Although Julian is fun to explore year-round, autumn is prime time to visit this historic gold mining town, located about an hour east of San Diego in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
That’s when leaves are changing colors (yes, this happens in SoCal too!) and a handful of orchards are open to the public for apple and pumpkin picking.
Whether traveling from Los Angeles, Orange County or San Diego, Julian (population: about 1,500) is easily accessible and is a low-key family getaway. And while picking apples, pressing cider and eating amazing apple pie take center stage, Julian also has family-friendly attractions that spotlight its mining and wine-growing region.
Fun things to do with kids
Many orchards welcome the public to pick apples. Among them: the 30-acre Calico Ranch, where more than 130 varieties of apples as well as several kinds of pears are grown onsite. Open weekends in fall, the no-frills, authentic working ranch has a small picnic area. $10 half peck of apples.
Learn about Julian’s gold mining history on a one-hour guided tour through the1870s Eagle and High Peak Mine. Walk through a maze of tunnels in the authentic hard rock mine, see period miner’s tools and try your hand at gold panning. Onsite amenities include a picnic area and restrooms.
At the Julian Mining Company, you can press cider, pan for gems and pick pumpkins in the fall. More fun: hay wagon rides and tomahawk throwing. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Where to feed the kids
Housed in a 1920s cottage, the family-owned and operated Julian Grille has extensive lunch and dinner menus. Lunch includes classic sandwiches (try the Reuben) as well as pasta, burgers, ribs and fish. Dinner choices range from steaks, ribs and chicken to pasta and fish. House favorite: Sweet Georgia Peach (pecan-breaded chicken topped with peaches). The children’s menu includes pasta, chicken fingers and burgers. Dine inside or out on the patio by a fire pit.
Hungry for something more basic? The 1950s-style Miner’s Diner, open for breakfast and lunch, serves kid-pleasing burgers, fries and hand-scooped milkshakes. Check out the décor (license plates on walls and a Coke clock) while waiting for your order.
Mom’s Pies bakes delicious pies daily (watch through the front window), but the menu also includes sandwiches, soups and desserts. Try an apple dumpling, made with peeled apple, nutmeg, brown sugar and cinnamon baked in a cream cheese and butter crust.
Where to spend the night
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Julian Gold Rush Hotel has a central location, making it convenient for guests to stroll to town. Hotel amenities include a full breakfast, tea time with scones, complimentary WiFi and board games. After a day of play, families can snuggle in the upstairs family suite, consisting of two adjoining rooms, each with a queen bed and private bath. Nightly rates range from $150 – $310.
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.