One of the more popular destination rides in Southern California is to the Old West mountain town of Julian. Most motorcyclists know about this location, which is reached by way of the freeway and then some very easy and scenic road riding.
Julian is about a two-hour drive from OC Motorcycle. Just head south via CA-73 to I-5S. In approximately 70 miles, you’ll reach CA-78 toward Escondido. Following the 78 can be a bit tricky as it often takes you through small towns and on surface streets before actually becoming a road again but follow the signs and you’ll have no problems.
On your left, you will pass the San Diego Wild Animal Park; father on the road climbs into the foothills and offers nice views of rolling hills and in springtime, green grass and wildflowers. Once you reach the equestrian town of Ramona, you’ll begin to head up into the Cleveland National Forest. The road can be quite populated with both car and motorcycle traffic, especially in the fall, when apple season is in full swing. For the most part, this is a nice, curving, mountainous road and the beautiful pine and oak trees and clear blue skies make for a perfect ride.
A great place to stop either on the way up or back is Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel. They bake fantastic, mouth-watering bread such as cheddar cheese, potato, sourdough and date nut as well as pastries and sandwiches. There’s a gift shop and restrooms, too. Located at 30218 CA-78 in Santa Ysabel.
Once you hit Julian proper, turn right on Main Street and park. You’ll see plenty of other motorcycles parked along the street as well as a horse and carriage that you can take a ride in.
Julian was founded around 1851, but its first claim to fame came when former slave A.E. “Fred” Coleman discovered gold in a creek in 1869. Some four years later, James Madison brought a load of young apple trees to town and they flourished, resulting in Julian’s current local product.
There is actually a motorcycle accessories shop in Julian called Hog Heaven (what else?), now located in the K.O. Corral at 2356 C Street. They offer necessities like thermal undergarments, gloves, clothing and cargo as well as jewelry and t-shirts.
One place that is sort of off the beaten path, but worth a visit is the Old Julian Book House located at 2230 Main Street. A small, independent bookstore, they specialize in rare and used books. I have found many treasures among their shelves.
If you have time to explore, I recommend a visit to the Julian Pioneer Cemetery, located up a steep set of stairs at Farmer Road and A Street. Julian has a long Old West history and if you want to learn about it on your own instead of via the local museum (which is also good), wander among the crumbling headstones and grave markers here.
During apple season, several of the orchards offer “U-pick” tours where you can pick your own apples. Check with the individual orchards and ranches for details as some require appointments.
Julian has several wineries as well as hard cider and beer that all offer tastings. Check each one for more details and remember alcohol impairs your ability to operate a motorcycle, so book a room if need be.
Of course, there are plenty of good restaurants in town such as the Julian Café, Miner’s Diner, Mom’s Pies and Rongbranch Ranch.
However, if you want to see some more beautiful scenery and take a short drive, head southeast on Main Street and then turn right onto CA-79. About 8 miles down this peaceful country road, you’ll find The Pub at Lake Cuyamaca with beautiful views of Lake Cuyamaca from either the outside deck or dining room. They have a reasonably priced and varied menu. I suggest checking their website for hours as this is a brand-new restaurant that has just opened in January of 2022. Their address is 15027 Highway 79 in Julian.
If you head south on the 79, you will pass by Cuyamaca State Park before merging onto I-8 W toward San Diego. Take CA-67N to CA-52W, which will hook you up with the I-805N. This will become I-5N. From here, you can hop back onto CA-73N to CA-55N. This route creates a sort of loop, but you can certainly just go back the way you came up.
Anytime is great for this ride but fall and spring are perfect times to visit Julian, so plan a trip with friends soon and you will be rewarded with an easy and relaxing ride with beautiful Southern California scenery!
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