When people think of visiting San Diego County,images of surfers, beach bums, and naval ships come to mind; trips to the zoo or to the vintage midway in Mission Bay. However, deep in San Diego County’s back country lies an authentic Gold Rush-era Pioneer town. The historic town of Julian, located just one hour from San Diego, is a great SoCal vacation destination. I had been dreaming of having the time to make my way over here after a friend kept raving about their Dutch apple pies. After an enticing shout out in this month’s Los Angeles Magazine, we knew we had to make the trip.
Julian is small enough to explore in one day, but is packed with enough stuff to do to stay for a few days. Perfect for a little getaway or a family vacation, this place is quaint and is a great example of a nostalgic California mountain town. The town is most known for their apple pies and their Apple Harvest season (early September through mid-October,) but according to locals, it’s a wonderful place to visit all year round since they’ve got many festivals and events as well as snowfall in the winter.
The Great Pie Showdown
For the first part of this post, I’ve decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Julian’s most prized artisan good: apple pie. Many people get into heated debates about who makes the best apple pie in this town. Old-timers swear by Julian Cafe & Bakery which has been around since the early 70s, while most people in the county would argue that it’s really between Mom’s Pie House and the Julian Pie Company; both conveniently located on Main Street– mere blocks from one another.
Stop number one on our great Julian apple pie showdown was the cozy, old-fashioned pie house called Mom’s. Greeted with beautiful apple dumplings in the window topped with large granulated sugar, this somewhat out-dated looking space was homey in the way your grandma’s house is just a little bit dusty. With an antique wood-burning oven in the middle of the room, I was eager to dig in to taste their creations and opted for their original apple pie slice without the ice cream. At $3.75 a slice, I thought I was getting a pretty good deal. The window presentation was nice and they even warmed it up for me. However, the texture of the apples were a little mushy for my taste and the pastry crust tasted pretty average. A good attempt, but nothing mind-blowing. I was starting to get worried that this Julian apple pie thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
After dropping in on a few antique shops, we finally got the courage to try Julian Pie Company at the edge of town. I was concerned when we walked into a newer space with vinyl booths and a modern-looking menu. While very much a local business, Julian Pie Company had streamlined their operations by providing local markets in the county with frozen, unbaked versions of their famous pie. I began to think that this whole pie throwdown thing was a mistake…until…the most perfect slice of crumbly Dutch apple pie was put in front of me with a side of cinnamon ice cream.
This slice of pie was a revelation. Every other Dutch apple pie I have ever had…paled in comparison. Served warm, the amount of sugar and tartness was entirely proportional; the crumble perfectly sweet and the apples winning the texture battle with flying colors. Decadent, yet light. Paired with the cinnamon ice cream, which was rich and had the flavor of a really good horchata ice cream, this was definitely the winner for me. Don’t let the new style fool you, this place is absolutely legit and there was a line out the door on our way out. Atmosphere-wise, this cottage establishment also offered front and back patio seating, which was perfect for a sunny summer day.
Next up on my Straight Trippin’: Getting to Know Julian will be a Pt. II- a couple of must-try places in Julian for a leisurely afternoon around the town, Pt. III, Apple Harvest, and Pt. IV Julian’s Hard Cider.