Archives For Beyond Orange County

Apple Picking in Oak Glen

Maruska —  August 24, 2017
Apple Picking

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Labor Day weekend is the official start of apple season and I can’t wait to take my kids to Oak Glen to pick some delicious apples. I don’t know if you have ever taken your family here, but let me tell you, it is a magical place and there are tons of things to do with the kids. On our last visit we picked apples at the Riley apple farm, then we made our own cider and lastly we saw a pirate show in town which was completely free and really entertaining.

They also have tons of other activities such as hayrides, archery, knife throwing, toy making, butter churning, petting zoos, and so much more!

Click here to find information about Oak Glen. You can then click on Ranches/Farms on the left side to see all the U-Pick options.


  • Make sure you check the farm website before heading to Oak Glen to check on the crop condition and availability.
  • Bring jackets, just in case. I went at the beginning of October last year and in the shade it was cold, probably 60 degrees. But it is probably much warmer right now. 
  • The free pirate show used to be at the Parrish pioneer ranch at 12:00pm and 2pm every Sunday. From their website it seems that the pirate show is still going on this year, but I can’t vouch for that.
  • Click here is to see a map of Oak Glen so you can find things easily.
  • To give you an itinerary idea, last year I left Irvine around 8:30am and got there at 9:40am. We stopped at the Riley’s Apple farm, picked apples, then made apple cider. At 12pm we saw the pirate show, then went to eat and then headed back.
  • I was told that the Snow-Line orchard opens at 9am and makes delicious hot fresh apple donuts and hot apple cider. Perfect for breakfast.

Staycation in Julian

Maruska —  August 16, 2017

julianIf you are looking for a great family gateaway, Julian is the perfect destination! Julian is known for apple picking and delicious apple pies but it also offers tons of fun activities for families with kids. During our two day stay we visited several orchards to pick apples and pears, we experienced wine-making by stomping on grapes with our bare feet, we pet animals, panned for gold and even walked through a real gold mine! I personally loved our visit to the California Wolf Center where we listened to a kid-friendly presentation about wolves and actually got to observe two packs of wolves.

What to do in Julian with kids:

Grape Day Park


Half way to our destination we stopped in Escondido for a bathroom stop and to stretch our legs. Just off the freeway, we found the historic Grape Day Park that has a working barn, a blacksmith shop, the original Escondido library, the Santa Fe Railroad depot and a fantastic grape-themed playground.

The playground is always open. The library is open Tuesday thorough Saturday, 10am-4pm. I was told that the other buildings and the railroad depot are open Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday/Saturday 1pm-4pm, except for the blacksmith shop which is open on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. 

321 N. Broadway, Escondido, CA 92025

Apple/Pear Picking


Julian has seven apple and pear u-pick orchards to chose from. Apple picking season normally starts at the end of August and ends mid November. However, due to the drought several orchards need to close much earlier, sometimes as early as the end of September. So please call the orchards in advance to make sure that they are still open.

We picked apples at the Volcan Valley Apple Farm which is the largest orchard and offer 7 apple varieties. The trees are very small so this orchard is perfect for little ones. The price is $12 per bag which holds up to 20 apples.  If you would prefer to pick certified organic apples you can visit the Apple Starr Orchard. The cost is $25 for a 12lb bag. My favorite orchard was actually O’Dell’s which has around 400 certified organic pear trees. The trees were bigger than those at the Volcan Valley Apple Farm, so my kids got to use the special pear picking tool which made it a lot of fun for them. This orchard also has chickens, goats and horses.

Click here for a list of all the apple/pear orchards in Julian, including address and hours.

Apple Pie:

You can not leave Julian without trying one of their famous apple pies. Unfortunately I went during the busiest weekend of the year, so the line to get a pie was way too long and I opted for a smaller bakery…which was delicious anyway. But based on the lines I can tell you that the best pies are sold by Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pie House. We ended up going to the Apple Alley Bakery and I was so excited to see that they also offer gluten free apple pies! It was just delicious!

Visit Downtown:


Julian Downtown is really cute and small so feel free to just walk around and check everything out. You can visit the Julian Pioneer Museum, or the Old Julian Book House. You can get some free apple cider samples at Julian Cider Mill or hop on a horse back carriage for a 15 minute tour. On Sundays you can also see the Julian Doves and Desperados perform their historic gunfight skits between the Julian Fitness Center and Julian’s Market and Deli. The shows are at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.

California Wolf Center:


The California Wolf Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery of wolves in the wild. Basically wolves in the United states were hunted and driven nearly to the point of extinction. By the end of the 60’s there were only 5 Mexican gray wolf left in the United States and organizations like the California Wolf Center are working hard to preserve this animal. So they breed them and then release them into the wild. The ones that are not good candidates to be released stay at their center so the public can learn more about this magnificent animal.

A visit to the California Wolf Center is an absolute must. Your visit includes a presentation about wolves which was amazing, educational, and kid-friendly. During the second half of your visit you walk to two large enclosures where you will be able to observe a pack of gray wolves and a pack of Mexican gray wolves. The volunteers were passionate, energetic, articulate, and they knew every wolf’s physical and behavioral trait. We spent a good hour looking at the wolves and listening to the volunteers’ interesting stories. Just loved it

Weekend public tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 10am and 2pm. Reservations are required. They also offer tours on Mondays at 10am and 2pm.

Weekend tours are $20 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and under. Monday tours are an additional $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Right now they have a great Groupon for $26 which includes admission for 4 people, so take advantage of this. Here is a link to the Groupon.

Julian Mining Company:


Julian Mining Company offers lots of great activities for the kids including gold panning, gem sluice, tomahawk throw, petting zoo and apple picking. If you purchase panning for gold, you can actually pan for as long as you want. And by the way, it is real gold not fool’s gold. But you do need determination and patience to do this activity since it is, understandably, not that easy to find the gold. Gem sluice might be more suitable for younger kids as you are basically given a bag of gems inside some dirt and kids have to scoop them out. This activity is much faster, so I opted for gold panning :).

Saturday 10-5pm
Sunday 12-5pm

4444 State Hwy 78, Julian, CA 92036

Eagle And High Peak Mine:


Our visit to the Eagle gold mine was my kids’ favorite activity. This was a one-of-a-kind learning experience and we were actually able to walk through an abandoned gold mine from 1870s. The tours are offered daily and they run continuously, so you don’t have to get there at a specific time. No reservations required.

Mon-Fri: 10am-4pm
Sat-Sun: 10am-5pm

Adults: $10
Kids 5-13: $5
Kids 4 and under: $1

2320 C Street Julian, CA 92036

Other Activities:


Julian offers several other activities including horseback riding, hikes, wine tours, and more. We were able to go to their grape stomp festival where we crashed grapes with our feet. Lots of fun but this festival only takes place during Labor day weekend. There are other great festivals planned during the rest of the year that you might like to check out. Click here for a list of upcoming special events in Julian.

Also, keep in mind that on the way to Julian you drive by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. So if you haven’t visited this park, consider adding it to your itinerary. And if you are going in October, kids enter for free, so it might be a great and economical idea to visit during that time.


I decided to rent a cabin through VRBO since it is much easier with the kids and I like to be able to cook some of the meals during my stay. Depending on when you are visiting you can get a small cabin for $100 per night, so it might turn out to be cheaper than staying at a B&B or hotel. Click here to find cabins that you can rent in Julian.

If you would like to stay in a hotel or B&B, click here to check out your options.

Day in San Diego

San Diego is one of my family’s favorite cities in the country. There is a ton to do with kids and you get the benefit of big city living, too. One of our favorite day trips from Orange County is a trip on the Coaster, playing at Waterfront Park, and exploring Old Town. This entire trip cost my boys and I $12. You’ll be shocked at how fun this practically free trip is!


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We drive from South Orange County to the Oceanside Transit Center to catch the Coaster, which is San Diego’s version of the Metrolink. Parking in the parking structure is free and they have the “1 Day Region Plus Pass” for $12. Kids under 6 are free. This pass gives you the ability to ride ALL public transportation for $12 on a single day. Once you arrive at the station, locate the ticket kiosk and simply click on “Current Promotions” and select “Region Plus Day Pass.” This includes the trolleys and round trip tickets on the Coaster. The Coaster traveling to San Diego is typically the one closest to the station. You can refer to the TV screen with platform listings to double check. The Coaster travels along the coastline and has breathtaking views. We play games such as Uno, 20 Questions, and I Spy while we enjoy the 45 minute trip to the city. For this day trip you’ll exit “Santa Fe Depot” which is the last stop on the Coaster.

Click here for the Coaster schedule.

Waterfront Park:Waterfront Park

We discovered this gem of a park when visiting the city one weekend and love it! To get there from the station head North (back the direction you came from on the train) towards Ash Street. Then turn left on Ash and you’ll see the park on the corner of Ash and Pacific Highway. It’s about 1 block from the train station.

Not only does the park have amazing slides, playground equipment, swings, and art, it also has a beautiful view of the Tall Ships and the kids can watch the trains and trolleys as they pass. Plus they have a fountain running along the entire park that the kids can play in. Families often picnic on the grass and watch their kids play in the fountain when it opens at 11 AM. I recommend bringing your kids’ swim gear and sunscreen because they will get very wet! Their bathrooms are clean and the entire park is closely monitored by security guards so you can easily change your kids after they play in the water. Plus, you’ll want to pack a picnic lunch and snacks for you to enjoy.

Click here for more information about the Waterfront park.

Trolley Ride:

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After you’ve enjoyed a couple of hours at the park, head back to Santa Fe Depot and find the “Green Line” trolley towards “Santee.” Wait on the side of the tracks directly in front of the station. Trolleys arrive every 15 minutes. You do not need a new ticket to ride the trolley. Just be sure you keep hold of your “1 Day Region Plus Pass.” San Diego does have personnel walk through the trains checking for tickets. Once you jump on the trolley, you’ll exit at Old Town. This is 4 stops from Santa Fe Depot. Be sure you look at the front of the trolley to make sure you get on the Green Line, not Orange Line, because they both depart from that station.

Click here for the trolley’schedule and maps.  

Old Town:

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Once you arrive in Old Town you’ll head towards the direction of the main plaza. When you get to the fence welcoming you to Old Town, turn right. There’s lots to explore in Old Town including live performances, toy shops, and other stores. Our favorite free museums in Old Town are the Wells Fargo History Museum and Old Town Model Railroad Museum. On our last trip we also visited the Sheriff’s Museum. All of these museums are free but they do encourage donations.

Wells Fargo History Museum:

Wells Fargo Museum

My kids call this the “telegraph museum” because they love sending messages to each other using Morse Code on the two telegraph machines in the museum. There’s also a huge stagecoach, a room similar to those that people on the Pony Express may have stayed in, tools used for mining and living in the old west, and an interactive map. There are also coloring books and crayons for kids and they will give the kids a sticker if you ask!

Click here for more information about the Wells Fargo History Museum.

Old Town Model Railroad Depot:

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Continue down the dirt path in the center of Old Town towards the street. Follow the main road, San Diego Avenue, for about 3 blocks past the dirt path. This is about a 10 minute walk from the Wells Fargo History Museum. There’s a big red sign that says “Trains” so you can’t miss it!

When you arrive you’ll be greeted at the door and you can get a “Scavenger Hunt” for your family. We love the scavenger hunt because you notice things about the layout that you would never notice on your own. There’s a day and night room with plenty of step stools so your little ones can easily see the trains. If you attempt or complete the scavenger hunt then you get a prize. Gary, the owner, is often there and will answer any questions for you. He is amazing! Be sure to leave a donation at this stop.

Their website is being redone but you can check Yelp for more information.

Sheriff’s Museum

Sheriff's Museum

We heard about this museum when we visited the model train museum. It’s directly across the street from the Old Town Model Railroad Museum, and also free, so we decided to check it out. There’s a jail cell where your kids will be locked in, motorcycles that they can climb on, and other sheriff-themed memorabilia. My kids liked it but there were a few parts that we avoided. Mainly a video about a crime scene investigation with fake blood on the floor and a “Heaven’s Gate” mass murder exhibit on the second story so we did not look at that at all. I do think this would appeal to older kids but it wasn’t appropriate for my 3- and 5- year old. My kids enjoyed the downstairs area, though, so I still think it’s worth checking out unless your kids are sensitive to this type of place.

Click here for the Sheriff’s museum website.

Other fun and free Old Town activities:

My kids love listening to live music in Old Town and watching the performers. They also love the “windchime store” a few doors away from the Wells Fargo Museum. Additionally, there’s an old school house, garden, picnic area and many other historic sites. Depending on how much time you have before your train arrives you may want to check some of these places out.

Head Back on the Coaster

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Once you’ve had your fill of Old Town, head to the same train station that you used when you got off the trolley. Be sure you wait on the center platform marked “Coaster” and wait for your train back to Oceanside.

Know Before You Go:

  • Use a debit, MasterCard, or Visa to pay for your train ticket.The machine does not accept AmEx.
  • Use the restroom before boarding the Coaster. They do have a bathroom on the train but it’s tricky to manage 2 kids on a moving train!
  • We have not had major traffic when heading down to Oceanside on the weekday but if you plan on going on a weekend then you will need to plan for traffic.
  • You’ll get the best views on the second story on the Coaster.
  • Depending on the age of your kids, you may or may not need a stroller. When my kids were 2 and 4 I brought an umbrella stroller to hold our stuff and to give the kids a break from walking when they were tired.
  • Pack a lunch and snacks for your kids. It’s a long day and mine always get hungry on the train!
  • Bring a towel and swim suit if you plan on letting your kids play in the fountain. If the park is your first stop, I’d recommend having them wear their suit on your way down and then bringing a change of clothes.
  • Bring a plastic bag to put wet swim suits and your towel in so you’re not carrying around wet clothes in your backpack.
  • Bring cash for museum donations.
  • If you want to do everything in this post, go on Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday so both the Old Town Model Railroad Depot and Sheriff’s Museum are open.
  • We typically leave our house on a weekday at 8:15/8:30 AM, take the 9:42 AM Coaster down, and then the 2:22 PM or 3:51 PM train back on the weekdays. Check the Coaster schedule for the current schedule prior to taking your trip.
  • This trip costs more with kids ages 6 and up or extra grown ups because they will need their own train tickets. Factor in an additional $12 per child or adult.
  • You can easily spend all day in Old Town if this is your first visit. In this case, you just need to get off the Coaster at “Old Town SD” instead of “Santa Fe Depot”. You can also save some money by purchasing a round trip ticket rather than the RegionPlus Day Pass since you won’t be taking the Trolley. By purchasing a round trip ticket you can save $1 on adult/kid tickets and $6.50 for senior tickets.

Additional Information:

Oceanside Transit Center205 South Tremont Street, Oceanside, CA

Waterfront Park1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92101, Hours: 6 AM-10 AM daily , Fountain Hours: 11 AM- 7 PM daily

Wells Fargo History Museum2733 San Diego Ave, San Diego, California 92110, Hours: 10 AM- 5 PM daily

Old Town Model Railroad Depot: 2415 San Diego Ave, Ste 107 -108, San Diego, CA 92101, Hours: Sunday-Monday: 11 AM-6 PM, Tuesday: Closed, Wednesday-Friday: 11 AM-6 PM, Saturday: Closed

Sheriff’s Museum: 384 San Diego Ave., San Diego, CA 92110, Hours: Open Wednesday – Sunday, Spring & Summer: 11am – 6pm, Fall & Winter: 11am – 5pm

Kelly Rafter
Blog Contributor

About the Author
Kelly and her husband have two little boys, ages 3 and 5. She loves taking her boys on adventures around Southern California that focus on learning, getting their wiggles out, and having fun! When she isn’t fulfilling her mommy duties she teaches at a local community college and is an educational consultant.