tim, her son worked after school rolling dough.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recognizing her expertise, two other pie shops hired her to bake for them. While Liz enjoyed the activity and baking for the pie shops, she had a desire to be creative on her own and not merely bake someone else’s pie. With the assistance of a friend and emphasis on quality control and clean, neat surroundings, the Julian Pie Company began.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a growing demand for pies in local markets, the need to expand the production resulted in the opening of the Santa Ysabel facility in 1992. They now deliver pies to San Diego and Riverside counties as well as ship pies throughout the U.S.

Julian Pie Company  is located at 2225 Main Street in Julian and 21976 Highway 79 in Santa Ysabel; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Mom’s Pie House

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. All the pies at Mom’s are baked fresh. The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb, which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

Mom’s Pie House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through the front window, watch Mom’s bakers prepare pies and other baked goods. Steaming soups and sandwiches are served on freshly baked whole-wheat buns.

Mom’s Pie House is located at 2119 Main Street in Julian; open Sunday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Julian Café and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken, followed by a slice of pie. Or, just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

Julian Café and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Café and Bakery also serves up other variations including apple crumb, apple pastry, and apple boysenberry pies—all available year-round.

Julian Café and Bakery is located at 2112 Main Street in Julian; open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday, 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Apple Alley Bakery is located at 2122 Main Street in Julian; open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie