An ‘apple pie’ journey worth taking

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The Orchard Hill Country Inn in Juian, Calif. is a decidedly romantic retreat awarded four diamonds from AAA. Image courtesy of Orchard Hill Country Inn

This year the historic gold mining town of Julian, Calif. continues its homage to the apple, keeping alive a cherished 100-year-old tradition, “Apple Days,” which takes place mid-September through mid-November.

However, you need not wait until “Apple Days” to satisfy your craving for apple pie in all of its variations, including Dutch apple, natural apple and peach apple crumb, to name a few.

You might go through withdrawal as this little dot on the map, absent of fast food and freeways, offers a few perks that are a fading memory for some, such as free parking, and, if you arrive at the right time, complimentary tastings of apple pie, some with a seductive lattice crust.

The scenic ride is about two and a half hours from Malibu; to take it all in plan to spend the night at one of the cozy country inns. At an altitude of 4,220 feet above sea level, the brisk mountain air is an elixir, as is the aroma of a fresh apple pie warm from the oven. Beware as a bevy of pie shops beguile you, from the Apple Alley Bakery to the Julian Café & Bakery, Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pie House, for starters. I stopped at the Candied Apple Pastry Company, a European bakery and bistro, for a slice of their latest spin on traditional apple pie, a sour cream apple pie, pecan roll, and a chocolate chip cookie.

You’ll discover at least 11 vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms in and around Julian, from the Witch Creek Winery right on Main Street to Country Cellars in Wynola. Adding a dimension of discovery are the Julian Stables Trail Rides with extraordinary views of Volcan Mountain Preserve and the three peaks of Cuyamaca with views that reach the ocean. The alternative is a hike through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, with elevations of more than 1,600 feet, or a guided hike through open meadows and oak woodlands, Saturdays and Sundays only at the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve. Watch for the wildflowers; check it all out at www.co.san-diego.ca.us/parks.

The Julian Mining Company, Gold & Gem Mining three miles west of Julian in Wynola has it all, from field trips, a pumpkin patch and you-pick farm to daily mini-tours and tomahawk throwing; www.julianminingcompany.com. The Wynola Farmers Marketplace at 4470 Highway 78, just three miles from Julian’s Main Street (free parking, of course) is worth visiting, with a certified farmers’ market and local art at the Wynola Farms Green Store. Try Julian Hard Cider before you turn in for the night, but make sure to save room for an apple dumpling or caramel apple, which you’ll find at Moms Pies, also in Wynola.

Coming up in March is the Daffodil and Art Show at Julian’s historic Town Hall. The daffodils and desert wildflowers are scheduled to be in bloom, but you’ll have to confirm that by contacting the Julian Chamber of Commerce at 760.765.1857; www.julianca.com.

Among the comfortable lodges and inns is Orchard Hill Country Inn, a decidedly romantic retreat awarded four diamonds from AAA. Rates start at $295 per night and include breakfast.

The slightly smaller Butterfield Bed & Breakfast, (five rooms) is three diamond rated and features the charming Apple “Sweet.” Rates start at $150. However, if you are seeking history, the Pine Hills Lodge (“since 1912”) has 16 cabin and lodge rooms on eight acres of land, “above the clouds,” among the gigantic pines of the Cuyamaca Mountains at an elevation of 4,316 feet. Rates start at $80 per night, with rooms in the lodge and top out at $180. They serve a fine brunch every Sunday.

Julian, by the way, was named for Mike Julian, a prospector who found gold in the surrounding streams around 1869. This was San Diego County’s first and only gold rush. Farming took over after that and, as it turned out, the rich land was an ideal place to grow apples. Julian apples took first prizes at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1915, and, as the say around these parts, the rest is history.

Pam Price is the coauthor of “Fun with the Family in Southern CA.”