Best American hostels?
September 12, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

What are the best hostels in the U.S. and Canada?

The various hostel finder sites are aimed at people who know where they are traveling and want to find a place to stay. This works well in Europe where they are usually a dozen choices so you can travel anywhere, but not so well in the US where some major cities have zero good hostels. And I don't really care where I go, I just want to go away for a long weekend and not spend much money.

You can define "best" however you wish, but not requiring a car would be a big plus.
posted by smackfu to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Hostel in the Forest allows you to stay in tree houses or houses on stilts. They will pick you up at the bus station in Brunswick, GA. Also, because of popularity, I believe they operate on a reservation system now.
posted by iurodivii at 10:06 AM on September 12, 2009

I've done all my hostelling in Europe so I've no first-hand experience with either of these, but I've heard nothing but good things about the HI hostel in New York City. Also, I attended a dinner at a restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District that was attached to one of the coolest-looking hostels I've ever seen.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:18 AM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Ottawa Hostel is super cool! It's an old jail. You can stay in a jail cell and they have tours of the gallows. All the sight seeing stuff (National Gallery, Rideau Canal, Museum of Civilization, Parliament Hill, Byward Market) is walking distance or easy to get to on transit.
posted by sadtomato at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2009

The HI hostels are normally a good bet. I travelled around the US on a Grayhound pass a few years back, and they were almost always easy to get to, clean, cheap and felt safe. That was way beyond all I could ask for for my budget. I seem to remember the Washington DC one was especially well-kept, and the San Fransisco one wasn't bad. Both had free city tours on a semi-regular basis, which was nice. They weren't very quirky or unique, but for the price... it's hard to argue.
posted by Magnakai at 10:39 AM on September 12, 2009

HI Hostel in DC this week is $31/night. For $39/night, you could get a 2-star hotel (which you'd need to drive to), or a 1-star near public transportation, through priceline. The one-star would give you a kitchenette in the room, with pans, dishes, and utensils.

For that price, you could also get a one or two star I suspect in most cities, with a kitchenette. For $15 more a night, you could get a three star in DC except during September and October.

Frankly, you want a two-star, not a three star: you'll get more for less.

The recession is hitting hotels hard; you can get a good price.

(That said, now that I know about the hostel, I'll probably have to try it out.)
posted by orthogonality at 10:51 AM on September 12, 2009

Nthing the HI hostels - I have never been disappointed. The one in Quebec City was above and beyond the hostel experience.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:52 AM on September 12, 2009

If you do decide to priceline, please mefimail me first for additional advice.
posted by orthogonality at 10:57 AM on September 12, 2009

As we were driving down the California coast, a very good friend of mine pointed out the Pigeon Point hostel (apparently formally called Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel) which is cool not only because of the beautiful coastline and views but also because it's right next to a working lighthouse and automatically awesome.

She said it wasn't all that easy to get a cheap rate and they filled up quickly, but she really enjoyed it. It isn't really public transporation accessible, however.
posted by librarylis at 11:33 AM on September 12, 2009

Floyd's in Ft Lauderdale, FL $25 a night. A lot of people from all over the world stay there while looking for work on boats. Everything's fairly close together there. A tri-rail station that takes you to Miami isn't far either.
posted by bravowhiskey at 11:38 AM on September 12, 2009

Many American states have no HI presence at all. The American hostelling association has become very cautious and conservative in its planning in the wake of The Tragic Events Of. It seems to me that ten years ago there were something like 300 HI hostels in the USA; now there are around eighty. I haven't been to that many of them, but I can give you a big thumbs-up for both New York City and Chicago.

In Canada, Banff and Lake Louise in the Rockies score very highly on customer feedback, along with the three hostels in Vancouver on the West Coast. Quebec City, as futureisunwritten mentions, is very nice indeed, as is Riviere-du-Loup a couple of hours down the road into the Gaspé peninsula. On the east coast, I like Charlottetown's hostel very much.

I am a car-free zone myself: NYC and Chicago are both right in the heart of the city (Upper West Side and The Loop, respectively). In Canada, Banff and Lake Louise are both up in the Rockies but are served by bus from Calgary; Banff would be maybe a twenty-minute walk from the bus terminal but there is a free city bus. Lake Louise is maybe two minutes' walk from the terminal, but of course LL is tiny tiny tiny.

In Vancouver, two of the three are in the core (Downtown and Central). The third, Jericho Beach is a few minutes out towards the university on the #4 bus, and is set in parkland, maybe a couple hundred yards from English Bay. It is a gorgeous setting and totally worth the slight extra effort to get there in my view.

Quebec City is in the heart of the old city and easily walkable. Riviere-du-Loup is a much smaller town, and Charlottetown smaller still.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:58 AM on September 12, 2009

Just to clear something up: Point Montara and Pigeon Point are two separate hostels, some miles apart. Both are in spectacular settings. I haven't stayed at either, so I can't give personal recommendations. It's true that neither is (easily) accessible via public transit.
posted by rtha at 1:16 PM on September 12, 2009

HI Hostel in DC this week is $31/night.

Wowz. In 2002 it was maybe $15-18 a night, IIRC.
posted by Magnakai at 6:51 PM on September 12, 2009

My favorite one was the Riverbend Hot Springs hostel in Truth or Consequences, NM. Very out of the way, but has hot spring tubs on site directly overlooking the Rio Grande River. It was quite spectacular and relaxing, and had a very hippie-ish vibe. If you go when it's quiet, it's kind of a ghost town though. It used to be affiliated with HI, but I can't tell on their website whether that's still the case. I think it's been remodeled recently, and I can't tell if they have dorms or not, and I think their prices have gone up.

I found the DC HI pretty impersonal, actually. One of the benefits of hostels is the ease of making friends and contacts, and I found that the common area was filled with people with their noses in books or travel guides. It actually took someone yelling out in the room "anyone want a chat?" to get a conversation going? (No, it wasn't me).
posted by chronic sublime at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2009

HI Hostel in DC this week is $31/night.

Wowz. In 2002 it was maybe $15-18 a night, IIRC.

In all fairness, they have done a huge amount of renovations in the last few years.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:11 PM on September 12, 2009

I recently stayed in the Ashland, OR hostel and recommend it. Everything you'll want to see in town is walking distance. $28/night.
posted by zippy at 10:50 PM on September 12, 2009

Point Montara and Pigeon Point are two separate hostels, some miles apart

That's what I get for googling in a hurry at work. To clarify, since you asked for "best" and I really can't offer you an opinion on Point Montara (other than to say the website makes it look really pretty), I would put Pigeon Point on the list of 'best hostels in North America.'

posted by librarylis at 11:09 PM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of good ideas here!

HI Hostel in DC this week is $31/night.

In fact, I stayed there this Labor Day and it was $45/night for a bed in a 4-person room, which is pretty outrageous. But they were booked full and turning people away so I can't blame them. At that price a motel would certainly be competitive, but I still like the hostel experience.
posted by smackfu at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2009

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