Updated: Mar 10, 2022
So you want to come to Julian? You're my kinda person. This tiny town has a lot to offer. Over my lifetime I have seen many visitors make wonderful memories here. One thing I often hear tourists say is "I wish I knew about (fill in the blank)." To all of you who have shared what you wished you knew before you visited, I have listed. Bellow, I have shared all my local knowledge on everything one should know before visiting Julian. Enjoy!
Plan your trip in advance.
Many trips to Julian are made on a whim, but a little planning beforehand allows visitors to have a more pleasurable experience. I recommend looking up some attractions you would wish to partake in. Make reservations if necessary. The advice below all emphasizes the need for advanced planning.
Always check the weather.
Always, always check the weather before heading to the east. San Diego County has many microclimates. Julian and the surrounding area is a four-season climate. We get snow in the winter and triple digits in the summer. Overdress for colder weather. You will thank yourself later. In the warmer months, layering is best. For more on what to expect in the fall, winter, spring, and summer, see my guides linked.
Visit during slower seasons.
Julian is a very popular tourist destination from September through the New Year, on holidays, school breaks, and when there’s snow. If you visit during these times, expect large crowds with additional traffic. To have a more enjoyable experience, I encourage you to visit during the week or throughout the slower months. Note: The businesses that are not open seven days a week are usually closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
When visiting in peak tourism times:
Arrive by 10 a.m.
Get your pie right away. The line gets longer throughout the day.
Know what you want to see.
Bring snacks and drinks to hold you over restaurant wait times.
Over-packing is better than under-packing.
Being that Julian is a small, rural town, conveniences are few. Local stores carry very limited selections. If you think you are going to need it, bring it. Otherwise, you may have to live without it.
The region has a bathroom shortage.
Yes, Julian has a bathroom shortage. It’s a long story that you can read here. The bottom line is to go before you come. The only flush public restrooms are behind the town hall. There are a few porta-potties around town as well.
Wear appropriate clothing.
As I mentioned above, dress according to the weather report. Visitors often comment on how they are underdressed for the cold weather and overdressed for the summer weather. Closed-toed shoes are recommended. Ladies, Julian is not the place to wear high heels.
Be alert to business hours.
Julian has a very late start and an early bedtime. Every business sets its own hours. In general, most establishments are open by 10 or 11 a.m. and stay open until 5 p.m. There are a few restaurants that serve dinner. They usually stay open until 8 or 9 p.m. on weekends.
Parking is limited.
The Julian town center is about four blocks by three blocks. There is one large public parking lot on 4th Street. Occasionally other private lots are opened for additional parking. Expect a good amount of walking. During the busy season, I recommend arriving by 10 a.m. to ensure you’ll find parking.
Try the famous Julian apple pie.
Chances are, if you are coming to Julian, you want to get some Julian apple pie while you are here. There’s no one place to get pie—there are over eight bakeries. I always recommend getting pie first thing, especially during peak tourism times. The line gets longer throughout the day. There are a few ways to “skip” the pie line, so to speak. You can learn more about that and each pie establishment here.
Bring the kids along.
Julian is very kid-friendly. I want you to have the best time possible, so on behalf of every parent who has forgotten or wished they’d known about something prior to their trip to Julian, I am overloading this guide with must-haves and don’t-forgets. You can thank me later.
Be prepared for anything. I mean anything. If you might need it, bring it with you. Chances are you won't find it in a local store when you need it.
Make sure the kids have closed-toed shoes on. I can’t tell you how frequently kids forget shoes or break a flip flop while here.
Check the weather beforehand and dress your family members appropriately.
Have your children use the restroom right before the drive. Be prepared to stop in Ramona for a bathroom break if needed. There are no restrooms along the 23 miles between Ramona and Julian.
The drive is also very winding. I highly encourage you to bring extra clothes, barf bags, wipes, and some drinking water. If there is a mishap, Julian Mercantile has a very small selection of kids’ clothing.
Bring snacks and drinks. During peak tourism days (August through New Year, on a holiday weekend, or on a snow day) restaurants have long wait times. A snack to hold the kids over will keep everyone happy.
The town has limited handicap accessibility.
Julian was founded in 1870, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was in place. A majority of the town’s buildings are historical landmarks. These buildings were not built to modern-day square-footage expectations. Still, the local establishments do their best to provide accessibility for the handicapped. Additionally, I just want you to be aware that handicap parking is sparse, and there are hills.
Bring some cash.
Most businesses on Main Street accept credit cards. Some businesses, like the apple orchards, accept only cash. Small, independently-owned businesses typically have a card minimum. Bringing cash is recommended. Community Valley Bank on Main Street has an ATM. Mountain Spirits Liquor and Julian Market also have ATMs.
Think ahead in terms of dietary restrictions.
For being a small, remote town, Julian does offer an impressive range of dietary alternatives. That being said, local restaurants have very small kitchens and are therefore limited on what they can offer. It is important to note that none of the restaurants are nut-, gluten-, dairy-, or meat-free facilities. I encourage those of you with dietary restrictions to pack food. You can learn about the vegan/vegetarian options here and gluten-free options here.
Consider leaving your dog at home.
Julian is a popular destination for pet owners and their furry friends. Still, for the health and safety of your pets, I strongly advise against bringing your dogs with you. Most dogs aren't used to winding roads and long car drives. During peak tourism times, the region experiences LARGE amounts of traffic. Like their owners, San Diego dogs are not acclimated to the weather. Outdoor dining is limited, especially during the winter. Owners frequently have to leave their pets in the car. Dogs that come to Julian need to be comfortable around large crowds and strange dogs. (In December of 2020, I witnessed a nasty dog fight in the Julian Historic District. I have also witnessed many close calls.) Dogs also need to be potty trained. In the historical district, there are few areas for dogs to do their business. You can learn about where dogs are and aren’t allowed here. Pet-owners who bring their dogs with them need to bring pet food, water, bowls, collar and leash, poop bags, a warm dog coat, and paw booties. These items are not sold in any local retailers.
There are so many things to do!
Julian may be a small town, but it sure has a lot to offer. I can assure you, you won’t run out of things to do here. This town caters to all age groups. Julian’s wonderful four-season climate means it snows in the winter and heats up to triple digits in the summer.
Visitors can learn more about all the region has to offer below.
For things to do, click here.
To learn about free things visitors can do, click here.
For local animal attractions, click here.
For best hikes around Julian, click here.
Visiting Julian in the winter, click here.
Visiting Julian in the spring, click here.
Visiting Julian in the summer, click here.
Visiting Julian in the fall, click here.
Experiencing snow in San Diego, click here.
For those 21 and over, click here.
To experience the Julian Country Christmas celebration, click here.
What not to do in Julian, click here.
San Diego backcountry water attractions, click here.
Camping near Julian, click here.
Historical must-see landmarks in Julian, click here.