Hi there! I’m Mark, a tour director, interpretive guide, and wilderness first responder. I help conservation travel organizations with ecotrip marketing and program management. For fun, I develop and lead experiential trips in California and the Pacific Northwest. My passion is getting people outside – let’s go exploring!
Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.
The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of building’s military history. The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out. A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
All of the above mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.
If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.
The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.
The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.
Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.
After a long day of exploring the beaches, forests and grasslands of Point Reyes National Seashore, where does a family stay?
In the heart of this 70,000-acre parkland, is the Point Reyes Hostel. The main hostel is located in a converted ranch house, but recently there is a new addition, the “green building.” The green building was constructed to LEED Silver standards so it maximizes water savings, is energy efficient and constructed with materials that support human and environmental health.
I found the new facilities to be clean, roomy and most of all quiet. Our family room had two bunk beds and a larger twin bed on the lower level, but what everyone liked most was the window, which could be opened to allow copious amounts of fresh coastal air inside. The communal kitchen was well stocked with cooking items and the shared bath facilities were well maintained.
Adjacent to the kitchen area is a sizable balcony for sitting outside and having a meal. If you sit outside the entertainment can include a covey of quail running below, or even a deer munching some grass nearby.
Depending on the time of year you can expect sun or rain, but there is always some amount of overcast that rolls in from the ocean. The seashore is located about an hour north of San Francisco, California.
To learn more about the Point Reyes Hostel visit:
If your family is visiting San Francisco, California, consider overnighting on a decommissioned military base.
The base is now part of an immense national recreation area known as the Marin Headlands where visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and beach combing. After a long day, when it is time to bed down, the Marin Headlands Hostel is a good choice for families. The hostel has taken great care to restore these historic military buildings, which date to 1907.
Families who stay here get a treat, the opportunity to stay in a solidly built two-story building that served as Officer’s quarters. Inside the house an impressive staircase greets visitors and a cozy living room is stocked with books and games. A broad porch welcomes parents who wish to sit, rest, and watch sunsets or catch glimpses of deer grazing in a field. As part of the hosteling experience be prepared to bring your own food and make use of the common kitchen.
The hostel is a good value for the money, especially considering the high cost of accommodation in the bay area. I would suggest earplugs to guard against any possible late night noise.
What I found most memorable during my stay was hearing an owl hooting in the stillness of the night in this immense and open green space of the Marin Headlands, and knowing that just a few miles away, live several million people.
The Sanborn Park Hostel is a beautiful historic log house hidden among the coastal redwoods of Sanborn Park County Park near Saratoga, California. Sadly, after a 30 year run, the hostel recently closed its doors. Shown above is how it appeared at the time of the closing in 2010. Below is how it appeared in its heyday – in the late 1980s and early 90s.
This hostel was a friendly place to stay for backpackers, international travelers, bicyclists, Scout troops, church groups, students on field trips and families who needed a weekend away from the frantic place of Silicon Valley.
Visitors could explore miles of trails in the 3,688 acre park, discover a nearby section of the San Andreas Fault, enjoy a short hike to a Nature Center, take a picnic to a nearby winery or enjoy a cookout under a grove of redwood trees.
The Hostel always provided programs and trips to help ‘tell the story’ of the local area for those who were curious. Like the park and the redwoods around the building, the hostel also has a story.
For hundreds of years the local area was visited by native Ohlone people. Signs of their acorn grinding mortors can be found on monolithic rocks that now form an entry to Hostel grounds. The Grizzly Bear once lived in this park. Forests of old growth redwood trees blanketed the hillsides; several large redwood stumps eight feet in diameter are still in the woods if you know where to look.
In 1908 the Honorable Judge Welch built a large log style summer cottage. He named it, “Welch-Hurst.” The name was derived from his name and the word Hurst, meaning woods or a grove. The Judge planted several orchards in the area. He also had a vineyard. He turned a nearby sag pond (sag ponds are natural pools found along the path of the San Andreas Fault) into a picturesque pond with a small island, footbridge, waterfalls and large lily pads. The pond was home to fish, frogs and an assortment of ducks and geese.
In the 1950s a man named Pick lived in the log style house. Mr. Pick had discovered Uranium in the west (Wyoming or Colorado) and sold his claim to the U.S. military earning several million dollars at the time. With part of his fortune he bought “Welch-Hurst” and he renamed it “Walden West.” The name was derived from the book, “Walden,” by author, philosopher, and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau.
Pick added a number of buildings in the area including a small complex of buildings that housed early IBM employees and possibly helped to incubate some thinking that led to modern Silicon Valley. Today, the buildings of Walden West provide outdoor education programs for students.
In the 1960s and 70s the house rapidly passed between several owners and the structure was in serious decline. In the 1970’s Sanborn Park was being expanded and the old house was purchased by Santa Clara County. Estimates at the time to renovate the deteriorating Welch-Hurst house was estimated at half-a-million dollars, too much for county coffers, and the house was scheduled for demolition.
In 1979, as destruction seemed imminent, the volunteers of the Santa Clara Valley hostelling club stepped forward with a box of hand tools and $460 in the bank to finance their reconstruction project. They were given the go-ahead. Year-after-year volunteers completely rebuilt and refurbished the Judge’s old home. In the main house they preserved the original rock fireplace and the beautiful madrone and redwood staircase (shown). They also reconstructed the old carriage house turning it into a modern building with beautiful pine ceilings and wooden floors – all the time using as much wood from the original structure as possible. Tax dollars were never used to restore Hostel. This effort was entirely self-funded.
The hostel’s ‘Golden Age’ was in the late 1980s and the early 1990’s when the Hostel’s 39 beds were completely booked.
After the horrible events of 9/11 in 2001 international travel plummeted. Seeing a backpacker from Europe was a rare sight. American travel also declined during this time as a strained U.S. economy, lessening vacation time for families, increasing insurance costs and a host of other reasons impacted travel and the Hostel. These forces slowly took their toll and Sanborn Park Hostel closed in 2010.
When the hostel closed the price to stay for one person was $14, the lowest overnight fee at any hostel in the United States.
The County has no plans for the historic Welch-Hurst building which the Hostel rented from the Parks Department. The refurbished one-hundred year old house will likely be boarded up and forgotten. The building is on the Registry of National Historic Places.
I have many fond memories of the hostel. While in college I worked as a ‘Houseparent’ at Sanborn Park Hostel. At the time I wanted to travel, but could not; working at the Hostel provided an opportunity for the travelers to come to me. The Hostel provided me with rich opportunities to learn about different cultures and to meet a wide variety of people. During this time I met thousands of people and some special travelers from Australia, New Zealand and Austria became life-long friends. One wonderful woman traveling from overseas eventually became my wife.
At times the hostel had a ‘magic.’ One such time involved an evening sitting in front of the large stone fireplace in the living room. A small but bright fire burned. About fifteen people, of all ages, some from overseas, sat on the sofas. We talked about the world. At one point someone brought out some sweet crackers, then someone else made tea for the group. We all talked late into the evening about ideas, places to travel and shared stories. It was an evening that fed the soul. This might sound odd, but if you find yourself in such a setting ask how people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in their native language. It is a great way to make friends and end an evening with a smile.
In the 30 years as a Hostel 157,460 people stayed as overnight guests. This number included visitors from 99 foreign countries and all 50 states. Foreign travelers accounted for 20 percent of the total visitorship; that is roughly 31,500 visitors who chose to explore and experience America.
Four points are especially noteworthy about Sanborn Park Hostel’s 30+ year run.
The work to refurbish this historic 100 year old building was done entirely by volunteers.
Not one penny of public money was ever used to refurbish or operate the building – it was entirely self funded.
During the hostel’s entire history, it had the lowest overnight fee of all US hostels, only $3 in 1979 to $14 when it closed.
In the 30 years of being a Hostel that 157,460 overnight visitors stayed here; with visitors from 99 foreign countries and all 50 states.
The organization who started Sanborn Park Hostel will continue their famous monthly pot-luck and slide show dinners on the last Thursday of the month at the Saratoga Community Center. Plus, some of the resources from Sanborn Park Hostel have been used to further Hostelling along California’s Central Coast. So in a sense, although the Hostel is gone it will continue in spirit.
It is sad to see the Hostel go, but the Hostel’s newsletter said it with dignity, “Closing the Sanborn Park Hostel is bitter-sweet, but birth and death are both nature’s ways.”
To learn more about hostelling visit these sites: