Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Julian is full of diverse things to do, foods to try, pie varieties, and shops. I like to think of Julian as a leisure and recreation buffet for you to enjoy. I love telling visitors about all the fun things you can do here! I also feel a responsibility to inform you of what not to do in Julian. While I do understand that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people who come here do so only to visit, Julian is home to 4000 residents. It’s not a perfectly curated theme park like Disneyland. We live here and have great pride in our hometown. The rules and laws still apply here. I ask that you respect this place and the people who live here.
1. Don’t pass up an opportunity to visit Julian.
Julian is a historic small town located in the San Diego mountains. It's known as the home of San Diego's only gold rush. When the gold ran out, it became know for u-pick apple orchards, it's famous apple pie, and a place to experience all four seasons (winter, spring, summer, and fall). There's lots of fun, cool, and free things to do here. You will not regret your trip if you avoid doing just a few things…
2. Don’t mountain biking on the highway
As long as you follow all bicycle laws, it is legal to mountain bike on the highways surrounding Julian. For your own safety and that of others, however, I don’t recommend it. The winding mountain roads of the San Diego backcountry are very dangerous. Car accidents resulting in fatalities are frequent. There’s little to no road shoulder, meaning that the bike must travel in the vehicle lane. The highway speed limit is 55 MPH. The blind curves leave little time for drivers to see a cyclist, and safe places to pass are also far and few between.
Instead, I highly recommend mountain biking on the many public trails. The senary will be way better anyway.
3. Don’t pass on the double yellow and driving irresponsibly
There are only a handful of passing zones, which makes passing on the double yellow very tempting to lead-foot drivers. There is a double yellow line for a reason—it is not safe to pass. Having twenty-three years of experience on these roads, I will even add that most of the time, the passing zones aren’t even safe to pass in! In all honesty, passing a car in this neck of the woods doesn’t get you to your destination any faster. I cannot tell you how many times I end up right behind the car that passed me a few miles back.
Instead, take your car out of sport mode and enjoy the scenery.
4. Don’t play in nonwhite snow
There’s nothing quite like living that snow-day storybook moment in reality. It’s wonderful. We have all heard the saying, “Don’t eat the yellow snow.” Man, that is good advice, but it’s very limited advice. We really should be saying, don’t eat or play in any snow that is not crisp white. Snow quickly becomes dirty from animals, humans, and cars. Every time it snows, I see all ages playing in piles of black snow. That snow has dirt, oil, and all sorts of other unhealthy yuck in it.
Instead, I recommended booking a vacation rental when a snowstorm is predicted. This way you will have a place to play in fresh snow.
5. Don’t trespass
One of the blessings of living in a tourist destination is having the privilege of sharing your hometown with visitors. It’s so cool living in a place that others long to live in. There are also some inconveniences that come with that. Trespassing is a huge problem. When you are visiting Julian (or anywhere else) please make sure you are not trespassing. Trespassing is a crime. Please take the time to make sure you are not on private property before entering an area. I completely understand that sometimes it may happen by accident. Once you are informed, please be respectful. Apologize, clean up any mess you may have made, and quickly vacate the premises.
Instead, there are lots of public lands for you to enjoy in the San Diego backcountry. We have county parks, the Cuyamaca State Park, and a few national forests.
6. Don’t play with fire
Along with most of California, the San Diego backcountry is extremely fire-prone. An individual who causes a fire is personally liable for any damages that may occur. Yes, even if it’s an accident, you will have to pay the bill. CalFire is very good at racking up a bill quickly, so it won’t be a cheap mistake either. All outside warming fires must be contained in a fire ring, and it’s suggested to have a spark arrester as an extra precaution. Don’t forget to drown the coals in water before leaving the fire ring unattended. The use of fireworks and Chinese lanterns is prohibited in this region. No exceptions!
7. Don’t cross the road without looking
While it is technically impossible to jaywalk in Julian by definition, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so. The town has only four normal-sized blocks. Visitors often cross Main Street, which is a highway, anywhere they please. I highly encourage you to cross at intersections for your safety. It is very difficult for drivers to see pedestrians crossing the street, let alone in a location where the driver isn’t expecting to see a pedestrian. Do not assume the driver can see you. Wait for an acknowledgment from the driver(s) before your cross. In February of 2020, I saw a woman hit by a slow-moving pickup truck. She had many serious injuries.
8. Don’t feed or touch the wildlife
The wildlife in this neck of the woods is not used to human interaction. They are wild animals. Do not try to feed, pet, or hold any animals.
9. Don’t hike Three Sisters or Cedar Creek Falls
Social Media has made Three Sisters and Cedar Creek Falls very popular hikes. I constantly see yelp reviews as well as Instagram and Facebook posts about how the hike “almost killed them.” These hikes actually kill people. Multiple hikers die at the falls every year. Both Three Sisters and Cider Creek are challenging uphill return hikes. Most hikers have no problem getting down to the falls. They get themselves into trouble trying to return to their vehicles tired, dehydrated, and (sometimes) drunk. Both these hikes are NOT for kids, dogs, and inexperienced hikers. There is no shade or bathrooms along their trails. Think about that...no bathrooms. Yuck!
10. Don’t bring your furry friend(s) with you
Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of dogs that come to visit. Overall Julian does it's best to be dog friendly. Most shops and those restaurants with outdoor seating do allow dogs. I encourage you to leave your dog at home for a number of seasons. The long windy car ride can cause your dog to get car sick. Julian does experience all four seasons which means in the warmer months dogs overheat and the sidewalk is too hot for their paws. In the cooler months, most San Diego dogs aren't used to the cold temperatures and when there's snow on the ground your dog's paws will freeze. If your dog is not comfortable in crowds or near other dogs, Julian is not a good place to bring it. Lastly, along Main Street, there aren't many places where you can take your dog to do its business.
Instead, I recommend leaving your furry buddy at home or plan a trip in advance completely around your dog.
11. Don’t visit during peak tourism season and hours
For many southern California families, it is a tradition to visit Julian in the fall for apple season and during the holiday season. I love all that Julian has to offer during this time of year too! You really get that smalltown storybook feel. This does mean that the region is EXTREMELY crowded. Julian's peak tourism season is from the end of August through the beginning of the New Year. The area is also crowded after any snowstorm and on holiday weekends. During our peak tourism times, traffic is heavy, parking is limited, and there are LONG lines for pie and at the restaurants.
Instead, I encourage anyone who doesn't like crowds to visit Julian during the slow season or during the week. You can still experience all that the region has to offer just without the crowd! Also when you visit during slower times you help keep small business alive. Tourism is very seasonal and therefore creates a tough business cycle. We greatly appreciate all the business we receive. That being said, your business during the slow season (Feburay- August) literally helps our local small-businesses survive.
12. Don’t leave without trying Julian apple pie
Julian truly is a wonderful place to live in and visit. This article is not intended to discourage you from visiting but rather to help you have the best experience possible when in the area. There are TONS of wonderful activities you can do near and around Julian. From the bottom of my heart thank you for supporting the San Diego backcountry community.