The Great American Roadtrip: Fort Mason

Fort Mason

Fort Mason

Fort MasonFort Mason
1 Apr 2011

I received a renewal notice in the mail yesterday, for my Youth Hostel Australia membership. The Fort Mason hostel – of many happy stays including this 2011 trip – was in my mind as I debated whether to send in my money.

Well into my seventh decade, I’m perhaps past my youthful prime, such as it was, but I’ve certainly made good use of my membership over the years. I’ve stayed in some incredible hostels around the world.

Cheap and cheerful, I lose a bit of comfort and privacy, but the savings are amazing. However, I’m in two minds now. My wife tells me, “Four-star minimum!” and the average hostel isn’t quite at that standard.

Fort Mason
We left the Golden Gate – and please forgive me for one last photo of that stupendous view – crossed the bridge, and drove along to Fort Mason, just short of Fishermans Wharf. In the panorama above, San Francisco is visible as a light grey patch above the bridge, and Fort Mason is the dark area of trees just down and to the left of the skyscrapers of the CBD.

Fort Mason youth hostel

In the States of America, YHA is called Hosteling International – or HI for short – and isn’t quite as prevalent as in Europe and Australia. There’s a few in the main tourist destinations, and San Francisco has three.

The hostel at Fort Mason is so good I’ve never felt the need to try out the other two, one at Union Square, the other a few blocks away at Ellis and Larkin. Fort Mason itself is a low headland on the waterfront between Fishermans Wharf and the Marina. It once housed an Army base, complete with fortifications, along with piers used for loading transports bound for the Pacific during the Second World War.

The soldiers have long gone, but the buildings remain, including some of the sweetest wooden married quarters I’ve ever seen. The old piers are given over to restaurants and community facilities – my favourite is the Book Bay second-hand bookshop, good for hours of browsing the bargains – and the Marina Safeway is just a few steps further on.

The hostel is located in an old medical facility close to the top of the hill. Just around the back, the coastal path offers easy access east and west, along with some of the best views in San Francisco. And that’s saying a lot.

Lawns and gardens and trees make it a pleasantly green place to stay amongst the streets of San Francisco. I love it.

Fort MasonThere are some private rooms, but this trip I opted for bunkrooms. Cheap and if you can put up with others snoring or moving around, or getting up before dawn to catch an early flight, comfortable enough.

There is a large common room with couches and chairs and tables, free wifi, and a well-stocked book swap shelf. Communal kitchen downstairs, a laundry, and a cafe offering meals and a free light breakfast.

Parking can be a bit tricky, but we managed to tuck the van away.

My plan was to have two nights here. That would cover any jetlag from the Pacific flight, and give a bit of time to look around San Francisco.

The problem

So. The question is, do I renew my YHA membership? I’ll probably do most of my travels with my wife, who has firmly ruled out youth hostels, but I’d like to keep open the option for solo trips, such as round the world status runs, and when I’m by myself I don’t mind saving a few bucks.

What do you think, dear reader?


The Great American Roadtrip map