15 Mar,2018 By jagabond
“This town of churches and dreams; this town I thought I would lose myself in, with its backward ways and winding roads leading to nowhere; but, I found myself instead.” – Kellie Elmore
I know when it started, my love for small towns. Raised in suburbia, I moved to the wonderful city of Pittsburgh for college. From here I went to New Orleans then San Diego, both major cities. I still love all those places. As the years went by, I grew fonder of small town life, even writing an article on my favorite small towns in Europe. On a boring weekend in Italy, I drive my car to one of the multitude of small towns scattered about Avellino. So many tourists flock to Rome, while I’m slumming in unknown towns with names like Rocca San Felice, Gesualdo and Montella.
I know when it started.
Julian is a little place an hour east of San Diego. I first visited probably back in 2002. I remember wandering up and down the one main street, hoping to squeeze into one of the town’s two restaurants. Sound boring? It’s not. Julian has all four ingredients required for a quirky small town.
1. Can see 100% of the town in one day
2. Has ‘cute’ hotels or bed and breakfasts
3. Quaint shops selling local crafts and/or junk
4. At least one gimmick
Let’s start with the gimmicks. Julian is known for apples. High season for the orchards is September. Many women have dragged their boyfriends on apple picking dates, typically a sign the relationship has moved into the next phase. The famous Julian apple pie is always in season. You can peruse a menu of pies, ranging from the traditional type to different berry mixes and even rhubarb. I took the picture below before my fiancée could dig in. It was apple pie with boysenberry, served with two heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream and a mound of whipped cream. Julian is a small town with big portions!
Need more? What woman doesn’t like gold? Forget rings and bracelets, go to the source. Julian has a long history with this precious metal. In fact, the town was founded when a former slave discovered gold here back in the 1800s. You can learn about the ‘panning’ method for finding gold at Eagle Mine, located just nearby the town center.
Sticking with the gold theme, our ‘cute’ hotel was called the ‘Gold Rush’.
I mentioned the two restaurants. Julian added a third one in the time since my first visit. In my 24 hours here, I acted like a good anti-vegetarian. I scarfed down the chicken marsala at Romano’s, devoured the soy glazed salmon at Julian Grille, and made quick work of the grilled cheese with bacon at Rongbranch.
For snacking between meals, buy some candy at the Julian Cider Mill. Ashley is shown here, proudly displaying the chocolate covered gummi bears.
A morning of shopping is a must for any small town. My favorite shop in Julian is ‘The Warm Hearth‘. This store is a jack of all trades for shoppers. Looking for the perfect outfit for country music night at the local pub? It’s here.
Need a toy gun for your sheriff Halloween costume? Find it here, with a reminder for ‘reenactment’ purposes only.
Where else can you find Christmas stuff in March?
Wouldn’t this artsy depiction of a sheep look perfect in your living room?
Fans of cute & funny socks will love it here.
In summary, this store has it all. I dislike shopping and still spent a couple hours here. I very nearly bought the ‘Mother Clucker’ shirt!
Other shops in town are full of personality, boasting creative names and bursting with cuteness.
Bottom Line: Lovers of small towns will adore Julian. The hour drive from San Diego is pleasant, and nature enthusiasts will enjoy hiking the wooded areas and relaxing near Lake Cuyamaca. This entire region sees snow in the winter, so bring your windshield scraper if driving.