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Hostel Review: Green Tortoise, San Francisco

Saturday 7 January 2012
The view from my window
Every so often, a hostel comes along that is just perfection. The Green Tortoise is one of those places, so it seems only right to kick off the Hostel Reviews with a summary of what makes it great.

Location: At the start of the hip North Beach district, the Green Tortoise is in a great spot to explore the rest of the city. The BART is about a 20 minute walk away, but most central sights are reachable on foot. Not too far away is Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown and Union Square. Broadway is a little dodgy at night, but I never felt concerned about safety. Over the road is the infamous Vesuvio bar, next to the Citylights bookstore. Prop up the bar and, if you drink enough, you'll see the spirits of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. The Kerouac museum is just a few doors down.

Rooms: I stayed in a 5 bed dorm, which was $30. Not cheap, but comparable to rates in US cities. Double/triple rooms are a bargain, so if you're travelling with someone else you can get a private room for the same price as a dorm. The dorm rooms aren't particularly large, but very well designed. Each bunk is huge with a solid frame and good mattress, and tall enough for you to sit up in bed without smacking your head. There's a reading light on each bed, which is so simple, genius and often overlooked in hostels. Each person has a locker under the bed big enough to fit a large suitcase. Bring a lock and you'll be safe in the knowledge no one can snoop through your things when you're not there.

Photo courtesy of Green Tortoise

Bathrooms: My dorm room had a sink, but the bathrooms are all out in the hall. These are another stroke of clever planning - each one has a toilet, sink and shower, eliminating the need to nip between cubicles, squeezing past lithe Swedes in little shorts. Everything you need is in your own little room. Simple, but genius, and much appreciated. There are plenty of them, too. I never had to queue.

Breakfast: Substantial and plentiful. The buffet includes a variety of bagels, spreads, juices, tea, coffee and fresh fruit, which comes out in platters with banana, pineapple, mango, papaya etc. This is one of the best hotel breakfasts I've seen, with no staff looking over to check that you're just taking the one bagel.

Staff: Really friendly and helpful. They all know the area well, and are happy to help you. I had an offer to stay with a friend one night, and they let me cancel the night I'd booked no problem. Other hostels, hell, most hotels, wouldn't hesitate to keep your money. Any random request that would come to the desk would be met with a smile and good advice. They also keep a stockpile of little paper slips behind reception with the answers to most questions.

Extras: The Green Tortoise is all about great freebies which make all the difference. There's a fantastic sauna which is free to use - just put your name down behind the desk. Three nights a week they lay on a fantastic free dinner - good wholesome food that doesn't skimp on ingredients. When I was there, dinners included a Thai green curry, burritos and pasta, all with plenty of sides and salads. If money is tight, this is heaven sent. It's a great time to meet fellow travellers too.
There are also party nights with free beer, which I didn't actually get to. But if that's your bag, then great. Don't worry if you're not a party animal - the hostel is big enough to hide. Internet access is also free on their computers - no system in place, just wait until one is free.

Worst bits: In the 5 bed dorm I was in, there were two bunk beds and one window bed. This was a bit of a weird shape, and looked more like a daybed than a proper bed to me. I wouldn't have been impressed with it, and the girl who slept there for a few nights was more bothered by the street noise than the rest of us.

Best bits: The lush breakfasts and free dinners, the sauna, spirit of the staff and big beds. You can tell when a hostel is designed with the comfort of the traveller in mind - every little touch is well thought out, making the Green Tortoise one of the best hostels I've stayed in.


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