It’s here! It’s finally here! Fall has always been my favorite season. When I was a kid, it meant back to school (I was a weird kid. I really, really liked school and could not wait for summer to be over.) and it meant that temperatures were cooling down. Fall also meant that the holidays were coming and I’d get to see the leaves change colors. What can I say? I love it!
Since moving to San Diego and then graduating from college, Fall then became apple picking season. Nothing’s more fun than taking a scenic drive out to Julian to go pick apples. I’ve taken numerous friends on this outing and everyone has seemed to enjoy it. Over the last few years, I’ve just about perfected my itinerary for Julian day trips and now I’d like to share it with our readers. Just a side note, you can pretty much make this an “anytime” Julian trip if you swap out the apple picking with other fun activities or exploring more of the town. Apple season seems to start beginning of September into October. It’s definitely slim pickings once you hit October, just as a warning.
Things you’ll want to bring:
- A hat
- Bottled water (to rinse the apples you want to eat)
- Napkins or tissues (it’s a bit dusty and I get sneezy)
- Good walking shoes (trust me, don’t wear flip flops)
- Pocket knife (optional) if you want to cut into the apple instead of biting it
- Cooler with some ice packs (optional) if you want to store the things you bought and keep it out of the sun
- Cross-body purse for the ladies (or men) so both your hands are free to hold the apple bag and pick apples
I’ll start the day trip in the morning around 9 or 10 after a hearty breakfast. The earlier you go, the more you get to see because the town is pretty much closed around 4pm. I like to take the route to Julian from Poway as I think it’s the most fun and scenic drive. From Poway, it’ll take you 30-45 minutes. Take your time and enjoy the view! A basic map of the route can be found here.
Something you’ll definitely see out your car window on the drive over
Before I get to the town of Julian, I stop in Santa Ysabel where Highway 78 meets Highway 79 to hit up Dudley’s Bakery and Julian Pie Company. You’ll want to do this on your way into Julian, not out because all the tourists buy this stuff on the way out and you’ll be left with very little variety of everything by the time it’s late afternoon. I like to stop by Dudley’s and pick up some of their really good bread. They make some really good sliced bread that tastes amazing when you use them for sandwiches. The times I’ve gone they’ve had about 10 different varieties available. It’s a bit chaotic when you first walk in, but just look around for a basket and walk around and grab the loaves of bread you want. If you purchase 4 loaves of bread, they’ll give you one loaf free. Once you’re ready, get in that long line to pay at the cash register. Save your pastry orders for when you get to the cash register and they’ll grab what you need (the elephant ear is quite good). Recommended bread flavors: cheddar (tastes like goldfish crackers), jalepeno cheddar (it’s actually quite spicy), danish apple nut, rosemary olive oil, and date nut raisin. You really can’t go wrong with any of the flavors, though. I’m not sure if they still do this, but if you purchase a lot of bread Dudley’s will give you $5 in free slot play at the Santa Ysabel Casino. Save this for later.
Put your bread in the car and walk over to JPC (Julian Pie Company). I know people fight over which place makes the best Julian apple pies, so I’ll just say this one is my favorite because of the crumb topping. If you can, get the pies you want with the crumb topping. It’s like they put crack in it. Delicious, delicious crack topping. If this is your first time at JPC, get a slice to try out. If you’re sure about what you want, there’s a cash register around the corner from the display cases that will let you purchase only whole pies. This will save you time if there’s a long line. JPC has this punch card where if you purchase 10 pies, you’ll get one free. Pies I recommend: apple crumb, apple mountain berry crumb, apple cherry crumb, apple peach crumb. Put these bad boys in the cold cooler and they’ll be waiting for you when you get home!
Now this is where you decide your adventure. You and your travel buddies may be hungry at this point and want lunch. If everyone’s super cranky, then head into town and grab food. I’d recommend, however, that you hit up the orchards instead before it gets too hot and sunny. It’s worth it. Assuming you’re heeding my words, make your way over to Raven Hill Orchard.
Raven Hill Orchard entrance – you can’t miss it
This orchard is my pick because the trees are pruned pretty short so that it’ll be easier for anyone to pick apples (even little kids!). I also like it because the rows are marked with the different varieties and the place has a lot of character. Park on the side of the road and walk towards the sculptures. The guy running the place looks like an Irish Crocodile Dundee that doesn’t talk much. Pay $10 for a paper bag that you can fill. It’ll seem like a rip off, but the apples are small and you’ll find that you can fit quite a bit in the bag. Also, you’re allowed to eat as many apples as you want while you’re at the orchard. Just be careful, because that is a LOT of fiber.
Look at all those pretty apples!
If there’s not much of a line, tell him it’s your first visit and he’ll give you details on what kinds of apples he has and which ones are at the peak of ripeness. Basically, the large trees at the south end of the orchard are granny smiths, pippins line the fence, beginning of each row (east) are galas, the ends of each row (west) are fujis. Each row is marked and are mostly jonathans, golden delicious, and empires. I think there’s a few rows of gravensteins.
You can see the trees are pruned to a shorter height to allow for easier apple picking
More apple trees in neat rows
Once you get your paper bag, walk as far down as you can either north or south (this is where the sneakers come in handy. Watch your step or you might trip over an apple on the ground) because those trees are the least picked over since they’re far from the entrance.
Watch out! Be careful of tripping over apples on the ground and don’t get stung by hornets
Make sure when you pick the apples, you gently twist the apple off the stem. Pull too hard and you’ll rip off a large branch and there will be less apples for the next year. Don’t pick any apples off the ground, and check for worm holes before you place the apple in your bag. I like to rinse the apple with some water before I take a bite. Try all the different varieties and you’ll notice the subtle differences between them. You’ll feel compelled to just pick a bunch off one tree, but resign to just pick a few off each tree so you don’t fill your bag too quickly. The orchard owner has sculptures dotted throughout the orchard and you’ll sometimes hear him play the didgeridoo. Like I said, the place has character. Apple picking takes a little over an hour. Ask if they have any cider you can buy because it’s pressed from the very apples you’re picking.
Typical Julian apple picking weather – sunny!
Drop your apples off in the car and head across the street to check out some Julian wineries if you’re interested. It costs $5-$10 for multiple tastings and you even get to keep the glass.
Some wine tasting and a freshly picked apple
If the wineries aren’t your thing, make your way over to town. You won’t be going back the way you came, but instead you’ll be coming into Julian from the back. I like this part of the drive the best because the roads have some switch backs and you’re surrounded by beautiful nature. The moment you drive past the school and a tiny gas station, you’re in town and should look for parking. The town’s main area is really small and walkable, so don’t worry about parking too far. Parking is harder to find the further you get into the heart of town. Park, walk around, and explore. Some suggestions:
- Miner’s Diner is a great place to stop. They have this old soda fountain counter that’s been around for almost 100 years. I love to get a milkshake or phosphate and zucchini fries. The rest of the food is ok diner food. Walk past the cash register and down some steps and there’s tiny candy shop. It’s fun to check out.
- Julian Cider Mill is a cute little shop that sells some yummy cider. They even have samples set out for you to try. I always pick up some pumpkin butter and apple butter to take home, along with jams, nuts, and pickles.
- Not sure what it’s called, but across the street from Miners Diner is this big building with tons of tables of arts and crafts for sale. I like to browse the stuff they have there, but I never really buy anything.
When you’ve had your fill of the town, head back towards Poway and if you’ve still got some energy and time, hit up the Santa Ysabel Casino. Basically, you take a right when you see Dudley’s Bakery. It’s a short drive and you follow the signs to the casino. This is where that $5 free slot play voucher you have comes in handy! Also, if it’s your first time at the casino, I think they give you $10-$25 free slot play for signing up (depends on the promotion that day). I’ve had friends win on the slot play when we’ve gone, so it’s kind of fun. If you’re hungry for dinner, head to the restaurant in the casino called The Orchard. Now that you have a players card, you can get a whole prime rib dinner for $5! What a deal! If you make it before 4, there’s also some food and drink specials.
At this point, you’ll probably be dead tired. Someone usually falls asleep on the drive back. I sometimes like to invite people over and we make caramel apples with the apples we’ve picked. It’s totally worth the effort because they’ll be some of the best caramel apples you’ve ever had.
Caramel apples we made with our bounty. DELICIOUS.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my detailed itinerary and let me know if you have any other suggestions!