Looking out from Volcan Mountain, about 10 miles outside Julian.
A digital detox vacation is one where you can’t get cellphone, satellite or internet service of any kind. Ok, I might've just sent you into a panic attack with this thought – so take a deep breath, and then consider what a refreshing thing it would be to really disconnect for a few days.
Finding a spot without digital services is actually a challenge these days. Seems everywhere you can connect now – even on cruise ships you can pay to use their computers to get your fix. Last time I was in Yosemite I couldn't get cell phone service. That was nice. So now I look for places to go that offer a calming environment, force my own digital rehab by leaving my electronics at home, and book at a hotel or lodge with no TV (or I unplug the TV when I arrive).
Where to stay
About an hour east of San Diego in the Cuyamaca Mountains is Julian, a place that has all the right components for a digital detox: charming small town, unspoiled outdoors, quaint shops and a variety of restaurants to experience. We went on a very busy weekend – busy for Julian at least – and most hotels were already booked. So we splurged and stayed at Orchard Hill Country Inn, perfect for a quiet romantic weekend away. My friend Terry, a Julian local, recommended it as the top choice.
"Make sure you book for dinner which is served only on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. You won’t be disappointed.”
The dining area has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can look out at the beautiful countryside from your table. You choose from only a couple of daily selections and dine with only a couple of guests. Dinner lived up to the high expectations, and it was our transition into the slower life. Lodge and cottage rooms $195-$450.
The staff here gets the concept that it’s the little thoughtful things you do that make a difference (just like in a relationship). They made us feel special by asking our names when we made the reservation, and then calling us by name throughout our stay. We loved the cookies and chocolates in our room, the fireplace, big tub, and soft comfortable robes. I really don’t remember if our room had a TV, and if it did it did not get turned on. The Orchard Hill is tucked away in the woods, and this trip we didn’t make time for a hike around the area, but will definitely do that next time.
Other recommended hotels in the area by the locals are the Julian Gold Rush Hotel (historic hotel right in the middle of main street), Eagles Nest Winery and B&B, the Julian Lodge, and Pine Hills Lodge and Dinner Theater. Check out julianca.com for a list of lodging options.
What to eat, drink and do
We made our way into town and walked up and down main street, which you can do at a leisurely pace, all in one afternoon. If you are there in the fall, the Julian Triangle Club has a melodrama production, so be sure to get tickets for this. It turns out that Julian has an especially good group of actors and support for the arts. In May the town hosts a film festival featuring the best in environmental films – the Julian Wild and Scenic Film Festival.
In August you can go to the Julian Starfest to hear presentation on astronomy, stargazing and light pollution, and partake in a free stargazing event put on by local astronomers donating their time and telescopes. Many people who come out for the Julian Starfest camp right at the event site, which also has a winery nearby.
At the Menghini Winery you feel like you're at a friend’s farmhouse rather than a commercial winery. It has an apple orchard surrounding the six-acre vineyard, and they produce 4,000 cases of wine each year. We also attended an event at the Blue Door Winery, a boutique winery, which we loved. Blue Door has welcoming, easygoing staff and good wines.
Jeremy’s on the Hill is the fine dining establishment in Julian with an extensive menu and wine list. Chef Jeremy Manley, a Cordon Bleu graduate, changes the menu frequently to incorporate local organically grown produce. While there are steak, chicken and fish choices, Jeremy also has delicious vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu options ($13-44 for dinner entrees).
There are many ways to taste an apple, and while you may think Julian is most famous for its apple pies, the Julian hard cider folks will tell you a different story. It’s “American to the core” and in my opinion a must-do is a tasting of hard cider. Julian Hard Cider is made from fresh, hand-picked apples and uses a 1670 Colonial American hard cider recipe. Cherry-Bomb is my favorite.
After picking up a few fresh Julian apple pies on Main Street to bring home, we went next door to Bailey’s BBQ where I had one of the best pulled pork sandwiches ever and a Julian Brewing Company homecrafted brew. Another highly recommended restaurant by the locals is Soups and Such Café, where you should be prepared to wait for a table on the weekends and lunchtime but it will be well worth it!
There are many little shops and art galleries to explore all along Julian’s Main Street. We also loved the Candy Basket where they have favorite candies from our childhood (Neccos!) and over 100 nostalgic sodas. The Julian Cider Mill is a family-owned and -operated business that's been around for 30 years. During apple season (September–December) you might catch them pressing the cider. We also spent a good amount of time at Wynola Farms Marketplace on the edge of town on Highway 78, where they have antiques, hard cider tastings, a coffee shop, and live music on Sundays.
So I didn’t miss my phones (yes I have two), iPad or laptop during the entire three days in Julian. I figured if there was an emergency with the kids or Earth was being taken over by aliens, someone would figure out how to get in touch with the hotel, and they would figure out how to find us.
Turns out when we returned home the world was just as we left it, except that we were relaxed, refreshed, and ready to get plugged in again.