The youth hostel in San Francisco is one of the most popular in the United States and with reason. Not only is it in one of the most attractive cities in the nation but in one of the most scenic areas in the city, on the grounds of Ft. Mason overlooking San Francisco Bay, a short walk from the Fisherman's Wharf area.
Better yet, prices at the San Francisco International Hostel are only $7 a night, and, because the hostel is in a state park, the facilities cannot be limited to members of the International Youth Hostel Federation. Anyone, of any age, can use the dormitory.
The hostel building is not new. It was used for medical services during the Civil War. But in 1979 it was renovated and can accommodate up to 160 travelers.
Guests will find kitchen facilities, a breakfast service, snack vending machines, a laundry, several common rooms, a courtyard with barbecue, lockers and several large notice boards carrying messages and information on what you can do during your visit. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.
Take the Bus
The least expensive way to reach the hostel from the airport is to take San Trans Bus 7B to the Transbay Terminal, then catch the MUNI Bus 42 and go north to Bay and Van Ness streets. From that point you follow the hostel signs. The trip will cost about $1.75.
But the easiest way to get between the hostel and the airport is to use either Lorries or Yellow Airport Van services.
Lorries (861-7291) runs a multipassenger taxi service that will take you from the airport to the hostel door for $6.50. It has a regular pickup area at the front of the airport. For return service to the airport it only picks up from the Ft. Mason gate.
The Yellow Airport Van service, however, is promoted by the hostel and is allowed to pick up from the hostel door (you pay the hostel $2 and the driver $5), but I found their service to be disturbingly erratic.
If you need further help with directions, contact the hostel at 771-7277. It's open from 7 a.m. until midnight, year round.
You're limited to a stay of three consecutive nights at any U.S. youth hostel. After that you must move on to new lodgings. But switching hostels in the San Francisco area has been especially easy since last summer; the San Francisco hostel has been so busy that a free shuttle service has been provided to the neighboring Golden Gate Youth Hostel.
Notice Board in Lobby
By checking the notice board in the hostel's lobby, you can find out about services, sights and other hostels in the San Francisco area. For example, you'll learn that five youth hostels offer low-cost lodging on the San Francisco coast, two of them in lighthouses and equipped with hot tubs. Both the Montara and the Pigeon Point hostels charge $5.50 for hostel members, $7.50 for non-members, and have a small extra charge for use of the hot tubs.
You'll also learn from the notice boards about economical sightseeing trips within the city, among them the tour of Alcatraz Island offered by the National Park Service (note that most other harbor tours take you past but not onto the famous island). Starting at 8:45 a.m., the park service ferries leave every 45 minutes from Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf. Tickets are $3.50.
At the hostel, you'll also learn how to contact companies offering inexpensive transportation services such as Green Tortoise. This company runs trips in older buses that have been outfitted with bunks. Among their routes is a weekly overnight service between San Francisco and Los Angeles for $25.
If you need further help with travel plans, you can head down to Fisherman's Wharf where you'll find the Youth Hostel Travel Office at 680 Beach St.
If you're really lucky, you'll hit the San Francisco hostel on your birthday and get a free overnight.
There's good news for students and young travelers planning extended stays in Europe. Inter-Rail, an unlimited-travel rail pass sold only in Europe, is increasing the number of countries in which its ticket is honored.
The hitch with this ticket is that it is only supposed to be sold to people under age 26 who can prove that they have been residents of one of the participating countries for at least six months. This doesn't mean that a few don't slip into the hands of short-term visitors, but it wouldn't be wise to bank on the possibility.
In the past the Inter-Rail Card has been valid for unlimited second-class travel for one month on most rail services in Europe, plus Morocco. Now card holders can also use rail routes in the European part of Turkey. The principal advantage of this is that the complete stretch from Athens through to Istanbul via Thessaloniki is now covered by the plan.
An Inter-Rail ticket now allows you to travel on second-class rail services in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Portugal, the German Federal Railways, Italy, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Austria, Morocco, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, France, Turkey and Britain.
A tip: If you do buy an Inter-Rail ticket, buy it in a country you don't want to tour by rail. The rule is that you must pay 50% of the regular rail rates when traveling in the country where you bought your pass.
You can inquire about buying Inter-Rail passes at youth and student travel agencies abroad. This year the Inter-Rail card has been selling in Ireland for 145 (about $177 U.S.). According to European youth travel specialists at a recent international youth travel seminar, we may see a 14-day version of the Inter-Rail pass introduced next year.