One of my favorite mini-getaways in San Diego is in the charming mountain town of Julian, less than a 2-hour drive from the city. Nestled in the foothills of the San Diego Mountains, the town is rooted in history, reminiscent of its heyday during a second outbreak of the California gold rush in 1870.

History books say that in the 1870s, while scavengers were busy looking for gold flints in the rivers and mines, James Madison brought a wagonload of apple trees up into the mountains. They grew and flourished in the clear air, and to this day, the town is world-famous for its orchards and apple pies.

Every October, Julian hosts various activities and events to welcome Autumn and the apple-picking season. Aptly named Apple Days, this is one of the best times to visit: the air is crisp and cool, the trees are red and yellow (which hardly happens in Southern California), and the normally sleepy town is hopping with locals and visitors. Last weekend, I attended the Apple Days Festival, held at Menghini Winery at the base of Vulcan Mountain.

The entrance fee was $5, which I assumed gave us access to the hay rides, pumpkin patch, apple-bobbing contest, and wine-tasting I had heard about. I was disappointed, however, to find out that it merely gave us access to a roped-off area filled with craft stalls and food vendors. I had to pay an entrance fee to get to things I had to pay for anyway? Hmm. Not to mention that there was no hay ride or pumpkin patch, I heard (didn’t see) the apple-bobbing contest that lasted about 3 minutes, and wine-tasting was at a separate venue back down the road.

We ended up leaving and heading over to the apple orchard, where the entrance was free but you had to pay for a bag to fill with apples. Rather than wait in the long line, we simply walked around the orchard and enjoyed the scenery. And I might have plucked off a teeny bright red apple to taste.

Notice the Gogobot shirt. 😉

Eventually, we decided to leave the winery grounds and head on down to downtown Julian, which basically consists of mom-and-pop restaurants, shops, and wine tasting rooms lining a main street that spans all of three blocks.

As we strolled along sidewalks lined by golden trees, the breeze was gentle and the air was crisp. Leaves crunched underfoot, and though the weather still tasted of summer (in San Diego, fall weather won’t begin until winter is nearly upon us), Autumn was definitely present in the quaint mountain town.

The most famous pie shop in town (and in all of Southern California) is Mom’s Pies, nestled right in between antique and craft shops on Main Street. On the average Saturday, the line reaches the door. During harvest season, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the line snakes out the door, down the sidewalk, and cabooses at the next block.

Saturday was no exception.

The line stretched much further past the perimeter of this mobile photo…

Personally, I’ve never been impressed with Mom’s. I can only surmise that most people crazy enough to wait in that long line do so only because of hyped-up hearsay. I have enjoyed better slices at the competition, the Julian Pie Company, and even the house pecan pie at the little country kitchen across the way. But that’s just me – and I’m sure the majority of Julian pie lovers would disagree with me.

We visited a craft fair, and my favorite little penny candy hollow in the cellar of one of the antique shops. You can fill your bag with fruit sticks, Teaberry vintage gum, salted caramels, and chocolate-covered honeycomb, then pay by the 1/4 pound.

Finally, after checking in to several overcrowded wine tasting rooms, we sat and chatted on the terrace of the Julian Coffee House, where I had the best all-natural iced mocha ever. I mean, really. Starbucks, take heed. I may need to drive back up next weekend just to get my fix!

To top off the day, we were treated to an epic sunset above the lone country road home – a picture that just whispers “October Sky” to me.

Next up, I plan to be back in the next two months or so for the Country Christmas festivities. Those mountain folk know how to celebrate Christmas, and you can’t escape the holiday cheer when you’re surrounded by a giant glistening tree set up in the town square, twinkling lights lining the entire Main Street at night, or toy soldiers marching in shop windows. Not to mention that the altitude is high enough for snow, making the region one of the only places in San Diego County to see the white stuff.

If you live in or around San Diego, or find yourself visiting in the next few months, be sure to pay a visit to Julian – and tell them I said hello.