Hostels are like the singles bars of travel—Low on service but high on color. But can a hostel stay be a viable option for families traveling on a budget?

If you’re in Europe, and especially the UK, then yes. The UK hosts some of the best hostels anywhere, and a stay at a hostel can be a highly social and inexpensive choice. They’re also an option to add into the mix for families vagabonding across the globe on a shoestring budget. But in the US, hostel stays are still a young person’s game.

There are some exceptions to the rule. The Mississippi Headwaters hostel in Itasca State Park, Minnesota puts you right in the middle of one of Minnesota’s oldest and most treasured landscapes. The hostel has several 4 and 5 person private rooms, enforced quiet times and is cleaner and better kept than your average budget hotel. Another family favorite is the Fireside Inn. Located in Breckenridge, the B&B and hostel is a bargain in this pricey ski town, but the lower cost isn’t the only draw. Vacationers rave about the Fireside’s service, family atmosphere and convenience to the slopes. “The kids were always in the common rooms playing games or cards,” comments Gus Vazquez  who stayed at the Fireside with his wife and two teenaged children. “Our family likes staying in hostels and B&Bs because we can spread out in the common rooms. When we travel in Europe, we almost always choose them over a traditional hotel.”
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in northern California is a one-of-a-kind stay.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in northern California is a one-of-a-kind stay.

Perched dramatically on the coastline just south of San Francisco, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel sweeps away all notions of the hostel as the traveler’s last resort. Set on the grounds of a working lighthouse, the views are spectacular and the guesthouses are of the white picket fence variety: open, airy and unfailingly cheerful even in the densest of California fogs. At 115 feet tall, Pigeon Point still holds the title of second tallest lighthouse on the West Coast, a title it’s held since it was erected in 1872. It’s original Fresnel lens was swapped out for an automated Aero in 1972, but Pigeon still flashes its signature 10-second light pattern to passing ships. (Each lighthouse has its own beacon pattern and by consulting the ‘light list’ captains can identify the lighthouse by this pattern). Thankfully for guests, its foghorn was disconnected in 1976. If you and your family do find yourself drifting off to sleep in one of the private rooms at Pigeon Point, pacified by the crashing waves and sea lions below, count yourself lucky. Rooms at Pigeon Point are usually booked out a year in advance.
Hostels are also a way to stretch the budget for families staying in big cities with their accompanying big hotel prices. But urban-based hostels also come with more noise, more late-night hanging out and all the fun and euro beats you remember. A few standouts are the Getaway Hostel in downtown Chicago and the Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel set in San Francisco’s beautiful Fort Mason park. There’s also the New York Loft Hostel, where a family can snag a private but cozy 3-bed ensuite for around $100/night. With it’s astroturf-carpeted outdoor deck and on-premise bar, it’s seriously fun, but if you have offspring, or are over the age of 30, you’re probably not be cool enough to check in. And always, when in doubt if it’s kid-friendly, just call ahead.
Image credits: Pigeon Point lighthouse photo by Cheri M. Larsh.