Most young travelers have a stereotypical hostel story ready to go, or at least an ingrained idea of what a hostel should be; maybe a party, perhaps bedbugs, or more likely awesome new friends in places spanning from Southeast Asia to Europe. What many American backpackers seem to forget is that hostels don’t have to be in far-off exotic locations — the good ole US and A have some in their backyard. Taking a domestic trip has the same cheap, community-driven dorm options that everywhere else does. One such place that attracts young adventure travelers is Southern California’s San Diego. Exponentially less overwhelming than its nearby counterpart, Los Angeles, San Diego treats visitors to near-perfect weather, a playful culture, top-notch beaches, and no shortage of tacos. While any trip to California is going to be a touch pricey by backpacking standards, these hostels in San Diego offer great value and a good time.
Located in an old, colorful Victorian home, the ITH Adventure Hostel is conveniently situated in the popular Little Italy district of San Diego’s downtown. While the hostel is only located a few city blocks from the waterfront, the harbor that downtown backs into isn’t a beach, so instead, the awesome staff helps out by arranging activities to take full advantage of the nearby Pacific Ocean, including a day on a sailboat. Back at the hostel, the ITH team makes both breakfast and dinner, so guests can enjoy “family” meals as a mural of San Diego’s patron saint, Ron Burgundy, looks on.
North of downtown, Ocean Beach offers a quintessential California beach vibe with its bohemian atmosphere, strong surf culture, and a number of dive bars. Housed in arguably the most recognizable building on OB’s main drag, USA Hostel Ocean Beach is a dazzling tie-dyed, two-story bungalow, outfitted with a huge peace sign atop the home. Formerly known as the Ocean Beach International Hostel, the structure itself has been an emblem for the neighborhood for 20 years. A mere minute to the sand, guests can also escape to a private rooftop deck to enjoy the views and get some quality people watching in. Time a visit with one of their bi-weekly beach bonfire parties.
Advertised on much of the internet as a “hip-hop themed” hostel, recently Lucky D’s seems to have gone away from that reputation as the decorations are eclectic and every room a bright color; so think more Andre 3000 and less Suge Knight. Adjacent to San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, an area famous for bars and restaurants, Lucky D’s does not shy away from embracing a party hostel feeling as some of their events include free drink nights at major clubs like Omnia. For those needing a respite from the lively atmosphere renting one of their private air-conditioned rooms could be an ideal option.
Further north of Ocean Beach is Pacific Beach, home to the California Dreams Hostel. Wedged between the bustling Mission Beach and the quieter, upscale La Jolla, guests to California Dreams have access to a number of different neighborhoods, many of which are accessible via a short bike ride along the strand. For those wanting to experience something other than the beach, which is only two blocks away, check out nearby micro-breweries, as San Diego has quickly become one of the beer capitals of America.
Another hostel option close to the Gaslamp, USA Hostels San Diego sits amongst many historical buildings, some dating back to the 19th century. The hostel itself has a seedy past having been a brothel before. Nowadays, USA Hostels take pride in their privacy pods, a redesigned take on the traditional hostel bunk bed, each with individual lights and shelves, power outlets, and noise screening capabilities. A stay in one of their dorms can go for an average of only $33 per night. The San Diego location has “activities of the day”, which vary from pub-crawls to soccer matches to movie nights.
Like USA Hostels, ITH has multiple successful hostel locations in San Diego. ITH even has a great third place close to the famed San Diego Zoo, but for variety’s sake did not land on this list. On Pacific Beach, the Beach Bungalow option is literally oceanfront as only the boardwalk separates the hostel from the sand. The idyllic scenery can be taken in from the second-floor deck that is prime real estate for watching the sun descend beneath the Pacific. As for activities, many guests recommend one of the day trips the team arranges to the south of the border. Less than an hour away from Mexico, road trips into Tijuana, the notorious tourist haven, are both easy and fun.