SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The new Wayfarer hostel in Santa Barbara quietly opened over the weekend but it was no secret to the smart traveler. It's filling up fast with rates a fraction of the cost of nearby hotels.
The hostel style of vacationing is a lower budget adventure. Many Europeans are used to it, but they will also be the first to tell you, sometimes the accommodations are nothing to write home about. The Wayfarer brings an upper scale look with a comfy feel to a premier location in Santa Barbara.
It's located in the "Funk Zone" just steps from the beach and downtown. For anyone arriving on the train, it's a short two block walk.
The Pacifica Hotel Company picked up the project after it was partially built in a deal that also involved a beach front luxury hotel by the Parker family. President Matt Marquis and his staff worked with the city to put all the remaining pieces in place, and get the hostel opened. Mayor Helene Schneider said the California Coastal Commission made the hostel a specific requirement for the Parker's proposed beach front hotel near the Fess Parker Doubletree, because it would have a rate that makes an overnight stay affordable for more visitors. "You needed a combination of prices available for anyone who wanted to stay around the beach front, so that is what this is supposed to represent," said Schneider.
The hostel's location is in an area that has seen more new developments and changes than any spot in Santa Barbara in over a decade.
"And the funk zone which has really undergone a renaissance in the last several years and it's really become one of the big drivers in this downtown area," said Marquis.
Klara Andreasson, a college student from Sweden was with a friend who saw their room first. "She walked in the room first and she came out screaming, saying it is so beautiful and it was. The first thing we did is Skype with our friends back home (to show it.)"
Her room mate and new college friend, Amanda Ekdahl compared it to hostels they have stayed in elsewhere, saying those "are pretty much disgusting and this is fresh and beautiful."
The two were enjoying a casual breakfast at the community table. Hot cereal and toasted bagels started their day. There was also a selection of fresh fruit.
The kitchen is large enough for guests to prepare their meals on a stove or in an oven. Nearby is a sink, a large refrigerator and overhead private food storage areas.
The owners expect guests to talk about food, share it and possibly cook together.
It starts at daybreak.
"Breakfast brings everyone together, and that's a good chance for people to meet each other and introduce each other," said General Manager Casey Graves. "Then throughout the day, they're meeting up here to go out or hanging out here to play board games."
Graves has already seen guests from Europe, New York and Los Angeles. "The world is going to come through our front door," he said.
It is also a good choice for someone who has never stayed in a hostel, to see if it is a right fit for them.
"I think what is unique and fun about this property is it gives people who aren't used to a hostel an opportunity to experience what it is to stay in a hostel, they don't have to stay in a shared room to experience that. They can still have the private room they have at a hotel and still come down and experience the sociable communal atmosphere," said Graves.
Overall there are 31 rooms and 101 beds.
It's also giving travelers of all ages, a hostel choice when some might think it's just something for college age visitors. Here, the owners are hoping families, and groups of friend of all ages bunk in the same room or share rooms with people from other areas to have a memorable stay.
The Wayfarer has a medium sized pool with lounge chairs facing towards the lower State St. scene. It is expected to give the guests a feeling of being in a vibrant zone, even while they are relaxing in the sun.
At night the area has become one of Santa Barbara's top new attractions. Fine dining restaurants such as The Lark, are balanced by casual dining at the Bay Roadhouse, Union Ale and the Metropulos restaurant. Figueroa Mountain Brewing is a block away, and the area is the fastest growing zone in Santa Barbara for wine tasting rooms.
Stearns Wharf, the city's most visited tourist site is a short walk from the Wayfarer's front door.Slideshow: Wayfarer Hostel Booking Up Fast in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone with $59. Rates