Friday, August 11, 2006

Julian - August, 2006

Growing up, I always thought of Julian as a day trip kind of place. We would drive up the mountain, walk around the town, eat lunch in one of the mediocre restaurants, buy a pie and take it home. The town is charming, with it's buildings dating to the late 1800s, but as we discovered this past weekend - the real charm of Julian is in the relaxing atmosphere, the scenery and the homey little wineries - all of which are outside the town proper.
We stayed in a place called the Artist's Loft, which I simply cannot recommend highly enough. I almost want to keep it all to myself. It's owned by two artists, Nanessence and Chuck Kimball, and their creative touch shows throughout. There are three cabins: the Artists Loft itself - where we stayed, the Cabin at Strawberry Hill, and the Big Cat Cabin. Instead of the usual lace, antiques, dolls and teddy bears, the cabins are decorated with kilim rugs, Indonesian antiques, vintage fixtures and natural wood. The Artist's Loft and the owners' residence were lost in the tragic fires that engulfed the surrounding area in the fall of 2003.
They have since been rebuilt and the Artist's Loft just opened for guests in April, 2006. The Strawberry Cabin and the Big Cat Cabin were spared, but evidence of the fires can be seen throughout the surrounding area. You can read more about the innkeepers' experience with the fires on their website.
The most remarkable thing about the cabin was the view. We could see clear to the coast from the screened in porch. The landscape changed with the light from sunrise to sunset, and the result was absolutely mesmerizing.
The cabin (really a house) has two full master-bedroom suites with king sized beds and jacuzzi tubs; a fully equipped kitchen with a O'Keefe & Merritt Stove; a large greatroom furnished with comfortable seating and a woodstove; a loft with a twin daybed and easel; and a brand new washer and dryer. There were books, magazines, and games, and a cd-player -but no tv.
We brought food and cooked our breakfasts and dinners in the well-equipped kitchen - there were plenty of fiestaware dishes, glasses, kitchen gadgets, cookware and bakeware. They provided pantry items like coffee, milk, eggs, juice and some local lemon date nut bread.
On the recommendation of our innkeepers, we went into town on our first afternoon for lunch at a place called Soups n' Such. It was very good - fresh soups, sandwiches and the like. We then stopped by the Julian Pie Company for the obligatory apple pie (I lobbied for crumb crust, but James insisted on pastry.)
On our way back to the car, we stopped in at a place called the Candied Apple Pastry Company, which I had read about on the internet. We tried to chat with the owner, but she did not seem to be in a particularly good mood. In response to polite questions about her products and the bakery, she gave us only grudging monosyllabic responses. I asked her if I could take a few pictures, and explained what they were for. She agreed, but asked that I not photograph the sample wedding cakes on the central display table in the store. Her comment was "You put them on the internet, and suddenly they're everywhere." Now, I can respect that - it's her business - but I found her comment a bit puzzling, considering that there is a photo gallery of the cakes on her own website.
Aside from all that, her products were fantastic.** Update - Jan, 2007** - the business has been sold and is under new ownership. The next day, after a lazy breakfast, we ventured out for a hike around the neighborhood. We surveyed the nearby homes and peeked in the windows of the (unoccupied) Big Cat Cabin. We decided that we will try to stay here on a return trip. It's cozy for two people and has a slightly more rustic atmosphere than the Artists' Loft. There is a large stone fireplace, a small vintage kitchen, and an enclosed "sleeping porch" bedroom.
We lunched that day at the Miner's Diner, right on the main corner in town. It was fine but nothing to write home about. It's really just a half-step above fast food - you order at the counter and they bring it out to you. They do have a working soda fountain, which is quite rare these days. Remember the "five dollar shake" from Pulp Fiction? Well, here they're $5.50. I had a chocolate malt - it was ok but I've had better.
When Tracy and Brian arrived we went wine tasting at Menghini, J. Jenkins and the Orfila tasting room. At Menghini we sampled not only the wines, but some sausages the owner is curing in his cellar. We saw the bottling operation, which consists of one corking machine and a labeler. Menghini is a small operation, but the wines were very good. They were only tasting whites currently, and told us that they had to empty all of their vats soon, so they could start on their reds. We bought a couple of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, and some of their Cabernet Rose called "Julian Mist" - which despite the strawberry-wine-sounding name was nice and dry. They are also somewhat famous for their apple wine, which the owner clearly resents. When we tasted it, she excused it by saying "it sells" as if she didn't understand how. It tasted like weak hard cider, but as if to prove her point, two people walked up and asked for it while we were standing there.
At J. Jenkins we sampled both reds and whites. We particularly liked their Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine, which they said was a happy accident resulting from a miscommunication with a vineyard in Baja. They had specified a certain sugar content, but when the grapes arrived the sugar was "off the charts." The dessert wine was the result. Here we also tasted another Rose, the Vin Gris de Syrah - which I liked a lot. They are also selling a reserve Pinot and Chardonnay - I think we bought some of that too, but I honestly don't remember. All I know is we ended up with a full case of wine at the end of the day. The Orfila tasting room is in Wynola, just a hop and skip down the road from Julian. It's housed in the same building as a large antique mall. I didn't have a lot of time to check it out, but it looked interesting. At Orfila, we tasted the full complement. They give you one free taste, and for five dollars more you can taste five more wines of your choice. We really liked their Port and Sangiovese. These three tastings were just right for one afternoon, especially considering that we still had a full night ahead of us.
At the end of our tasting, we asked the server where we could find some ice nearby. He recommended a store "down the hill." Well, we didn't realize he meant Santa Ysabel until we were at the bottom. Turns out it's only seven miles from Julian, and we were already halfway there. When we got to the main intersection, we saw the Old Time Photo studio on the corner. You can probably guess what happened next. We pulled into the parking lot, and the next thing we knew we were dressed up in dusters and feather boas. Some of the pictures came out great. By the time that was over, we were definitely ready to head home. We picked up our bag of ice and headed back to the cabin. Tracy had signed up to make dinner that night, and she really went all out. She brought El Indio chips, salsas and guacamole, which we enjoyed with some Blackberry-Mint Margaritas. She then prepared some fantastic peel and eat shrimp baked in butter, garlic, lemon and orange slices. After all that, we ate the actual dinner - Chicken Enchiladas with Caesar Salad, accompanied by a Viognier blend from Pine Ridge that I had brought from home. Needless to say, by that time we were stuffed to the gills. No room even for pie.
The pie had to wait until morning, when everyone except me enjoyed a slice for "pre-breakfast" with their coffee. At a decent hour, we had fried egg sandwiches, prepared by the guys. This is one of our favorite breakfasts to make at home. These were made with brioche, romaine and tomatoes, organic eggs, neiman ranch bacon, shredded cheese and fresh salsa.
If we didn't already have half an apple pie in the car with us we would have stopped in at the Santa Ysabel branch of the Julian Pie Company for a frozen one. I don't think they sell them from their shop in town - but I like baking them at home because they taste fresher and smell so wonderful. The Julian Pie Company really is the best of all the pie shops. Dudley's Bakery is also in Santa Ysabel. I'm not that impressed with it, but a lot of people seem to like it. Their breads are available now in most grocery stores in San Diego.
We drove up to Julian along the road through Cuyamaca - which was beautiful, but kind of sad since the fire damage is still so noticeable. We drove back along 67. Honestly, there was not much difference in the amount of time on the drive - it's about an hour and fifteen minutes each way to San Diego. All in all it was a lovely getaway - easy and not terribly expensive. I think we have found a new favorite place.

The Artist's Loft
(760) 765-9765

Julian Pie Company
2225 Main Street or Corner of 78th and 79 in Santa Ysabel
(760) 765-2449 or (760) 765-2400

The Candied Apple Pastry Company
2128 Fourth Street

Soups & Such Cafe
(760) 765-4761
2000 Main Street

Miner’s Diner
2130 Main Street
(760) 765-3753

Menghini Wines
1150 Julian Orchards Drive
(760) 765-2072

J. Jenkins Winery
1255 Julian Orchards Drive
(760) 765-3267

Orfila Tasting Room
4470 Highway 78
(760) 765-0102

Grandpa's Old Time Photos
30350 Highway 78 (corner of 78 & 79)
(760) 765-1541

for more info, go to


  1. Hey great Julian report - sounds like a great place to stay!

  2. My hubby and I stayed at The Cabin on Strawberry Hill for our first anniversary, and it was quiet and peaceful. Chuck and Nan are really awesome people, and I'm so glad they've managed to recover from the fire...

  3. I love your new travel blog! It sounds like your trip to Julian was an overall success. I'd like to go back there during the apple season and do some apple picking.