Should I Stay at HI San Francisco City Center?
When it came time to plan my time in San Francisco, the hardest step was finding accommodation.
With the Super Bowl coming up, what accommodation that was available was invariably out of my price range.
HI San Francisco City Center, located (surprise) in the city’s beating heart, came to my rescue offering a few night’s stay. Would I enjoy my first hostel experience in a few years? Or would my doubts about hostel life as an ‘adult’ hold true?
HI San Francisco City Center feels like something unique the moment you walk in. Built in a recently renovated grand old 1920s boutique hotel with a vast foyer and a second floor mezzanine, the place just oozes old school charm. This is a feature further emphasized by the clanking, slow-as-a-wet-week elevator that speaks to the building’s heritage.
The staff, a motley crew of characters bound by a common love of the city, are a friendly bunch with a great knowledge of the city. They were only too happy to inundate me with suggestions as to what secret corner of the city we should check out once we’d hit all of the main items on my San Francisco bucket list.
To add to this, the hostel (as all Hosteling International properties do) offered up an events calendar of daily free or discounted activities such as walking tours of Chinatown or Mission, visits to AT&T Park, or cycling excursions. They also regularly convert the foyer into a small cinema for watching classic horror movies, which is a really fun way to meet your fellow guests.
It’s this sense of inclusiveness and local involvement that works as part the Hosteling International mission to foster a more tolerant world. You’re encouraged to be a part of the city you’re visiting, rather than just an observer.
Amenities & Freebies
We’re at a stage in travel where a hostel needs to have more than just lockers, a bed, and WiFi to really cut it in a very competitive market.
Thankfully, HI City Center has a whole bunch of fun extras that make it a more memorable hostel experience.
For one, the otherwise spartan dorm rooms each come with an en suite bathroom, which is a nice change of pace compared to the crowded shared bathrooms you get in most hostels. It even has a bath tub, although I’m not the kind of guy who finds a hostel the place for a long, relaxing soak.
In-room lockers are big enough to fit in a sizeable pack and, while locks aren’t provided for free, they can be purchased at the front desk for a reasonable $4 USD.
For those driving (something I wouldn’t advise in a walker friendly city like San Francisco), the hostel has cut a deal with the parking lot next door. You can park your car for around $24 USD a day, which is pretty competitive in a city like SF.
My favourite bonus at the hostel is the free continental breakfast, which includes coffee, cereals, toast, fruit juice, and a variety of bagels with cream cheese. It’s a good way to start the day, and a perfect addition for travelers operating on a budget.
Bagels and coffee not enough? The hostel also offers your choice of either eggs or pancakes for an additional $1. You’d have a hard time finding a better deal than that elsewhere!
A special mention also to the on-site bar. Serving up a variety of local and import beers, the nightly happy hour is a good way to have a few cheap brews and strike up a conversation with your fellow guests.
The bar staff weren’t especially friendly on either of the nights I ducked in, but as long as they’re providing beer in exchange for currency, they’re serving their basic purpose.
HI City Center boasts being ‘in the heart of the city but off the beaten track’, and that’s a pretty apt description.
Tucked into a nondescript street in the somewhat infamous Tenderloin district, Hi City Center is within spitting distance of the many Southeast Asian eateries of Little Saigon.
Special mention to Thai Idea, which does amazing vegetarian/vegan Thai dishes that are every bit as good as their meatier counterparts. I didn’t even notice!
It’s also a short walk to civic sites such as the town hall, and not an unreasonable trek to popular alternative districts like Mission, Castro, or the Golden Gate Park. We did the walk in an hour or so, and it’s one of the less hilly stretches of walking in the city.
While we didn’t avail ourselves of public transport while we were in town (I’m a confessed Uber addict), the hostel is a 10 minute walk from the underground and a 15 minute walk from the Union Square cable car stop.
With beds in the 4-5 bed dorms ranging in price from $60 to $80, HI City Center is considerably cheaper than most hotels you’ll find in the city.
When you factor in its central location and the fact you’re getting some hotel level bonuses such as free breakfast and an ensuite bathroom, it’s a steal.
I really liked my time at HI San Francisco City Center. I’ve reached the age where I’m not a huge hostel fan, so it takes a pretty nice hostel to make me happy.
Hi City Center was fun, it had some great amenities and freebies, and it was the perfect location from which to explore the city.
It was actually my second time staying there (my first being a single night back in 2012), but I imagine it won’t be my last.
Looking for things to do in San Francisco?
My visit to HI San Francisco City Center was provided free of charge in exchange for a review. All views are my own. You’ll see in my upcoming reviews that I’ll be brutally honest if I don’t like a place – I promise.