To try to do the Safari Park and Julian all in one day would make for a very long day. It's possible, but I think you and the kids would be too tired out from it. If you did it, you would go east on Highway 78 about 45 minutes, through Ramona and Santa Ysabel to Julian. When you were done at Julian, I believe the fastest way back to San Diego would be to take Highway 79 south, instead of 78, and go past Lake Cuyamaca and through Cuyamaca Ranco State Park, to Old Highway 80 west just for a couple of miles, then Interstate 8 west to San Diego. Julian to San Diego by that route would be 60 miles, about 75 minutes.
So your total driving for that day, including the initial drive from San Diego to the Safari Park, would be about 126 miles, about 2 hours and 45 minutes of driving time, plus however long you spend at the Safari Park and at Julian. It’s the time element which I think would be too much; I guess it really depends on how long you want to spend at both place. At the end of October the sun will rise about 7 am and set about 6 pm so you will have about 11 hours of daylight that day.
If you have an additional day, I think a better plan would be to do the Safari Park and Julian on separate days. Then you would not feel rushed and you could enjoy both more. Your trip to Julian could also include a drive along Sunset Highway and stops at Laguna Mountain Recreation Area and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and an optional extenstion down into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, if desert scenery interests you.
The route I would take for that would be to drive east on Interstate 8 about 40 miles to Sunrise Highway, turn left to go north on Sunrise Highway, through the forested Laguna Mountain Recreation Area.There are possible stops on Sunrise Highwy if you want to take walks throught the forest. The Wooded Hill trail is a fairly short, easy hike and if the air is totally clear, you will have views all the way back to the ocean 50 miles to the west. If you park anywhere along Sunrise Highway or at these parking areas you must have hte National Forest Adventure Pass showing inside your vehicle. There is a small store at the Laguna Mountain Lodge where you can buy the pass for $5 for one day. Also next to that store is a tiny visitor center and rest rooms, though the visitor center building is only open and staffed on weekends. http://lagunamountain.com.
As you continue along Sunrise Highway, you will have views of the desert far below on your right side. Follow Sunrise Highway north until you meet Highway 79, turn right and go 6 miles to Julian. Before you get to Julian there is a view point on the right side, with views of the deserts below, and there is no parking pass required to park there, so if you didn’t stop on Sunrise Highway that is a good place to stop and see the views.
The town of Julian is a 100-year-old gold mining town that is now an apple-growing area. It has been preserved to look much like it did 100 years ago. Stop and have lunch there or just see the town a little. The best apple pie is at Apple Alley Bakery. A whole pie is about $12 and well worth it. You can eat lunch there, but it’s just ordinary sandwiches. If you want a full meal there are larger restaurants with more complete menus. But in my opinion Apple Alley has the best pie, especially the crumb-topped ones. There are a couple of tours to old gold mines you can take, and a short train ride to a gold mine, and panning for “gold” (actually simulated gold). I have not taken the train ride or mine tour, but a friend of mine did with his wife and son and they said they enjoyed it. http://julianca.com for more information on those and other activities in Julian.
An optional extension of this trip would be to drive down to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, if you want to see desert scenery. You will actually drive through the extreme southwest corner of the park when you are still up in the mountains on Sunrise Highway, but to see the best of it will require driving about 1 hours down to the center of the park.
Drive east on Highway 78 out of Julian and down the Banner Grade to the desert floor, then follow the signs to Borrego Springs. Visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638 or http://www.anzaborrego.net/ for more information. The more remote areas of the park require a truck, SUV or 4-wheel drive to get to, but you will be able to drive to the better-known locations and views in any car. Study the park guides to decide what you are going to see there. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has no entry fee.
When ou are done there, drive back up to Julian, then take Highway 79 south from Julian, but instead of taking Sunrise Highway again, stay on Highway 79 and go past Lake Cuyamaca (where you could rent a boat and go fishing if that interests you). http://lakecuyamaca.com for more information. The lake is privately operated and there is a day use parking fee ($6) at three separate locations around the lake, and you can rent a boat and fishing gear in the store/restaurant. The restaurant has an nice view of the lake but the food isn’t that great; I think the food is better at Julian. But there is a store there where you could buy snacks, and there are restrooms outside the store.
Continue south on Highway 79 and drive through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=667 for more information. There is no entry fee to the park, and parking on turnouts along Highway 79 is free. However if you into any of the campgrounds or day use parking areas that are off the highway, such as Stonewall Mine, Paso Picacho or Green Valley, there is a day use parking fee of $6. Your national forest Adventure Pass, if you bought that earlier in the day for Sunrise Highway, is not good for that. This park was devastated by the Cedar Fire of 2003 and is only slowly recovering, and is not as forested as it once was. It is also known that mountain lions live in the park, though sightings of them are extremely rare. Green Valley Falls will likely be dry at that time, though the rocky gully where the falls are is pretty, it may not be worth the parking fee if there is no water. You may want to just drive through the park without stopping, especially if the kids are getting tired. There are restrooms at the entrance to Paso Picacho, but you would have to tell them at the entry kiosk that you are only stopping to use them and not staying.
Continue south on Highway 79 out of the park. Highway 79 meets up with Old Highway 80 and you would turn right there and go a few more miles to get on Interstate 8 west back to San Diego. The Viejas Indian Reservation, next to Interstate 8 just east of Alpine, has a large casino, restaurants, concert venues, a bowling alley, an ice rink in the winter, a pleasant outdoor outlet mall with man-made streams, and a fountain area in the middle of the mall. On warm sunny days, which are typical of October, kids are allowed to play in the fountains which change patterns. At that same spot, there is a free show every night at 9 p.m. http://viejas.com
From Viejas it is an easy 20 to 30 minute drive back to San Diego. This entire day trip would be 3 hours of driving time if you only went as far as Julian, or 5 hours of driving time if you went all the way to Anza-Borrego. Plus, of course, any time you spend at stops along the way. So if you spent an hour stopped along Sunrise Highway, 2 hours at Julian, 1 hour at Anza-Borrego and 1 hour at Viejas that would be a 10-hour trip. If you only went to Julian and back and only spent 1 hour at Julian, that would be a 4-hour trip.
Thank you, that's enormously helpful, we will allow an additional day for Julian.
You're welcome. It's possible for you to do the Safari Park and Julian on one day. But, it would mean about 45 minutes to get to the Safari Park, and assuming you stay there 4 hours, then 45 minutes to Julian, assuming you stay at Julian 2 hours, then 1 hour to get back to San Diego. That would be about an 8-hour day and your kids may be too tired out. It's hard to say. But if you have enough days I would probably just do them on separate days.
A trip from San Diego to the Safari Park and back to San Diego would be about 90 minutes of driving plus however long you spend at the Safari Park, assuming you spent 4 hours there that would be a 5.5-hour trip. There's not really much else to interest the kids between San Diego and the Safari Park.
A trip from San Diego to Julian and back to San Diego, would be 3 hours of driving for the round trip plus however long you spent at Julian, so that could be just a 4 or 5-hour trip total. Or you could add time to it by spending time at Laguna Mountain, Anza-Borrego, Cuyamaca or Viejas.
And I just checked the Viejas web site; the free show which used to be at 9 pm is now at 8 pm nightly. viejasoutletcenter.com/entertainment.htmlEdited: 3:20 pm, September 22, 2012
I have 3 kids and based on that experience - there' s not much for kids to do in Julian other than eat and watch Mom/Dad shop. Seriously, its a long street with a lot of shops and places to eat. There's a buggy ride, but that's over in a flash. You can pick apples or visit some of the pumpkin patches in October though.
If your kids are into road trips, don't fight in the back seat, don't know the phrase 'are we there yet?' and like seeing SoCal from a car window - then the suggestions above are great - otherwise, I predict mutiny within the ranks for a trip to Julian paired with any of the other extended road trips that are suggested above.
A better option for the kids would be to pair Julian with a trip over to Lake Cuyamaca which is about 30ish minutes from Julian back towards SD. You can let the kids loose on some walking trails there, throw rocks into the lake, rent a paddle boat or whatever. Keep a look out for local critters including snakes if the weather is warm. Hopefully, they'll wear themselves out and will sleep on the return trip back to SD as its rather boring for young minds.
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