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The little town of Julian, California…

Posted by on January 20, 2014

Cuyamaca Lake is just outside the mountain town of Julian.


Fall colors on display in Julian, California


Julian is famous for its apple pie.

JANUARY 20, 2014.

From our campsite in Ramona, Julian is just a short drive East on olde Highway 78. It’s an historic gold mining town near Lake Cuyamaca in the Cuyamaca Mountains, a premier mountain retreat, unique in San Diego because it has four distinct seasons. Wildflowers including lots of daffodils bloom in the Spring, Summer is perfect for hiking and star-gazing, Fall is famous for Julian apples and Fall colors and Winter brings snowfall and bright, crisp Christmas season-like days. Although famous for hand-picked apples and apple pie available all year around, Julian has become a center for visitors who want to stay in the mountains but take day trips to the nearby casinos, Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the coast. It is the Bed and Breakfast capitol of Southern California known for it’s numerous B and B spots in the mountains. Specialty shops line the streets and many attractions are unique. You can hand-pick a bushel of apples, explore an abandoned mineshaft, have a slice of fresh apple pie just out of the oven and even get an old fashioned malt or ice cream soda at the fountain on the end of Main Street.


It’s also a toggery shop.

You will also find a “real hardware store” in Julian. Most items for sale are not contained in shrink wrapped packages, but rather are found in little bins along one wall of the store. In other words, if you need some nails, you don’t buy a package in plastic wrap. You take what you need from the little bin, weigh it and pay by the pound or piece. Also distinguishing a “real hardware store” is the fact that the owner is on site and very knowledgeable about all things hardware. Either he or one of the other guys working there is familiar with every little widget in the entire store and will lead you right to it. If you have a project but need some help, you’re in the right place. It’s nice doing business at this this kind of store.

There are several cafes in town…not Starbucks stores but cafes. Most folks inside aren’t in a rush to get anywhere and most don’t have a laptop with them. They usually have coffee, not some razzle-dazzle coffee drink with half a dozen ingredients that requires a high speed blender to prepare. They know one another and actually speak to each other…no texting found inside these cafes. There’s discussion of local issues, check-ups on the neighbor’s kids and a critique of last Sunday’s sermon. How refreshing!


The Julian Grille belies its name. Try it for dinner. You won’t be disappointed.

Julian also sports several unique restaurants. The Julian Grille belies its name…for me that conjures up a vision of a noisy steakhouse with red leather booths and obligatory martinis before dinner. To the contrary, this little grille is in a quaint cottage with curtains and tablecloths. It was constructed in the 1920’s and was a private residence until about 15 years ago when it was transformed into the special restaurant it is today. Florence and I have dined there several times. On our last visit I had one of the house favorites: Chicken breasts breaded with pecans, sauteed and topped with peaches. “Sweet Georgia Peach” is what they called the entree. It was different and tasty. The atmosphere is casually refined and understated. The owners are friendly, the service is attentive and the overall dining experience is a nice departure from the places where we “city folks” usually eat. Another fun place to eat is the Rongbranch Restaurant (Not a typo…the Rongbranch is what it’s called.) located on a little side street off the main drag. It’s spacious and the service is warm and friendly. The western theme fits the town’s image. The fare includes lots of comfort food items and large portions. Nothing on the menu is even close to “high end” but after all, that’s not what Julian is all about anyway. Florence and I had lunch today at the Rongbranch…the first time we’d been there for about three years. Wouldn’t you know it: We were seated at the same table and had the same waitress as on our last visit so long ago. This afternoon while we were dining it began to snow. The ambiance of the restaurant and the snowflakes falling outside the window by our table made it a relaxing and nice afternoon. However, since I was wearing only my standard “uniform” of shorts and a T shirt, we didn’t stay long in town!


“The Julian Candy Basket,” a mandatory stop when visiting town.


Julian Gold Rush Hotel.

No post about places in Julian would be complete without mention of the local candy emporium: “The Julian Candy Basket.” I’ve been visiting this little shop for many years and I always look forward to my next visit! The shop is upstairs in a two story cluster of adjoining shops located right on Main Street. There are rows and rows and baskets and baskets of different hard candies and treats. So you will really understand, know that “The Basket” stocks more than 450 different types of candy. There are 30 different types of licorice alone! Also, “nostalgic candy” from the past: Remember root beer barrels? What about Black Jack chewing gum in the blue wrapper?   All the candy is sold by the pound and the price per pound is the same no mater what treats you select. So, when you enter the shop you take a basket and begin wandering up and down the aisles, tossing in a handful of goodies here and another there, until you realize that your basket has become pretty heavy. Check-out is always sobering for me, as I’ve found it very easy to collect $50.00 worth of diet-destroying candies in just a short visit. Undaunted, I’ve continued my treks to this spot for decades. I used to have a big basket of these candies in my conference room and although I don’t know they’d admit it, lots of attorneys enjoyed depositions at my office more than their own ’cause they could fill up on candy for hours, while “working” all the while. I remember my friend Bruce Beals.  At the conclusion of a day-long deposition, I’d almost need to call the janitor just to remove all his shiny candy wrappers!

Treat yourself to a milkshake at the Soda Fountain on Main Street.

Treat yourself to a milkshake at the Soda Fountain on Main Street.

Finally, and I swear only because of  my repeated suggestions to the owner over the years, “The Basket” now takes orders by phone and ships the stuff directly to you. If you’ve been diligent and memorized the names of the items you’ve purchased in the store, Red Hots, Candy Cigarettes, Beeman’s-Pepsin chewing gum and the like, next time you can call in your order and arrange for delivery right to your doorstep at home. Yes!


Julian is famous for its apple pie. Try some while you’re visiting town.

On the drive back to our campsite, we took a short detour to visit William Heise County Park, just six miles off Old Highway 78. We were hoping to see some deer and some wild turkeys. They frequent the area and we weren’t disappointed today. We saw a whole herd (herd, group, flock?) of deer and several dozen turkeys. When we camped here several years ago, we brought Gunner and Mima along with us. I remember one morning Gunner and I went for a walk. I kept him on the obligatory leash while we were in the campground proper, but after we reached the perimeter by some open fields I let him off leash. We, you can see where this story is going: Gunner spotted some turkeys about a 100 yards away and the chase was on! He for sure ruined those turkeys’ day but nobody got hurt. If a ranger had seen the action I’d probably have been politely asked to leave the park. We also stopped today at Dudley’s Bakery and got a few loaves of bread and some pastries. It’s an obligatory stop, you know. I wanted to buy some local Julian apples, but after stopping at several fruit stands without any luck I gave up! What’s going on? No apples in Julian? If the orchards there aren’t producing right now, the least they could do would be to import some from Ralph’s in San Diego and sell them to unsuspecting tourists like me!


A wild turkey at William Heise County Park, near our campsite.

You’ll enjoy your visit to Julia during any season of the year. It’s a nice drive from San Diego. Pick some apples. Visit the hardware store. Get a tour of the historic Julian Hotel or even spend the night there. Sit at the counter of the old fashioned soda fountain and have the soda jerk make you a hand-crafted malt. Breath some clean mountain air and listen to the wind whistle through the pines. Talk to some locals inside that cafe I mentioned. And leave your laptop at home. You really won’t need it.

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