6 Happy Hostels to Hit in California and Nicaragua (Reviews)

You’re rolling on out of town when it occurs to you that you need a few spots to crash out. You’re on an extreme backpacker budget, but want to find places that sport good amenities and cool people. You’re also keen on seeing the local sights and would love to meet up with people and groups that know how to go off the beaten tourist path into the most authentic parts of the town or country you’re visiting.

That’s where hostels come in. Teeming with lots of local knowledge at the reception desk and lots of recent travel tips from the fellow travelers hanging out there, these cozy places often offer the best option for a solo traveler looking to connect with others. Or even a group of travelers that wants to expand their scope.

Stateside (California)

Here are some of my favorite stateside hostels.

Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel (San Francisco, U.S.A.)

This is a super spot to hit when you’re visiting the city. Located right next to Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel is convenient for day tripping it to the Marin headlands or hitting any part of the city. Buses run fairly regularly right near the hostel or you can walk a few blocks to Ghirardelli Square, where buses run more regularly. You’re also not far from places to rent bikes, cool museums, and amazing seafood restaurants. Not a bad place to go for a few days. Plus, it’s far from the direct hustle and bustle of the city, which means it’s quieter at night. Prices range from $24 to $30 depending on time of year

Santa Cruz Hostel (Santa Cruz, U.S.A.)

Just a few blocks from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Hostel is a fine place to spend a weekend or a week, especially for the surfing crowd. Tons of beaches dot the landscape and some are a short walk away, while others are a short drive away. Surfing, swimming, and body surfing are all favorite sports around here. Bicycling and hiking are popular activities and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is close by. Don’t miss the John C. Fremont tree that honeymooners used to rent. It’s being restored now and the redwood tree is growing back together, but you can still see the hole where the window and door used to be. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is also nearby. Downtown Santa Cruz is a ten minute walk away and offers quaint restaurants, sweet shops and some nice independent music and bars. Dorm beds run $22 to $28 a night depending on time of year and whether you’re a Hostelling International member or not.


Spots outside of the U.S. abound as well. Recent travels in Central America have unearthed a few gems.

Hostal Dorado (Granada, Nicaragua)

Hostal Dorado is less of a hostel and more of a guesthouse in Granada, Nicaragua. Locally owned and operated, all of the money you spend here goes to a non-profit. Private rooms range from singles to doubles and have both shared and private baths. Helpful owners ease the transition into Nicaragua and can point you to the best places to eat, catch buses and get to know the area better. They also make hammocks here and ship them all over the world. In fact, I had my best hammock-napping experience here. These hammocks may, in fact, be the best ones around. Check it out. You won’t be sorry. Prices range from $15 per night for a private room to $25 per night for a double room.

La Buena Onda, (Matagalpa, Nicaragua)

If you get tired of the heat of the Nicaraguan lowlands, you can head for the hills where you’ll find La Buena Onda in Matagalpa. Recently started by a former Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua and a Nica local, this hostel provides a quiet, relaxed place to hang out. Close to a chocolate factory, a plethora of hiking trails and a few coffee plantations, Matagalpa is a wonderful place to spend time and the hostel is close to buses, the downtown area and a small language school. You could spend a little time here and fall in love with the country while you’re at it. Dorm beds cost $9 a night. Private rooms are $30 a night. If you’re looking for a longer stay, they sometimes have an apartment for rent as well.

Party Spots

I tend to scope out the quietest, most laid-back spots around. But other people crave more urban activities and late-night outings. Here are a couple of full-on party spots.

Lazybones Hostel (Leon, Nicaragua)

If you’re into the party scene, a place like Lazybones Hostel in Lèon, Nicaragua, is the perfect place. They sell beer at the reception desk and have a nice pool where you can escape the wicked heat of this city. The space is large and roomy and computers line the back wall, although the Internet connection is one of the slowest I encountered in the area. Expect to meet lots of people, hit the downtown bar scene and stay up into the wee hours of the morning when you're here. Quiet nights are not common. Dorm beds run $8 per night. Private rooms are $19 to $28 per night depending on whether you share a bathroom or not.

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel (San Francisco, U.S.A.)

Another party place finds its home in San Francisco. The Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker Hostel is a funky hostel, tricked out in nautical themes and cool names for all of the rooms and bunks. The owner is a very laid-back, very helpful guy. Shoot him an email and he’ll get back to you right away. The hostel is also great because it’s located right next to the BART line if you need a quick overnight on your way to the airport. However, if you’re local to the Bay area, you’re out of luck. They only let people from out of the area stay here. This spot attracts a sophisticated hipster crowd that likes to stay up late into the night talking and debating over beers in the common room. Communal dinners with staff members are also an option here. Dorm beds are $24 per night.

The hostelling scene offers a lot of variety, amazing connections and cool experiences, no matter what you’re looking for. So pack on up, scope out a few local spots in your destination, and get to it. It’s the perfect time to see the world.

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6 Happy Hostels to Hit in California and Nicaragua (Reviews)

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Guest's picture

I've stayed at the Pidgeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in Pescadero, CA a few years ago and had a wonderful experience.  Rooms and kitchens were clean, everyone was quiet, I loved just being able to hear the ocean and nothing else.  I did not take advantage of the hot tub so I can't say anything about that.

Guest's picture

Another good spot in Cali is the hostel in Ocean Beach in San Diego, it is right on the main strip of shops, restaurants, and bars and it is only a short walk to the beach and dog beach.  The people are so awesome there, very hippie-like if you are into that scene, otherwise it is very worth checkin out.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Oh I was just going to comment about the Pidgeon Point Lighthouse Hostel!  I love that lighthouse and I love Pescadero!!!  I wrote about it a year ago:  http://baglady.dreamhosters.com/2009/04/12/exploring-the-san-mateo-coast/

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Oh I found my pictures from there:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/schlaghund/sets/72157621940629890/ .  The hostel is literally right by the lighthouse on the edge of the ocean. 

Sasha A. Rae's picture

I've always wanted to check out the Pidgeon Point Lighthouse spot! I love Pescadero.

Closer inland, there's also Hidden Villa Hostel in Los Altos which has an organic farm on site. I've never stayed there, but I've bicycled past it several times and heard great things about it, too.