The perks of staying at hostels

July 25, 2008 7:33:07 PM PDT
Travel prices are high enough to make you stay home these days. But there's one way to travel on a budget that takes you to very special places.

If I mentioned the word "hostels" you'd probably think of young backpackers bunking down in a dormitory. But these days, you won't believe what hostels have turned into. And the kinds of people we found there.

The Ireland family of Maine found a great place to stay in California this summer, right at the beach.

"We went in the hot tub, and we could see the waves crashing against the rocks, we saw some seals and dolphins. It was very nice, and we got to see the sunset, very beautiful," said Julian Ireland.

A hot tub on the cliffs sounds lovely and expensive, but this seaside getaway is actually a low-cost hostel, little cottages clustered around the historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse in San Mateo.

The price? Only $25 a night, $10 for kids.

"Definitely economical. It was extremely reasonable for all of us to stay for two nights," said Julian's mother Lisa Tessler.

Hosteling International says these lodges aren't just for young backpackers anymore. These days they're filled with couples, families and seniors.

"It hadn't occurred to me since starting a family that we would even consider staying in a youth hostel," said Tessler.

What's changed? Hostels like this one now offer comforts like private rooms, game rooms, kids' activities, even free Wi-Fi.

"I had no idea the amenities would be this nice," said Tessler.

But there are still the communal kitchens and living rooms that bring guests together.

"For us, it's been a great opportunity to meet other people," said Lisa Tessler's husband.

There are people from all over the world.

"In Denmark, there is a very good network of hostels, so we are used to using them and it's very enjoyable," said Danish tourist Phillip Oppenhiem.

And there are unique locations. Bay Area folks stay here too.

"They'd rather come to something as beautiful as this place and not spend as much money. You have the tall historic lighthouse, there's also a protected beach at Whaler's Cove," said Pigeon Point hostel manager Jeff Perry.

Where visitors can look for sea stars among the rocks and watch the elephant seals.

And 40 miles north amid the eucalyptus forest of the Marin Headlands, there is a hostel inside a former Army barracks.

Guests sleep in the same quarters the officers of Fort Barry did a century ago.

"Staying in a building that's 100 years old, it brings a certain flavor to a place to have that," said hostel manager Rose Fluharty.

Fluharty says guests like being close to the city, yet surrounded by nature.

"They end up liking that we don't have a TV in our common room and they can't answer their cell phones," said Fluharty.

There are private rooms, a big game room, the chance to play outside, go exploring or curl up.

"Families are liking it a little bit better, not thinking it's a disheveled as it sounds, like a crazy young person place to party you know," said Fluharty.

Karen and Michael Jones of St. Louis stumbled on this place years ago.

"We liked it so much that we got married here three years ago," said Karen Jones.

And for city bound tourists? There is a hostel to rival a hotel in the heart of San Francisco.

"Budget travelers have become a lot more sophisticated these days they're looking for more with their stay," said Assistant Manager Sam Hussein.

At this hostel you can find a little luxury. A private room goes for $97, but a dorm bed is just $29. There is an all-day cafe, free breakfast and a computer room.

"Activities every day, free pancakes, pub crawls, museum tours," said Hussein.

And an international feel.

"Our dream was to be here in San Francisco and we are here," said San Francisco tourist Nabil from France. "We are going to the Golden Gate."

From the city streets of San Francisco, to Marin to Pigeon Point, each hostel has its character and visitors who return.

"We love this place. It's a romantic special place in both of our lives so that's why we keep coming back," said Michael Jones.

There are literally hundreds of hostels all over the world, including many more in northern California and within a day's drive of the Bay Area.

Related Links:

  • Northern California Hostels
  • Hostelling International


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