The San Diego Backcountry real estate market is hopping—and for good reason. This area allows you to live a rural small town mountain lifestyle and still be a short drive away from the modern arteries of the city. When house-hunting in a new area, it can be challenging to know which neighborhood is the one for you. I will note that because the market is so limited, and the area is relatively small, most people shop for the house, not the location. If you live in the Julian zip code, your kid will attend the Julian school systems. The only thing that really changes from neighborhood to neighborhood is water districts and HOAs. Every neighborhood has something to offer and its own unique feel.
As far as crime and safety, here’s what you need to know. Don’t go into downtown Julian after 9:00 p.m. Nothing happens. The only reason I don’t walk out in the dark is because of the mountain lions. Crime is not really an issue. The catch is, there are a lot of new people moving to the area, so this is a very fluid situation. The overall safety of the town could change over the next few years. Personally, I don’t avoid neighborhoods; I avoid people who have earned a bad reputation. Don’t worry, my list is small. Occasionally, there are a few rogue incidents with no associated pattern. All in all, the chance of something bad happening is slim to none. I have always felt safe in this community no matter where I am. We watch out for each other. The neighborhood watch program is actually in place. I mean it. If there’s a strange car, all the neighbors will be staring it down. I do think it is important for newcomers to know that none of the neighborhoods on county-maintained roads have a high enough housing density to qualify for a posted residential speed limit of 25 MPH. Although the speed limit is technically 55, it is customary to drive 25 MPH or under. I played in my neighborhood's streets all the time growing up. Just keep in mind, if you are looking at a house on a street with a double yellow line, it means that the street has a reputation for cars driving fast on it.
There is one safety topic I do want to address, registered sex offenders. In the State of California, convicted sex offenders must publicly register their primary residence. After serving their time, sex offenders often relocate to rural areas because it is easier to find a residence within their restrictions. I used to think Julian had a high percentage until I searched other San Diego neighborhoods on the registry. My advice to you when moving to a new area is to check who lives where. I have not heard of an issue with any of the registered sex offenders in my community. I have actually found that those who are not on the list were problem-makers. Still, this is one area where you can never be too cautious. I am always surprised at how many people aren’t aware of who they should be conscious of, myself included. A past friend lived with a family member who was a registered sex offender, and I was unaware of it for a time. This being said from a young age I have ALWAYS felt very safe in my community and what I said about safety up above still stands. In small towns, we watch out for each other. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life we need to be aware of. I do want to give a shout out to local law enforcement for being on top of safety issues like this one.
Here’s an overview of the neighborhoods in and surrounding Julian, CA from a born-and-raised Julian local. One more thing I want to quickly point out is that there are a lot of homes not in official neighborhoods. I would base the reputation of the area on the closest neighborhood to the residence.
Mesa Grande - Mesa Grande is known for its large, family-run cattle ranches.
Mesa Grande Band-Mission Indians - This rural tribe resides in the Mesa Grande area near Lake Southerland.
Lake Henshaw - The homes in this area have a beautiful view of Lake Henshaw and the valley it sits in.
The Santa Ysabel Reservation - The Santa Ysabel Reservation is home to the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueño Mission Indians. Approximately 110 of 300 registered tribal members live on the reservation.
The area known as Wynola is an unofficial area where the Santa Ysabel (92070) and Julian (92036) zip codes meet.
Wynola Estates - This community is tucked off Highway 78. The neighborhood is fairly quiet, with little drive-through traffic. Residents do have their own water district, which has established covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). The homes and lots are on the larger side.
Hoskings Ranch - Hoskings Ranch is a low-population gated community. Properties are over 40 acres, have larger homes, and private wells. This neighborhood has established covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs).
Calico Ranch Gate Road - This is a small community on a private dirt road in the Wynola within the Julian zip code. The homes and properties are on the larger side.
Pine Hills - Pine Hills is a fairly large neighborhood on the westward-facing side of town. The neighborhood is locally known for being more middle to a higher class area. The lot sizes are larger as well. This area has its own water district.
Deer Lake Park - Accessed off Pine Hills Road, Deer Lake Park is a small neighborhood near William Heise County Park. This development has its own water district.
Payson/Sleepy Hollow - Just walking distance from Main Street, Payson and Sleepy Hollow offers affordable rental units. This area has a local reputation for having squatters and tweakers. In recent years, though, the area has been cleaned up quite a bit.
Julian Historic District, aka town - The “downtown” area of Julian is designated as the Julian Historic District. This means it’s protected by the County Zoning Ordinance, and all exterior changes must be pre-approved by the Julian Architectural Review Board (ARB). This area is also within the Julian Community Services District (JCSD). JCSD provides water for anyone within its district. Being that most of the town is on a small sewer system EDU’s are limited. For the sake of transparency, I will mention that residents in this area often complain about the ARB restrictions and the increase of traffic on busy tourism days. Please keep this in mind when house-hunting.
Old Cuyamaca and Slumbering Oaks - Slumbering Oaks is a small neighborhood on a private road off Old Cuyamaca Rd. The homes are on a few acres with beautiful east and/or west views. These properties are on private wells.
Harrison Park - Harrison Park is one of the large neighborhoods. It sits on the edge of the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. This area has frequent mountain lion sightings. All but three homes in this development burned in the 2007 Cedar Fire. This means that the homes are built after 2003 and tend to have fire prevention measures built-in. Harrison Park has an old reputation for being an area with squatters and tweakers. The fire cleared that problem up, and it is now known as a decent neighborhood. There is a voluntary association fee that goes right back into the neighborhood.
Lake Cuyamaca AKA North Peak - The Lake Cuyamaca community sits on the east-facing slope of North Peak, giving these homes a beautiful view of Lake Cuyamaca. Some homes also have a west view as well. The Lake Cuyamaca area is at a higher elevation than Julian, so they do experience colder weather and more snow.
North Peak Property Owners Association - This small gated community on North Peak also has stunning east and west views. They have an HOA and their own water district.
Cuyamaca Woods - This rural community sits on the west side of North Peak. The area is accessed from the Cuyamaca side of Engineers Road or through the backside of Pine Hills. All homes are completely off the grid. This area was also devastated by the Cedar Fire, so many homes are new rebuilds.
The Kentwoods - The neighborhood of Kentwood is locally known as two separate areas. The unofficial boundary distinction is the ridgeline that divides the two valleys the neighborhood sits in. The terms you use for these areas probably depend on how long you have lived in the area. Kentwood-in-the-Pines, also known as Kentwood-One (K1), is the northeast side of the subdivision, accessed by HWY 78. The southwest (HWY 79) side of the subdivisions is referred to as Kentwood-in-the-Dump or Kentwood by the Dump and is now more commonly known as Kentwood-Two (K2). This region got its name because back when the town had a dump, it was located on the back side of this neighborhood. These terms are never used in a derogatory way but rather to distinguish the two geographical locations. Now that the dump has closed, the terms Kentwood-in-the-Dump and Kentwood by the Dump are primarily only used by old-timers. Many old-timers do long for the days when the dump was still around, because now we have to take trash runs to Ramona.
The Kentwoods are known as being peaceful neighborhoods. Small to medium size homes are on smaller lots. They are not only in close proximity to town but also on county-maintained roads. Manzanita Road is known for people driving too fast on it. Drivers tend to drive slower on the side streets. The semi-flat roads make the area great for walking and riding bikes. Kentwood 1 is also a popular place to go trick-or-treating. The community is in the Majestic Pines Water District.
Whispering Pines - When heading east on HWY 78, just past the entrance to Kentwood 1, there are four paved right turns (Whispering Pines Dr., Cannon Dr., Sunshine Trail, and Whispering Pines Dr.). These roads take you into the neighborhood of Whispering Pines. Like the Kentwoods, this area has smaller parcels and homes. The community is in the Majestic Pines Water District.
Banner Grade - Banner Grade is the valley on the east side of Whispering Pines and Kentwood. This area was heavily mined in the late 1800s. Today, it is home to ranches such as the Banner Princess and the Banner Queen. At the bottom of the grade, you can also find the Banner Recreation Ranch, which has long-term trailer rentals. These properties are on private wells.
Shelter Valley and Butterfield Ranch - As you continue down the Banner Grade for 15 miles, you will end up at Scissors Crossing. A right turn onto the Great Southern Overland Stage Route takes you into Julian’s desert community of Shelter Valley. Homes and rentals are significantly cheaper here compared to the rest of the Julian zip code. Ten more miles down the road is Butterfield Ranch. They provide subsidized low-income trailer and mobile home options. The desert area has a local reputation for attracting tweakers, but there are a lot of decent people who live there. I will also point out that the Pacific Crest Trail runs through this area. During the spring and fall months, a few hundred hikers trek through the area. The Shelter Valley community pitches in to help the hikers in a variety of ways, such as driving them to Julian or providing them with temporary shelter.