Six sensational U.S. hostels

For less than $30 you can bunk down in a 19th-century lighthouse on the California coast, a Deco landmark in South Beach, or a cabin in the Colorado Rockies. The only catch: you'll have bunkmates.

PigeonPointExteriorThe old keeper's house at Pigeon Point, second tallest lighthouse on the Pacific coast, is now a seaside hostel (Photo courtesy of HI-USA, Golden Gate Council)

Welcome to the world of hostelling in the U.S., where you get a bed in a sex-segregated dorm—though many also offer cheap private rooms—camaraderie and communal spaghetti dinners in the shared kitchen, and a gaggle of potential companions you can easily talk into joining you surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or sightseeing.

True, many hostels are reminiscent of cinder-block college dorms, but there are also spectacular ones that break the mold.

Here are some of the funkiest, most memorable, and cheapest lodgings in the nation.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, CA

This historic lighthouse keeper's home perches above the Pacific next to a towering, 1872 lighthouse. Nature nuts flock here, 50 miles south of San Francisco, to watch harbor seals, pelicans, and (Mar-May) gray whales from the oceanside hot tub. Some 150 species of migratory birds can be spotted in neighboring Pescadero Marsh, and northern elephant seals breed (Dec-Mar) in nearby Año Nuevo State Reserve (book guided walks at Lockout 10am-4:30pm; curfew 11pm.

210 Pigeon Point Road, Pescadero, CA 94060
tel. 650-879-0633,

Dorm: $24–$26; Private single/double: $72

The Clay Hotel & Hostel, South Beach, FL

It doesn't get more Miami than the Clay, where Al Capone ran a 1930s gambling den, Desi Arnaz once played rumba in the lounge, and "Miami Vice" filmed its pilot. This Art Deco icon is split between a hostel of semi-private rooms (bright, shared dorms, each with A/C and a minifridge) and a cheap hotel (doubles start at $84)—and it's my personal go-to hotel for South Beach. Want more? It's two blocks from beach and right on Española Way, a pedestrians-only street lined with cafes and restaurants. Also: BBQ and movie nights, discounts at South Beach nightclubs, and daily tours of the city, Everglades, Key West, and Disney World.

1438 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
tel. 800-379-2529
Semi-private: $63; Private double: from $84

Fireside Inn, Breckenridge, CO

FiresideinnBreckThe Fireside Inn, five minutes from the ski lifts at Breckenridge, CO (Photo courtesy of Fireside Inn)

Breckenridge is a four-season Rockies resort with excellent skiing in winter on more than 2,208 acres, and rafting, biking, and hiking in summer. This hostel two blocks off Main Street has WiFi in the rooms, is just a free shuttle bus-ride (or ten-minute stroll) from the ski lifts, and has a hot tub for soaking after a hard day on the slopes. Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, and even mighty Vail are all within striking distance. Who ever said a Rockies ski vacation had to cost and arm and a leg?

114 North French Street
Breckenridge, CO 80424-2252
tel. 970-453-6456
Dorms: $29 ($31-$39 in ski season); Private double: from $92

Jazz on the Park, New York, NY

This hostel offers the full NYC experience: cramped digs, an antique heating system, sometimes surly staff, and (free) bagels for breakfast. But, in a city where even the Super-8 runs $150, it's insanely cheap, plus it achieves that Holy Grail of New York real estate—location, location, location—on Central Park West at 106th St., a few blocks from the subway, St. John the Divine, and the hopping scene at Columbia University. It's a bit of a party place, with free BBQ and pizza soirees, no curfew, and none of the (often draconian) liquor laws aimed at keeping many hostels quiet. Bonus: Free WiFi in the lobby and free breakfast. There are other locations at 104 West 128th Street (at Lenox); at 201 West 87th Street (at Amsterdam Avenue); and in Chelsea at 184 11st Avenue (at 23rd Street).

36 West 106th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel. 212-932-1600

Dorms: $25–$55; Private double: $90–$125

Ranch Hostel, Vashon Island, WA

Judy Mulhair has turned her ten Douglas Fir-forested acres at the northern tip of Vashon Island—wedged into Puget Sound between Seattle and Tacoma—into an oddball, cowboys-and-indians–themed hostel. Beds are scattered amongst a cabin, cozy covered wagons, and Sioux-style teepees (or BYO tent for $13). Free bikes, free pancake mix (you cook), and free campfire wood. Open May-Sept (in winter, private quads cost $65-$75).

12119 SW Cove Road, Vashon Island, WA 98070
tel. 206-463-2592

Dorms/teepees/wagons: $23; Private rooms: $65–$75

Truro Hostel, Cape Cod, MA

A weekend on the Cape may be the quintessential New England upper-crust vacation, but cheapskates can horn in on the action at this 1930s Coast Guard station two minutes from the beach (free boogie boards) in the middle of Cape Cod National Sea Shore Park—43,608 acres of dunes, marshes, cranberry bogs, bike paths, and beaches. The hostel is eight miles from the National Audubon Bird Sanctuary and ten miles from the galleries and restaurants of Provincetown. It also offers discounts on whale-watching cruises and guided sea kayaking. Open mid-June to early Sept.

North Pamet Raod, Truro, MA 02666
tel. 617-718-7990
Dorms: $29–$39; Private room: $125–$150

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in January 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.