The old West lives on at Julian, SoCal’s mining mountain town

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The old West lives on at Julian, SoCal's mining mountain town
Julian, CA

By Bob Difley

Julian, CA, is perched picturesquely on a hilltop at an elevation of 4,235 feet, an hour’s drive from San Diego. The annual 30-inch precipitation sometimes includes snow – and sometimes presents residents with a white Christmas. Spring brings thousands of yellow daffodils and fragrant apple blossoms, and only 15 miles away is Anza Borrego Desert State Park, where April brings the desert wildflower displays.


In May, the mountain wildflowers explode over the meadows and hillsides. The summer months bring sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s – the kind of weather perfect for hiking, biking, walking and exploring.

Fall brings those glorious colors of the changing of the leaves, the apple and pear harvests for which Julian is famous, and the mouthwatering, old-fashioned apple pies served by Mom’s on Main Street. The first apple trees were brought to Julian by President James Madison in the early 1870s, and Julian apples have been winning blue ribbons since the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Downtown is a fun place to just wander around.  Antique stores, art galleries, unique gift shops, cafes, restaurants and historic buildings line Main Street. To travel in style, take one of the horse-drawn carriages for a tour of the town, or have your picture taken in authentic period costumes. The Pioneer Museum offers a glimpse into Julian’s early days.

Julian’s history began in 1869 when Fred Coleman found placer gold. Among the would-be prospectors who flocked to the area was an ex-Confederate soldier from Georgia, Drue Bailey, who founded Julian City in 1870 and named it after his cousin and fellow prospector, Mike Julian.

Within a few years there were eight saloons, two hotels, cafes, livery stables and blacksmiths. Four to five million dollars in gold are reputed to have been mined, and today the Eagle and High Peak mines are open for tours.

Fruit stands, u-pick orchards, a couple of wineries, bicycle tours, and llama and donkey treks offer additional activity choices.

William Heise County Park, a few miles south of Julian by way of Pine Hill Road, is one of San Diego County’s most beautiful parks. Its peaceful blend of oak meadows and pine forests make it a perfect base camp for exploring the area, and 103 family campsites are dotted throughout the woods and meadows.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, south of Julian on route 79, consists of 25,000 acres, of which 13,000 are classified as wilderness – all wheeled vehicles, including bicycles, are prohibited – allowing visitors to enjoy the quiet of the forest without the sounds of modern life. More than 100 miles of trails crisscross the park, from easy nature walks to the 3.5-mile hike to the top of 6,512-foot Cuyamaca Peak, where you can see views of the Salton Sea, Anza Borrego, Mexico, and the Pacific coastline on clear days.

The diversity of the vegetation creates a habitat for a variety of birds and wildlife. Mule deer, squirrels, raccoons and coyotes are common. Gray foxes, skunks, bobcats, badgers and mountain lions also reside in the park.

Julian, Heise County Park and Cuyamaca State Park are truly places for all seasons, offering surprising adventures and explorations that you might not expect in Southern California. Late spring and early summer are ideal times to explore these clean-air highlands, relive the colorful history, and relax in a pastoral shady woodland or open meadow campsite.

Check out Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.

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