If 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
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.
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!
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 :).
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.
Cost: CASH ONLY
Kids 5-13: $5
Kids 4 and under: $1
2320 C Street Julian, CA 92036
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.