In less time than it takes most North County residents to make that nerve-wracking, rush-hour, downtown commute, they could find themselves in a serene mountain hideaway overlooking a pond, pastureland and a magnificent stand of ancient pines.
Julian was once a "jealous secret of San Diegans," as Shadow Mountain Ranch innkeeper Loretta Ketcherside puts it, but the apple capital of San Diego County is now a popular retreat for residents of Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties, as well as a back-yard playground for San Diegans.
Founded as a mining town more than a hundred years ago, Julian fast became the heart of Southern California's Gold Rush country. Today, a new vein of gold has been struck--the tourism industry. Bed and breakfast inns have sprung up in and around Julian like its springtime rush of wildflowers.
Oldest, and perhaps grandest, among these is Shadow Mountain Ranch, about 3 miles outside Julian. It is home to innkeepers Jim and Loretta Ketcherside, who built it 20 years ago when they uprooted themselves from Los Angeles County so Jim could take a job as superintendent of Julian High School. The ranch was the family home for them and their four children. (Their four foster children were already grown and married at the time of the move.)
Ten years later, Jim and Loretta shifted gears and turned their home into a business. They built on to the existing structure, and Shadow Mountain Ranch became Julian's first B&B.
"There was a need for housing, and we needed to work since we retired--we still had three children in college," said Loretta, a former nurse. "So this was our answer to our needs."
It was the answer for many tourists and those on weekend getaways as well. Today, as many as 14 guests can stay in the ranch's six guest cottages and rooms--each of which has a distinct flavor.
The Ketchersides are not just offering rooms for the night, however. They take a much more philosophical tack.
"People in the city do not have time to get to know their neighbors," Loretta said. The Ketchersides' goal is to create a setting that "helps people to find themselves and have time to just enjoy each other." It's also a time for people to rediscover their own personal relationships, she said.
The guest cottages and rooms reflect this philosophy in the furnishings as well as the apparent care taken to make guests comfortable and even a bit pampered.
At Shadow Mountain, the lodging may be in a tree, underground or simply in the main house, but the feel is always one of being in the home of friends or family for the weekend. There is, of course, a bit of fantasy thrown in to make a stay unforgettable.
Who could forget a weekend spent in a tree-house cottage with a bed snuggled into a three-sided nook of windows? At the foot of the bed, next to the sitting area, part of the oak's trunk thrusts through the floor and rises to the ceiling, where it disappears again.
If that's not fantasy enough, try the Gnome Home, a rustic room inside a low structure that was created to look like a tree trunk--the home of the gnomes. The entryway is a mine-like tunnel that leads to a hand-carved front door. The furniture and interior doors are hand-carved as well, and the sink and shower area is built of stone. The shower water cascades from the top of a stone wall like a waterfall.
The other rooms are more traditional, each named to reflect its personality: the Enchanted Cottage with its wood-burning stove and window seat is a Hansel and Gretel-style Bavarian cottage that sits above a grassy knoll and a stand of pines; Grandma's Attic is a nostalgic getaway decorated in mauve, satin, lace and white wicker. Loretta's own wedding gown is displayed on a dressmaker's form in the corner. "What else do you do with a wedding gown?" she asked.
As far as activities go, things are taken pretty easy at the ranch.
"We have rocking chairs," Loretta said. "That's probably the best thing we can offer anyone, just peace and quiet and rocking chairs."
"For the energetic there are darts, horseshoes, archery, badminton, croquet, eating," she said.
Eating is, perhaps, one of the guests' favorite pastimes, especially if it involves one of the Ketchersides' full ranch breakfasts, which are served at a group sitting at 9 a.m. Afternoon tea is also a group activity, served in an intimate setting that gives guests an opportunity to get acquainted.
Although some may find it tough to tear themselves away from the relaxing serenity of Shadow Mountain Ranch, the short trip into the town of Julian is well worth the sacrifice.
The seasons are distinct in Julian, and its festivals and celebrations revolve around nature's cycles. In spring, the Wildflower Festival showcases some of the 350 species that grow in the area. The annual Weed Show takes place at the end of the summer and glorifies the common (and sometimes not-so-common) weed. Exhibited are arrangements of dried weeds, flowers, wood and rocks.