On a lonely stretch of Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz sits the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Hostel. The rustic structure nestles into the windswept shore.
Ice plant drapes the cliffs, forming curtains on the coastal bluffs. A picturesque reminder of an idealized California, the lighthouse stands sentry over the sea.
Pigeon Point, still a working lighthouse, was built in 1872. In the 1960s, the keeper's quarters were converted into a hostel.
It's managed by the nonprofit group Hostelling International. According to its Web site, the group's mission is: "To promote the education of all young people of all nations, but especially young people of limited means, by encouraging in them a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside and an appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities in all parts of the world, and as ancillary thereto, to provide hostels or other accommodation in which there shall be no distinctions of race, nationality, color, religion, sex, class or political opinions and thereby to develop a better understanding of their fellow men, both at home and abroad."
Though amenities are few, the hostel provides an unrivaled experience. Nearly every window has dramatic ocean views. A deck wraps around the grounds, extending out beyond the point.
Beds go for $26, while a private double room rents for $73. The lighthouse grounds are managed by the state park system, so you can choose to visit for just a day.
A hostel is typically a dormitory-style hotel, with rooms that are shared with other travelers, although most modern hostels offer the choice of staying in a private room. They are essentially stripped-down hotels; some locations offer just a place to sleep, while others, such as Pigeon Point, are an opportunity to stay in historic or famous locations and stay within a fixed budget.
While they have enjoyed great popularity abroad, where they are typically referred to as youth hostels or backpacker's hostels, they remain relatively uncommon in the United States.
But they are gaining repute as a safe hotel alternative for budget travelers.
Another world nearby
Pigeon Point is only about an hour and a half from Modesto, but it feels worlds away.
The only visible light at night beams from the tower, illuminating the waves for fractions of seconds. Occasionally, a stray ship's light can be seen in the distance. The grounds are surrounded by small coastal farms and rocky tide pools, which create a perfect environment for exploration.
Only a few miles south lies Año Nuevo State Park, an area famous for serving as an elephant seal breeding ground during the winter months.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Hostel is a relic of old California.
The uninhabited coastline, rusty light tower, and "surfer" feel of the hostel all contribute to a sense of nostalgia.
It serves as a perfect getaway for Central Valley residents who are in need of a weekend away.
On the Net: http://norcalhostels.org/pigeon
Zachary Senn is home-schooled and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.