Maria and Jonah apple picking

Maria and Jonah in the Apple Star orchard.

When an invitation comes to spend a day apple picking in Julian, there can be only one answer – YES!

Julian lies a bit North and East of San Diego proper. Originally a Gold Rush town, today it’s famous for apples in all their incarnations. The hills are covered in orchards. The Cuyamaca mountain slopes are a shuddering cold in the winter and that’s what the trees need to flourish. The town has had its ups and downs with fires, booms and busts, but visit any weekend and you’ll be sharing the board walks with lots of visitors. No worry there’s pie enough for all.

Apple Star Orchard Barn

Apple Star Orchard Barn

My excursion started on Friday morning when I met with Maria Hesse, a sustainable lifestyle designer and personal chef. Her son, Jonah, kept us company with stories and observations from the back seat as we drove the winding back roads up to Julian. Maria’s steady hand let me know she’s done the drive before. Within an hour we passed through town and along unpaved streets into farmland. There were several wineries and other U-Pick places (More than half a dozen are on the Visit Julian site.) Our destination was Apple Star, a certified organic orchard, with acres of apples and pear trees.

Pulling past a century old barn, we were one of the few cars in the parking field. Within minutes we’d signed in, paid for two bags of fruit and the caretaker recounted the available varieties in a cadence more like poetry than a list.

Apple Star Red Flyers waiting

Apple Star Red Flyers ready for action.

We visited just after the season opened. The apple trees have been picked over since. Still there’s other fruit to be had and the website is updated regularly. The notice as of October 1st:



A line of Radio Flyer wagons and picking poles waited next to a tall, gated fence. There’s good reason for its height, being an organic orchard, critters like to visit. I spied a huge deer rushing downhill into a shady grove and hiding place right after we parked. Bird song kept us company. A wild turkey strolled between lanes with one of her brood racing to keep up.

Mama wild turkey in the orchard.

Wild turkeys in the orchard.

We picked carefully. Worm holes and bird bites didn’t deter us. Soon our bags were full of perfect pears and apples. There’s nothing as sweet as pulling a ripe apple off the branch and crunching into its juicy flesh. Encouraged by the caretaker, we had to sample a few. It was due diligence. Right?

Apple tree

Before an hour was up our bags were full to overflowing and we were hungry for lunch. Within minutes we were in town. Main street was fairly quiet and parking was easy (not always so on holidays and weekends.)

Fountain in Miners Diner

Fountain in Miners Diner

Set in a building dating back to 1885, Miners Diner is one of Maria and Jonah’s favorite places. Besides having delicious burgers and soups, floats at an old fashioned fountain, and ice cream sundaes, there’s a Candy Mine in the back. Jonah picked out a favorite and I found a small pack of Clove gum. Haven’t seen that in ages.

Buggy rides in Julian

Buggy ride in Julian.

There was time to walk a bit before hitting the road. Strolling is easy in Julian and comfy benches sit in the shade outside storefronts. There’s a biker paraphernalia shop. They’re big customers as Motorcycle clubs love cruising the mountain roads and stop in town to eat. Old-timey souvenirs fill more than a few shelves but the Gold Rush vibe is true. We were on a mission, searching the best place for pie. I selected a crumble-crust, Apple-Rhubarb and Maria chose a Bumble Berry (mixed berry) to take home from the famous Mom’s Pies bakery.

Mom's pie shop.

Mom’s Pie shop.

It made the ride home fly by knowing we’d soon be digging into lush, fresh slices after our day spent apple picking in Julian.


If you go:

  • If you miss the harvest time in Julian consider U Pick opportunities in other areas of Southern California. The Local Harvest site keeps a current list.
  • Check out road conditions in winter. It can be snowy and icy in the mountains, even while balmy at the beaches in San Diego.
  • Find all the events, restaurants, bed and breakfast lodging and more on the Visit Julian site.
  • Miners Diner is just one of dozens of cute and delicious cafes along the few blocks of Julian.
  • Julian makes a fun day-trip or family outing. It’s also pretty romantic if you’re looking for a special date spot (just saying!)

If you enjoyed this post, please share on Pinterest!

apple picking

Connect with other stories from around the world on these weekly linkups: