Labor Day – the traditional end of summer (although fall doesn’t technically start until three weeks later) and that three day weekend right after the first week of school has become a popular holiday for spending time outdoors. Gotta soak up all that sun before it’s gone right? Or at least I assume that’s what it’s like for most people. For those of us who live in Southern California, the cold doesn’t really show up until sometime in November, if we’re lucky. Sometimes it’s still 80 degrees at Thanksgiving. I know, I know, poor us.
Anyway, my friend and I decided to take advantage of that extra day off and go camping. We packed up her boyfriend and their dog and after work on Friday drove to Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County. Our campground in Mount Laguna was about 30 minutes south of the town of Julian, an old mining town the whole of which is on the National Historic Register. Nowadays the town is more famous for it’s apple pie, and it’s a great day trip from just about any part of San Diego in any season. I’m originally from North County San Diego and grew up going to Girl Scout camp in Julian. Little did I know that my friend’s boyfriend also spent a lot of time in Julian in high school even though he lived in Yuma. Small world right?
Where We Stayed
Laguna is a huge campground with a hundred sites, separated into different loops and even includes a group campsite. We had site number 50 in the Shady Loop.
We were close to the restroom but not right next to it. Great for those middle of the night potty runs. We propped our tents close together on one end of the clearing behind the fire pit and picnic table having to do so because most of the site was slightly sloped. For those of you not as concerned with this as we were, you could easily fit at least three or four tents in this site for an epic weekend. (The max per site is only 8 but the sites are close enough together that you could book a few and have a really large party. Many people were doing just this, that weekend) This campground has flush toilets and even showers! Pretty swanky compared to the campground I stayed in at Sequoia. The campground itself was very pretty with soaring pine trees and a meadow on the back end that had several bike paths that doubled for hiking. There were tons of kids riding bikes all over the campground all weekend. We didn’t discover the meadow until Sunday morning when we went for a walk around the grounds. Overnight on Saturday a storm moved in with heavy winds that brought in low hanging fog and some rain around four in the morning. Considering that Saturday was 90 degrees and sunny it was a complete 180* in the weather making Sunday morning a great time for a longer walk with Scout, my friends’ dog. The meadow is actually a lake (according to Google maps) with long grass bent over and at the center was a good sized pile of rocks perfect for scampering over. There is a short path that encircles the meadow and the rock pile and a longer path that goes around the mountain at the end of the clearing. That one is about three miles. We opted for the shorter path to work up an appetite for breakfast. The fog was lingering about and it really felt like we had been transported to the Pacific Northwest that morning.
The town of Julian was first settled by Confederate veterans of the Civil War relocating west to find a new place to settle. After a cattleman named Fred Coleman glinted a shiny piece of gold in a nearby creek in 1870 the town experienced a tiny boom in population.
The gold rush didn’t last long but the settlers stayed when it was proved that the land was perfect for farming apples. Modern day Julian survives on the tourist but it hasn’t lost its charm. I hadn’t visited since I was about 18 so I was excited to see it again, and while it was a busy weekend with a special event taking place, it didn’t feel fake. It didn’t make me want to run for the hills. Actually, I can’t wait to go back. I’m surprised by the amount of things to do there, it being such a small town. What we did involved mostly eating and drinking but there are a few historic sites to check out, like the Pioneer Museum and Santa Ysabel School at Witch Creek which I spied from a distance, and the Eagle and High Peak mines offering tours daily.
Food & Drink
Julian is best known for apple pie. There are actually several places you can get pie, but my favorite is the Julian Pie Company. They have two locations, the other one is in Santa Ysabel about 15 miles north. They have about two dozen types of pie, most of them some variation on apple, with about 10 – 15 available at any given time. From traditional or dutch apple pie to the more exotic boysenberry apple (my favorite) and seasonal favorites like pecan and peach there’s something for everyone, unless you’re like my friend who doesn’t like apple pie. (say what?!) For an added touch of decadence, you can get your pie a la mode with a HUGE scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream on top. They warm up your pie so the ice cream melts just a bit. For $3.50 a slice, it’s the perfect midday snack.
Julian also offers some unique drink options; multiple wineries, craft beer and of course, a cidery. We wandered into the Blue Door Winery on accident, it’s just off main street and part of a small collection of stores that face an inner courtyard. It was still kind of early, but the owner was walking about and saw us checking the place out. He asked if we were waiting for him, we asked about the winery being open and he said, “No, but I can open it for you.” He did and we bought two glasses of sangria made with apples, oranges and cherries and for someone who doesn’t really like sangria, it was definitely the best I’ve tried.
The Nickel Beer Company is on the other side of town. Boasting about fifteen beers, and a nice outdoor space with picnic tables and backyard games, Nickel is a chill spot to hang out. The beers are decent, offered in three sizes and at a below average price – nothing to complain about here. Dang Brother pizza was cooking up pies (no apples this time) in a vintage yellow firetruck when we were there. I love food truck and brewery collaborations and this set up was definitely unique.
The drive between the campground and Julian was exceptionally beautiful the first day, as it was warm and sunny with puffy clouds accumulating before the storm. There are a few turn outs so you can pull over and enjoy the view, but otherwise the highways that run through this area are windy two lane roads. There are also multiple trail heads that begin off Sunshine Highway, including the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from San Diego to British Columbia. (the one that Reese Witherspoon walked in Wild) It was way too hot for hiking over the weekend so we didn’t attempt it, but I’d really like to head back later in the year when the weather cools down. Julian has a lot of really cool events throughout the year, like grape stomping, a country Christmas celebration, Gold Rush days and of course u-pick apple picking in the many orchards. Plus all the things I didn’t get a chance to check out, or taste, on this trip. Julian and the beautiful Cleveland National Forest that runs alongside it is a wonderful place to spend a day or a weekend. It was the perfect place to unplug for a few days.