Our favorite family-friendly day trips to East San Diego include the historic mining town of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the pine-studded Laguna Mountains.
The delightful mountain community of Julian, once the second largest town in San Diego County during the gold boom of 1869, is located in the Cuyamaca Mountains and reached by tree-lined country roads, nearly empty of traffic and uncluttered by commercial development. Cattle grazing on the hillsides along with fruit orchards and roadside homemade jam stands create a peaceful, pastoral scene. Set against the backdrop of the Cuyamaca Mountains and countless apple orchards, this quaint town is as famous for its apple pie as it is for its collection of gold mines (several offer tours geared toward children). Julian offers a variety of restaurants, bed & breakfast hideaways, antique stores, art galleries and nearby hiking and nature walks.
Julian’s charm and Victorian architecture stretch from one end of town to the other, housing handicraft and antique shops, a general store, and country-style restaurants. The irresistible aroma of cinnamon and apples also leads to stores selling homemade pies filled with fruit from local orchards. One of the most popular times to visit Julian is during the Julian Fall Apple Harvest, held each autumn from mid-September through mid-November, a tradition begun in 1909.
Located slightly south of Julian is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, offering approximately 110 miles of hiking trails, most open to horseback riders, as well as campgrounds and picnic sites. On a clear day, the park’s highest viewpoint, Cuyamaca Peak (6,512 feet), offers views of Mexico, mountain ranges near Los Angeles and wide expanses of desert. The park is also home to magnificent wildlife, including large herds of mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional cougar, and more than 150 identified species of birds.
The pine-studded Laguna Mountains, located within the Cleveland National Forest’s 8,600-acre spread, offers outdoor enthusiasts hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and mountain climbing during the summer months and sledding and tobogganing in the winter.