60 miles NE of San Diego; 31 miles W of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
A trip to Julian (pop. 3,000) is a trip back in time. The old gold-mining town, now best known for its apples, has a handful of cute B&Bs; its popularity is based on the fact that it gives city-weary folks a chance to get away from it all, especially on weekdays, when things are a little quieter here.
Prospectors first ventured into these fertile hills -- elevation 4,225 feet -- in the late 1860s. They struck gold in 1870 near where the Julian Gold Rush Hotel stands today, and 18 mines sprang up like mushrooms. The mines produced up to an estimated $13 million worth of gold in their day. During all the excitement, four cousins -- all former Confederate soldiers from Georgia, two with the last name Julian -- founded the town. Ironically, African-American roots run deep in Julian, too -- it was a black settler who originally found gold here in 1869, and the Julian Gold Rush Hotel was opened by a freed slave in 1897.
In October 2003, Julian was practically engulfed by the devastating Cedar Fire, and firefighters made a valiant stand to protect the town against what seemed insurmountable odds. For several days it was touch-and-go, and some 800 homes in the surrounding hillsides were lost. The central historic part of Julian was saved, though, along with all of the town's famed apple orchards. Today, you can stand on Main Street again without knowing a catastrophe visited just a few hundred yards away. Most of Julian's residents do live on the outskirts of town, though, and more than a third lost their homes and livelihoods; many left and never returned. A 15-mile stretch of State Route 79 is known as the Steven Rucker Memorial Highway in honor of a firefighter who died battling the blaze -- one of the inferno's 15 victims.