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7 Best Hostels in San Diego for a Budget-Friendly Trip

December 03, 2021

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In a city like San Diego, it can be hard to find cheap hotels, especially if you want to be close to where all of the action is. It’s a top 10 tourist destination year after year, and despite all of the competition, hotels get booked up no matter the price based on location and views alone.

The very budget-savvy have long since discovered the hostel life, as hostels are popular in most major cities throughout the United States. San Diego is no different, so we’re here to share 10 of the best hostels in San Diego for you to book to save some money on your next trip.

It’s important to understand what you’re getting, though, first.

What’s the difference between a hostel and a hotel?

With hostels offering more amenities to attract frequent travelers, in many hostels, the difference is minimal.

Traditionally, a hostel was considered a shared space. That can mean rooms with bunk beds shared with other travelers, shared bathrooms, and kitchen space available for guests who want to cook their own meals.

The clientele in hostels often trends younger, as those are the travelers often willing to overlook some privacy to save money and socialize with other, like-minded hostel fans.

Many hostels will have tour operators on site or game rooms to promote those casual, friendly vibes and their view that they can be a one-stop-shop for all of your accommodation needs. Some of the hostels of today have revamped their approach to offer travelers more privacy. You may see hostels offering private rooms, even private bathrooms, for a premium. The price you pay for more privacy in a hostel is likely still less than San Diego hotels, but if you’re really looking to save money, you’ll want to focus on the shared accommodations.

We’ll take a look at hostels that offer both styles of hostel life in this list so that you can see how varied a stay in a San Diego hostel can be. All of these are highly-rated, safe options that will save you money on your San Diego trip.

1. HI San Diego

Hostelling International (HI) is a well-known hostel chain that has really improved on hostels overall. This San Diego option in the Gaslamp Quarter offers a game room for your pool and snooker tournaments, a library and book swap, and a free breakfast each morning.

Choose from private rooms with ensuite bathrooms or single-sex dorm rooms at the HI San Diego Downtown Hostel. The 10-person dorm rooms will be the least expensive option, but if you’re traveling with a friend, the shared cost of a private room with two bunk beds is comparable in price.

Reviews on this hostel tend to highlight the comfy beds and easy access to San Diego’s best nightlife while spending your overnights in the Gaslamp.


2. Samesun Ocean Beach

Travelers seeking San Diego hostels on the beach will want to check out Samesun Ocean Beach. Choose from mixed dorm rooms, private rooms with shared bathrooms, or private rooms with an ensuite bath at this hostel in the heart of Ocean Beach.

Location is the highlight of this San Diego hostel, with a local staff that knows the neighborhood inside and out. They’ll even help get you set up with surfboards or bikes to explore Ocean Beach as the locals do, or just stroll to the OB Pier and beaches from here on your feet.

You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see one of the most colorful buildings on the street, a nod to the welcoming community you’ll become a part of when you book.


3. California Dreams Hostel

The California Dreams Hostel is another popular beachy option for San Diego hostel seekers who want to be close to the city’s Pacific Beach neighborhood. This one is just steps to the beach and everything Pacific Beach, or PB, has to offer, from its plentiful eateries and bars to the boardwalk to surf boutiques.

Choose from mixed dorm rooms or private rooms with shared baths. All rooms will include lockers where you can keep all of your valuables safe when you’re sharing a space with people from all over the world.

Additional amenities include free breakfast, common areas, and discounted tickets to San Diego attractions. Just talk to the friendly staff and they’ll set you up with tours or any rentals you’ll need during your San Diego stay.


4. Lucky D’s

Lucky D’s in the Gaslamp Quarter markets itself as a hostel where the party doesn’t stop. If you’re looking to make new friends, this is the hostel for you.

They’re known for hosting themed bar crawls for their guests in the surrounding neighborhood, nightly events at the hostel itself, and their proximity to Petco Park, making this one perfect for baseball fans.

Choose from mixed dorms, female-only dorms, or private rooms with shared baths. Additional amenities include three free dinners per week, free breakfasts, even free beer from time to time. They’ll set you up with a rental bike, too, if you want to see more of what San Diego has to offer within biking distance.


5. ITH Hostel Downtown San Diego

The International Travelers House (ITH) hostel brand is well-known for being an eco-friendly option in the hostel world. You’ll find an emphasis on sustainable travel at their accommodations. That can mean organic gardens, energy efficiencies, and a focus on the local culture and supporting small businesses in the neighborhood they’re found in.

Their most highly-rated option in San Diego is the ITH Hostel Downtown San Diego in Little Italy. It operates out of a 1900s-era Victorian building and has been remodeled to feature local artists, a focus on outdoor living, and access to one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in San Diego.

Choose from mixed dorms, female-only dorms, and private rooms with shared bathrooms. Additional amenities include wellness and yoga activities on site, game rooms, and a staff that will set you up with San Diego excursions.


6. Gaslamp Hostel

The Gaslamp Hostel is a hostel with style. You’d be hard-pressed to find accommodations in San Diego that are more colorful than at this hostel, all in a historic 1880’s building that is sure to impress. This one is also run by backpackers who know what travelers love about hostels and want in their accommodations.

The atrium is open-air, so you’ll be exposed to San Diego’s near-perfect weather moving from space to space in this Victorian building. That means opportunities for outdoor dining without having to leave the building, too.

Choose from mixed dorms, female-only dorms, or private rooms with shared bathrooms. Additional amenities include free daily breakfasts, laundry, and an on-site pup who loves greeting new visitors.

This one does come with one word of caution, though. As with many San Diego historic sites, there are some ghost stories associated with the Gaslamp Hostel. Staying in a haunted hostel is actually the draw for many visitors here, though, so don’t be surprised if you’re sharing a space with some amateur ghost hunters.


7. ITH Hostels CoLive Balboa Park

This hostel from ITH in Hillcrest is within walking distance of Balboa Park, essentially San Diego’s backyard. ITH Hostels CoLive Balboa Park is known for travelers looking for an extended stay at a fraction of the cost of rentals in the neighborhood.

Choose from mixed dorms, female-only dorms, or private rooms with a shared bathroom. Amenities include a game room, free daily breakfast, daily community events, a garden, and private workstations for business travelers looking for a quiet space to work.

If you’re really looking for cheap hotels rather than hostels in San Diego, you do have some options if you’re fine with staying a bit of a drive away from downtown or the beach communities. Mission Valley’s Hotel Circle has a number of hotel chains within a short drive of anywhere you’ll want to get to in central San Diego.

While you may miss out on some character and walkability, the hotels there will be less expensive than those luxe hotels with bay views closer to the harbor or hotels in La Jolla, for example. The best hostels in San Diego, though, will still be your best bet for budget-friendly accommodations that will leave you with more cash to experience the best of the city.

Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.

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