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