One of OB’s oldest buildings, the Ocean Beach International Backpackers Hostel, at 4961 Newport Ave., was recently sold by immediate past owner John Asher to USA Hostels Inc.
USA Hostels also operates hostels in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, as well as in Hollywood and San Francisco.
“[USA Hostels has] been in business for more than 20 years and we’ve been in the San Diego market for more than 20 years,” said Maria Minos, USA’s chief operating officer.
“We’ve always wanted to get our hands on this hostel, so it was great timing that he (Asher) was ready to retire and move on to new things in his life,” she said.
Asher could not be reached for comment.
Minos said USA Hostels took over the local facility on Sept. 5 just before escrow closed on the building.
“It was one of the first buildings here in Ocean Beach and was built in 1909 as The Pearl a few months after the streetcar line came in,” said Susan James of the Ocean Beach Historical Society. “It was a 20-room hotel and became the Newport Hotel in 1914.”
James said the Newport Hotel was shuttered for a while when Asher bought it and reopened it as an international youth hostel in 1995.
There isn’t much that’s garden variety about Ocean Beach International Backpackers Hostel aside from its youthful appeal.
“We provide 24-hour security and guests cannot bring strangers in, even if it’s their brother,” said Minos, adding the hostel can accommodate about 100 people. “We have a lot of social activities that you don’t find in hostels or bed and breakfasts but do find in hotels and resorts,” she said.
Hostel activities include trips to San Diego points of interest and Tijuana as well as trips outside the local area, like to Magic Mountain in the L.A. area.
“This hostel will be offering a lot more in the way of activities,” promised Minos. She said changes may include the possibility of a name change. But she said that won’t happen immediately.
Noting the OB hostel “still has a hotel license,” Minos said the business has 25 operating dorm-style, 4- and 6-bed rooms, some suites and some with shared restrooms.
Minos said the hostel intends to build and expand on its solid foundation.
“Eventually, we’ll have a van that will run guests between our two hostels and to different attractions around the area for free,” she said adding some remodeling is also in store.
“We’ll be doing some spit and shine, repainting, new door locks and new bunk beds,” Minos said. “We have an exclusively designed bunk bed that we’ve developed ourselves that we’ll be installing.
“We really like to keep the flavor of the local areas adding spices to the broth to make it even more a flavor of the neighborhood,” she said.
There is a two-week limit on stays at the OB hostel.
Minos said the hostel business is seasonal, like much of tourist-oriented San Diego. She said most hostels tend to draw visitors in their 20s and 30s, but she said Ocean Beach gets its fair share of 50-plus-age clients.
“We get a lot of people who used to do hostelling in their 40s and older,” she said. “Beach hostels draw a majority of European travelers with a healthy sprinkling of Asian travelers.”
The hostel COO said about 15 to 20 percent of OB hosteliers are from elsewhere in America, with the rest coming here from abroad.
“The Irish invasion happens every June because Irish students are able to get working visas and come here looking for summer jobs,” Minos said. “We also get a lot of South Americans from Brazil and Argentina and Aussies (Australians) all year ’round because they’re always traveling. We also get a big influx of Chinese in December.”
OB Hostel’s appeal for guests wherever they come from is pretty obvious.
“We’re one of those vibrant beach communities in Southern California, and one of the few places in Southern California that really retains that true flavor of the Southern California beach town,” said hostel manager Jack McKeon. “Our location two blocks off the water is perfect for a lot of travelers.”
McKeon spoke of two recent happy patrons.
“We had a couple of Polish gentlemen come in last week and they were super-excited to go surfing for the first time,” he said. “We can provide that for people.”
McKeon also pointed out that OB “has a lot of culture and vibrancy born out of the California counterculture movement,” which makes it more attractive to youthful guests.
“Some call it the hippie hangover, but we think of it in more positive terms,” he said.
The OB Hostel is strict about not allowing drinking from under-age guests or drug use of any kind.
“If you’re caught (with drugs) — you’ll be kicked out,” said Minos.
Minos said the OB Hostel’s new owners want to join with the neighborhood, which she said is a win-win both for the business and the community.
“We’re just getting our hands around the community,” she said. “We were lucky enough to buy this hostel, and we’re really thrilled to be here.”
Minos noted international travelers staying in relatively inexpensive hostel rooms make good guests for a number of reasons.
“They’re on vacation, and a lot of them have saved a long time to be able to take these trips,” Minos said. “They save money on the room, so they have it to spend on everything else. They provide money coming into the community. We want to be able to contribute to that, bring in the right kind of clientele that will be spending that money.”
For more information, visit www.usahostels.com.