There is a town in southern California high up in the mountains that smells of warm apples. On its Main Street is the town’s post office, bank, gas station and chamber of commerce; in between are shops of candy, antiques, books, clothes and, appropriately enough for a segue, painting supplies. Norman Rockwell spent his life in the northeastern part of America, but somehow a town in the southwestern corner of our country manifested all the idyllic charm that his paintings suggested. That enchanting heaven is Julian, California.
About 65 miles northeast of San Diego, Julian is the bucolic getaway of the metropolis’s locals and tourists. After the half hour drive along the 8 East, take Exit #40 toward “Julian” and turn Left onto CA-79. As you drive the little over 20 miles north, the sinuous road slows your travel pace and just in time. Passing by fruit stands and horse ranches up the mountain, you’ll weave through Cuyamaca Park. The usually beautiful forest suffered in the fire of 2003. Gazing upon the scorched woods, you’ll quiet as you recognize the destruction we humans can incite but then each bit of new growth that you see will remind you of nature’s resilience. Once through the once-charred and newly-burgeoning forest, you’ll arc around Lake Cuyamaca where you can stop to fish or boat (paddle, wheel, canoe, motor and row boats are available.) Then with the rising elevation, the air begins to thin and the view becomes more impressive as you wind your way up the mountain. You won’t mind this 1-1 Ã?Â½ hour drive.
When you finally reach Julian, you’ll step out of your car and smile because you just stepped into one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings.
Main Street in Julian is the Shopping District with shops to tantalize your everything. Like the one with home-made edibles, including candy like taffy, licorice, caramel apples and a myriad jars of preserves, marmalades, jellies and butters. Or the shop that has all the eclectic hats, scarves, shawls, and jewelry you can imagine (and try on.) Or the store that just sells anything that has to do with music, from wooden recorders to guitar strings. Or the paint shop that makes you want to ditch your camera to take up oils. Or the deceptively gargantuan stores that sells ornaments year around and wooden sculptures and kites and bizarre paraphernalia that you don’t know how you lived without. There’s a coffee shops with wooden creaky floors on one end of Main Street and an old-fashioned soda fountain at the other with thick burgers and thicker shakes. There’s the Old Julian Book House that seems like any old book store but really it’s a treasure chest of originals and never-seen-before-and-never-will-again’s. Yes, all this is wonderful, but the most worthy (and delicious) reason to go to Julian is for the apple. Julian is the Napa Valley of apple orchards. Mama’s CafÃ?Â©, Julian CafÃ?Â© and Bakery and others offer pies and cider that will make you forever empathize with Adam and Eve. And these aren’t just ordinary apple pies. They mix apple with other fruits, different crusts, and flavors of ice cream. My favorite is warmed apple-boysenberry crumb with French vanilla-my mouth is salivating just writing about it.
Julian is an easy and enjoyable day trip, but it can be more. More than 20 Bed and Breakfasts cater to those who come to Julian to embrace the natural romance that is a small town in the mountains. Because of its location within the Cleveland National Park, the scenery is beautiful year-round. Its deciduous trees delineate the seasons in the most picturesque way so visiting Julian any time of the year is wonderful. With that said, the best time to visit is during the Christmas season. The frigid mountain, snow-tickled air will freeze your nose just right, making your dash for warm cider and hot chocolate all the more divine. Winter offers Norman Rockwell’s most beloved portraits of American life. (Something that we Southern Californians don’t want to live in, but love to visit.)
Whether you stay for a day or a week, in the summer or winter, call ahead to find out what’s happening in Julian. The Julian Chamber of Commerce (760-765-1857) offers detailed information regarding current events, local attractions, directions, information packets, weather and road conditions.
(Artists, writers, craftspeople swarm to Julian. Be on the lookout for Fine Art and Photography Shows. If there doesn’t happen to be one while you’re in town, make sure you take a look at the walls in the shops. Coffee shops are known to hang originals by extraordinary artists.)
For lovely pictures of Julian, visit: