Image: Venice Hostel
Philip Scott Andrews  /  AP
Lists of rules are posted in the front room of the Venice Hostel in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. The Venice Hostel is located steps from the famous Venice Beach and boardwalk.
updated 9/6/2009 1:58:26 PM ET 2009-09-06T17:58:26

About three years ago, Jim Williams, author of "Hostel Handbook" noticed that new hostels were starting to open around the U.S., but "almost exclusively in destination cities — NYC, L.A., Miami etc.," he said. "Hostels are following the trend of becoming urban."

A snapshot of bookings on comparing spring 2008 with spring 2009 also shows increases for hostel stays in U.S. cities, with bookings up 27 percent for hostels in Miami, 37 percent for Washington D.C., 47 percent for Chicago and 58 percent for Baltimore.

The Associated Press recently sent AP interns to check out hostels in four cities: Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Venice Beach in Los Angeles. All the interns said they'd recommend the hostel they stayed in to a friend, but how about recommending them to parents? The Harlem hostel, yes, because it's cheaper than a Manhattan hotel; the Baltimore and Chicago hostels, probably not — the reviewers said their parents would prefer air-conditioned hotel rooms with plush beds. As for Venice Beach — well, that one was too weird for mom and dad.

Here are more details and impressions from their stays.

Baltimore Hostel: 17 W. Mulberry St., Baltimore, 410-576-8880. Rate: $25. Reviewed by Aaron Morrison, 24.

Best thing about the hostel: Free, do-it-yourself pancake breakfast.

Worst thing: The place was almost too quiet. Whether the subdued behavior was encouraged by staff or self-imposed by guests, common areas might as well have been funeral parlor chapels. Of course, low noise levels could be a plus for some travelers.

Bathroom: Bathrooms and showers smelled and looked like they had just been cleaned.

Sleeping: Dorms are gender-specific. The rooms are spacious. Other than lockers in rooms and hallway, a little room is available to place luggage so it's not a nuisance to roommates. Signs advertise ear plugs as a way to shut out other sleepers snoring. Ask for the ear plugs pre-emptively and before the front desk closes. You'll be happier in the morning.

Staff: The staff is friendly and they run the hostel like clockwork.

Amenities: The kitchen is impressive. There are two gas stoves, plenty of cookware and utensils, refrigerators for food storage and ample counter and dining space. A door in the kitchen leads to a outdoor patio, decorated with lights and lined with flower pots. There is a TV room stocked with movies and board games. Speedy Wi-Fi connections are free. Internet reception was good in common areas and dorm rooms. There is a laundry room in the basement.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Guests: Most of the guests were international and most appeared to be in their 20s. Some were stopping at the hostel before traveling to their next destination. The hostel seemed welcoming to travelers of all ages.

Location: The hostel is around the corner from several restaurants and bars on Charles Street, the city's main north-south street. Inner Harbor restaurants and bars are a 10- to 15- minute walk.

Chicago International Hostel: 6318 N. Winthrop, Chicago;  773-262-1011. Rate: $27.50. Reviewed by Christina M. Wright, 23.

Best thing about the hostel: The other guests. They're from all around the globe and quite friendly.

Worst thing: The Red line train passes by every 15 minutes or so, and it's loud.

Bathroom: There is a community bathroom/shower on every hall — one for men and one for women. They are relatively clean, although the bathroom did run out of toilet tissue, and shower shoes are probably a good idea.

Image: Baltimore Hostel
Aaron Morrison  /  AP
The Baltimore Hostel in Baltimore is free, and offers a do-it-yourself pancake breakfast.
Sleeping: There are five people to a room. Unfortunately, guests do not get individual keys, and the front desk lets you in if there isn't anyone in the room. And there aren't any lockers for your belongings, so you might want to make friends with the person you're sharing a room with. The bed was an extra long twin-size, and the sheets appeared clean until I found four long red hairs that couldn't possibly have been mine (I have curly black hair!). There isn't a curfew, so there is noise but it wasn't disruptive or extremely loud.

Staff: The staff isn't an exceedingly happy crew. They answer questions and know which guests are there, though.

Amenities: There is a huge kitchen that has toast and orange juice in the morning, and a laundry room is provided with the room price. There is also Internet in the living area.

Guests: The guests are typically international, well-traveled, and in their early to mid- 20s.

Location: The hostel is located across the street from Loyola University; therefore, the surrounding neighborhood is relatively safe. There are shops and corner stores only a block or so away. A nursing home next door has some "interesting" characters, so hanging around outside isn't always pleasant.

L-Hostels, 1961 Seventh Ave. (118th Street) in Harlem, Manhattan; 212-222-3103. Rate: $24. Reviewed by Suzanne B. Ma, 25.

Best thing about the hostel: Appearance. Converted from luxury apartments shortly before they were set to go on the market, the apartments and lofts, complete with kitchen counters and dark wooden cabinets have been transformed into hostel guest rooms. The kitchen cabinets were turned into guest cubbies with locks, and bunk beds went in the living room.

Dollar-friendly destinations

Worst thing: Reservation mix-ups. One guest found his belongings removed and put in storage, with someone else in his bed; the hostel had double-booked. (He was relocated to another room.) Another guest made an online reservation for a reunion with old friends, only to find they'd been placed in separate rooms. I had the same problem booking online for myself and a photographer; I saw from the confirmation e-mail we were in separate rooms. The staff fixed the problem, blaming it on a computer glitch.

Bathroom: Very clean. We stayed in an eight-bed co-ed dorm with a bathroom that had a sink, toilet and bathtub/shower.

Sleeping: The beds and the sheets were clean and new. The rooms were spacious but guests warned me: With so many people in one room, there's bound to be a snorer. Another noise maker: the springs beneath the mattress — they made a terrible creaking sound whenever I moved around in bed.

Image: L-Hostels
Yanina Manolova  /  AP
L-Hostels guests share an eight-bed mixed dorm ensuite at L-Hostels in New York. The L-Hostels is a luxury hostel in Harlem.

Staff: The staff at L-Hostels were friendly, available to answer guests' questions and eager to show off the hostel.

Amenities: Free bagel and coffee for breakfast. In the first floor lobby, snacks are for sale: drinks, fresh yogurt parfaits, muffins, sandwiches. Other amenities: pingpong, billiards, free Wi-Fi, computers with per-hour rates for Internet access, flat-screen TVs, communal kitchen. Favorite spot: chilling on the couches on the patio with a view of Harlem rooftops and historic Riverside Church.

Guests: Typical guests were in their 20s and 30s, though we were told there was a family staying there. Most were European, but we also met people from South America and Kazakhstan.

Best vacation deals of 2009

Location: L-hostels is in a sleepy Harlem neighborhood where kids play ball on the streets, and laundromats, convenient stores and hair salons dot the neighborhood. Most guests I talked to spoke of Harlem's reputation as a rough and tough place. Despite this preconception, they told me they felt safe in the neighborhood, even if they returned to the hostel late at night.

Venice Beach Hostel: 1515 Pacific Avenue, Venice Beach, Los Angeles, 310-452-3052. Rate: $37. Reviewed by Michelle Rindels, 22.

Best thing about the hostel: The staff. They were eager to tell stories and engage guests on topics from spirituality to family relationships.

Worst thing: The decor. But then again, this is Venice Beach, where eclectic is the norm. The common room has rows of houseplants, mangy stuffed animals and dusty silk flower bouquets. A wedding photo from the 1970s hangs prominently in a corner. Not even the manager can identify the bride and groom. But there is a homey harmony amid the sinking couch cushions and mismatched dining room furniture.

Bathroom: My shower was hot and the facilities were aging but well-kept.

Sleeping: Guests were respectful and quiet in my six-bunk coed sleeping room, although one window was permanently open to the same patio where patrons smoked, drank and socialized into the wee hours of the morning. The sheets were clean, but basic.

Staff: Many staff members were friendly and reached out to guests. The crew cleans the rooms and gently enforces hostel policies about guests washing their own dishes and keeping nonpaying visitors out of bedrooms.

Amenities: Free coffee and serve-yourself pancake batter for breakfast. A game room lined with mismatched couches held a TV and pool table; the common room library offered guidebooks, an outdated science textbook and paperbacks galore. Guests can store valuables in lockers. Aging in-room PCs have Internet access and free Wi-Fi is available. Other amenities include coin-operated laundry and a communal kitchen.

Guests: Most guests had accents and hailed from Western Europe or Australia. Others have adopted the hostel for a long-term stay, including one guest hunting for an apartment and an East Coast transplant who stayed for weeks.

Location: A bona fide California beach town, Venice Beach captures everything weird and wonderful about the West Coast. Artists and street musicians line the colorful boardwalk, and shops vend flowing bohemian silk dresses and medical marijuana. The hostel is a block from the beach, which featured a wandering flute player and fabulous funnel cakes. The hostel entrance is lodged between the Zen Massage parlor and a skate shop. But safety can be a concern. With the vicinity's transients, numerous liquor stores and drug use, guests should not wander this area alone. Some female guests noted the boardwalk was "creepy" enough that they returned to the hostel early.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments