Is there anything worse than a disappointing vacation? Well, that could be the case if you plan a trip to San Diego this year.

‘America’s Finest City’ doesn’t always live up to the hype. How do I know? I’m a 10 year resident, which according to my own rules, makes me an official “San Diegan”.

We all know tourist season is right around the corner. As such, I know the secrets to avoid the crowds and Arizona license plates like the plague.

Crowds pour in each spring and summer complaining of ‘May Gray’ and ‘June Gloom’ skies, cold ocean water, and expensive prices.

Regardless, crowds are all but guaranteed to invade California’s shores from the flawless beach town of Coronado all the way up to Los Angeles.

If you’re like me and appreciate your space, there’s one hideaway all San Diegans set their sights on to avoid the summer crowds.

Julian: Southern California’s Hideaway In The Mountains

Not often do we associate California with charming small towns, but Julian is the exception to the rule.

Julian Historic District sign

An hour east of San Diego lies a historic gold mining town turned secret, fun hideaway that many travelers don’t know about.

When the beach crowds and drunken madness of the Gaslamp become too much, this is where you can find locals coming for a day trip or weekend getaway for a peaceful reset.

There’s no denying this mountain retreat is tiny, but it packs a punch with all its offerings within a short distance.

In fact, the town itself is less than 8 square miles. Most of the happenings are along the main strip, but there are some other hidden gems dotted throughout the area.

Main strip of Julian, CA

First and foremost, Julian is definitely the best place to come for a blissful escape for some fresh air, old-timey shops, delicious food, and locally-produced beer and wine.

Newbies might be deterred upon arriving, however. Unless you make it here when the roosters crow, there will be a line of cars at both of the town’s entrances.

Instead of thinking, “I thought this place was to avoid the crowds!”, this shouldn’t deter you.

The town is very, very small with no stoplights and just two-lane roads. “Traffic” dies down in just a few minutes as locals scramble for prime parking, which there is more than enough of.

Battle Of The Pies: An Unsuspecting Foodie Destination

Tray of Julian Pies

If Julian has a claim to fame it’s their phenomenal pies.

The same way Philadelphians go back and forth on who has the better cheesesteak, the same argument ensues about who has the better pie.

Again, Julian is not overly crowded, but you will find lines out the door outside pie shops, most notably the Julian Pie Company.

Julian is also well known in the region for orchards, so you know the ingredients are as fresh as can be.

There are at least 3 other pie shops claiming they’re the best, but ultimately that’s up to you to decide.

You really can’t go wrong as they’re all sinfully rich and sweet.

Level up with a slice of vanilla ice cream, and you’ll be praying to all the gods not to get Diabeetus.

Man with dog at Julian Beer Co

If you can’t make it here, you can still get a taste by ordering a whole pie online anywhere in the U.S.!

Eating dessert first is totally okay here, but there’s many other ways to fill your piehole between local breweries, wineries, and even cideries – yet another apple orchard creation.

My personal favorites are:

  • Apple Alley Bakery
  • Julian Beer Co.
  • Blue Door Winery (say hi to Oliver the dog for me!)
  • Calico Cidery

Who Needs Beach Resorts Anyway?

San Diegans often come to Julian for a “stay-cation”, but for anyone else it can be a vacation.

Tourists will be surprised by how much is packed in to such a small area, but you can easily stay for an extended weekend, if not longer.

Bed and Breakfast in Julian, CA

This charming town has some really cool Bed and Breakfasts and lodges for a unique stay, rather than splurging on expensive beach hotels in San Diego or elsewhere.

These are the top 3 rated hotels in Julian:

Awesome Hiking Trails Nearby

Driving through the winding mountainous roads, you will see a side of San Diego that nobody ever seems to talk about – the beauty of the countryside.

Hiker standing on Potato Chip Rock

There are some awesome hiking trails throughout the area and Julian makes for a great base to spend time outdoors.

You will pass several trailheads coming into town with parking provided, yet there is one trail that ends with an epic photo-op in the neighboring town of Ramona.

Potato Chip Rock is worth the trek, but keep in mind summer is not only tourist season, but rattlesnake season as well.

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