After living in Southern California for over a year, we’d heard a ton of people talk about how we really need to visit Julian. It sounded great; a cute downtown area, the best apple pie around, some fresh mountain air to escape from the daily city life–all things we love!
So last month, we finally made the trek up to Julian. It’s about an hour-long drive from San Diego, and the drive is absolutely gorgeous! We drove along a winding road up into the mountains, with amazing views of surrounding farms and nature.
I was surprised by how far up the drive took us. San Diego is right on the ocean, so we are used to living at sea level. Julian has over 4,000 feet in elevation! Since they are so high up, they even get some snow in the winter. Since I’m from the Northeast, I definitely miss the snow so we’ll have to go back in the winter to see some snow in Southern California.
Exploring Downtown Julian
The first thing that we did when we arrived in Julian was drive to the main downtown area. All the main shops and stores in Julian are located along Main St., so we parked there and got out of the car to explore.
The downtown area is just as cute as was described to us. Retail shops line either side of the street, where you can buy anything from apple pie and candy apples to art and trinkets. All the buildings have a cool old Western style facade, transporting you back in time.
On the sunny Saturday that we were in Julian there were a ton of motorcycles around, which made for really fun people watching. Who can blame them, it was beautiful weather and I’m sure the winding mountain roads surrounding Julian are the perfect place to ride your bike without disturbance. There’s also not a single traffic light in the entire town.
After about an hour of exploring, it seemed that no matter where we were walking on Main St., we could always smell or see an apple pie shop! After hearing a ton of buzz about how great the apple pies are, we decided to check it out for ourselves.
The Best Apple Pie in Julian
By popular demand, the two best pie shops in Julian are Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pie House. They are both located on Main St. in Julian and since they were both so close, we decided to pick up a pie from each. When in Rome, right?
The first place we went to was Mom’s Pie House. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and the shop was already bustling with people, with a line nearly out the door. Everything smelled absolutely amazing, and then even had a bunch of specialty goods like honey and jam for sale.
Next, we went down the street to try some apple pie at Julian’s reining pie champion, Julian Pie Company. This place was even busier! In addition to the long line inside, many people were also lingering outside, enjoying their pie in the shade of the building.
I bet you’re wondering…so how was the pie at each place? Which one is better? I’ll preface this by saying that we are not going to pick sides! The pie at each place was absolutely amazing. Both places definitely had the best apple pie that either of us had ever had.
Italian for Lunch at Romano’s Restaurant
At lunch time, we were starting to build up an appetite so we started looking for somewhere to eat. After consulting google for a good place to eat, we settled on Romano’s Restaurant, a quiet little Italian restaurant located just off Main St on B St.
Romano’s has a great atmosphere–checkered table clothes and wood embellishments really give the place a classic old feel. It’s definitely a bit more fancy and expensive than most of the places in Julian, but it’s a great spot to eat at if you feel like treating yourself to a classic Italian meal.
The calzone that we ordered was massive. I mean, look at the size of it! It’s almost bigger than the plate! It was also super delicious. The crust tasted freshly made, and the warm insides had everything from ham to olives. I’d definitely recommend ordering this if you go to Romano’s.
We also ordered the lasagna, which was equally delicious. The melted cheese on top was my favorite part. It was also served with a side order of assorted veggies and Sicilian rice. I had never had Sicilian rice before, and it was so good! I would describe it as regular rice but a little more creamy in texture.
Julian Grape Stomp Festa
After eating a bunch of pie and Italian food, we were ready to do something that didn’t involve eating. We happened to notice a flyer hanging that said that the Julian Grape Stomp Festa was that very day. Curious to see what it was all about, we drove over to the Menghini Winery (only 5 minutes from downtown) to check it out.
Now in its 22nd year, the Julian Grape Stomp Festa is a really cool tradition that I had never even heard of before. Every year, when the grapes are ripe enough, the local wineries pick them and put them in a giant barrel. Then, the grape stomp is hosted where people are invited to stand in the barrel and stomp on these grapes, squishing them beneath their feet.
The event has evolved into a pretty cool little festival over time, and today there is a ton of stuff to do. It only costs $15 for a ticket to enter the festival and once you’re in, there are a ton of local food and drink vendors that you can purchase samples from for only a dollar. You also get a souvenir wine glass free with your purchase of a ticket!
It was a blast trying all the different local wines and foods. Personally, my favorite was the Apple Pie flavored cider from Julian Cider Co. I’m normally a cider person, so that’s why I was so excited to try a cider that was apple pie flavored. It didn’t disappoint. It tasted more like dessert than a drink, so be warned that it was pretty sweet.
Jack loved the jalapeño sangria. Don’t worry, it wasn’t spicy. It mostly tasted like regular sangria, except you can taste a bit of the jalapeño flavor as an aftertaste. The person who served it to us described it as “essence of jalapeño.” Ha!
When we finally felt satisfied that we had tried enough of the delicious samples from around the festival, we headed over to check out what the grape stomping was all about.
They had two barrels set up, each filled with grapes that go up to about mid-shin. People wait in line for their turn to go in, with about 5-6 people allowed in at a time. Then they have a few minutes to squish around on the grapes. After that, you wait in another line to use a hose to wash all the purple stains off of your legs and feet.
Since the lines were crazy long, we decided not to partake in this Julian tradition. Waiting for nearly an hour in the direct sun didn’t sound like too much fun, but we still had a great time watching the people enjoy themselves while squishing the grapes with their feet.
Wine Tasting at Menghini Winery
After walking around and enjoying the festival for about an hour, we decided we needed a break from the sun. The Grape Stomp Festa is hosted at Menghini Winery and while all the booths and grape stomping happens outside, the winery is still open for people to enjoy.
Once inside, we strolled around the winery and checked out all the cool old antiques and wine equipment they have. The entire interior has a really cool old vintage feel, and it sits right next to a beautiful old barn.
We took a seat at the small bar and tried a few wine samples. We loved everything we tried, and almost bought a bottle of wine to take home with us. We also loved the bartender, who was very nice and knowledgeable and has worked at Menghini Winery part time for over 10 years to keep him busy in his retirement.
Julian is an incredible small town in Southern California with tons to do. We 100% recommend paying it a visit, and wish we would have gone sooner! While going in the fall is fun because you can go apple picking and grape stomping, winter time might also be a great time to visit if you’re like us and love the snow.
Lastly, if you’ve been to Julian, what’s your favorite thing to do? Drop us a comment below and we’ll check it out next time we’re there.
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