The spooky mist that had shrouded the palm trees upon our arrival into LA had disappeared by the time we woke up the following morning, luckily. After checking out of our hotel bright and early, we made our way to a bus stop to await the #3 Big Blue Bus towards our hostel in Santa Monica. Transport in LA’s pretty shoddy as the city’s so full on massive, but Big Blue Buses connect Downtown LA to Santa Monica so if you’re heading that way from the airport it’s handy to know. And they actually are big and blue, so you can’t miss them. Personally I felt like a bit of an idiot sitting in my human-size purple backpack on a crowded bus, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Whilst on said bus, I overheard (so did the rest of the bus, presumably) half of an extremely interesting conversation between a shaven-headed man who seemed to be a suspect in a murder case, and an unknown person on the phone (who may or may not have been his mother). He was just on his way home from being questioned by the police and seemed very angry about the whole situation. No-one else on the bus seemed that bothered, so I just went with it. There was a mild moment of panic though, when neither me nor my bf could work out how people were managing to stop the bus when they wanted to get off- there were no bells to be seen. As we neared our stop my heart was beating ever faster, until finally I noticed a cord running along the length of the bus and realised that was what we had to pull to exit the vehicle. Panic over. This is the type of thing that causes panic at the best of times, know what I’m saying!?
The HI: Santa Monica is the biggest purpose-built hostel in the whole of the USA, so there was obviously plenty of opportunity to meet all manner of interesting characters! People can make or break a place, that’s what I always say- so I’m going to give you the lowdown on not just what the hostel itself was like but also the array of brilliant/mysterious/awesome people that we met during our time there. (And let me tell you, there were some right corkers, for all sorts of different reasons)
THE PEOPLE (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
Although we met all manner of brilliant characters- an Argentinian professor with a lisp, a lovely down-to-earth Australian dentist, and the happiest most excited-to-be-in-LA Japanese guy in the history of the world, to name but a few- these are the people who particularly made my stay in Santa Monica the barrel of laughs that it was.
Jeremiah is one of the happiest, most positive people I have ever met, who also had one of the largest smiles. More people should be like Jeremiah; every time I spoke to him I couldn’t get the ‘Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog’ song out of my head, as if it was his own personal happy theme tune to go with his sunny disposition.
He’s from Atlanta, and in his own words he loves ‘music, and people who are full of joy.’ He did, however, say that most people in Santa Monica are on some form of drug (whether legal or illegal), and that they were mostly only interested in meeting new people if the new people were ‘important.’ I must say, I think Jeremiah had a point. Out of everywhere I’ve been in America, the strangers of Santa Monica were generally the unfriendliest. When we moved on to San Diego one of the things I missed most of all was being greeted daily by Jeremiah’s smiling face over breakfast bagels. What a guy!
I have mixed emotions about The Norwegian. He was a chap of about nineteen who always wore a pale blue shirt and a flat cap, who befriended us on our second day in the hostel, and seemed to be in the building pretty much consistently, so I was never quite sure what he got up to during the day times. At mealtimes he would sit next to various people and ask around for any spare food, which people were always quite happy to give, but I couldn’t tell if he was in desperate need or if it was just a tried and tested conversation starter.
One morning he filled a space opposite me at breakfast and asked my boyf whilst staring particularly soul-searchingly into my eyes:
“How did you encounter your girlfriend?”
My boyf gave a quick outline of how we met with a mildly baffled expression on his face, (my expression was more ‘fearful smiling’), to which the Norwegian replied:
“Oh…it is impossible for me to get a girlfriend…”
This didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, but my heart still slightly warmed to him and when he hinted that he wanted to do a yoga class but had no-one to go with I was mildly tempted to volunteer to accompany him. (But only mildly. So I didn’t.) What I wondered was, would he still wear his blue shirt and flat cap to yoga?
At a party one night he appeared on the scene quite early in the evening, and when I mentioned that I felt quite hot, he began to fan me with a piece of paper he conveniently had to hand. It was very considerate of him, but after a while I decided to move away from him to talk to a girl behind the bar. So there I was, talking to the girl behind the bar, when he re-appeared by my side and continued to very awkwardly fan my face mid-conversation. Eventually I just accepted that wherever I went he would be there. Fanning. If The Norwegian had a theme tune it would be Every Breath You Take, by The Police.
The day that he left, he announced at breakfast that he and his parents would be departing for San Francisco and then preceded to sing ‘If You’re Going to San Francisco’ very slowly and quietly whilst not once taking his eyes off me. It all got a bit concerning, but in a weird kind of a way I missed that guy just as much as I missed Jeremiah.
BIG JON AND THE AUSTRALIAN DIVORCÉE
Big Jon was a young guy from Texas, whose name was Jon, whaddya know! He’d been in prison (once, he said, not for anything serious, he said), and was a pretty jovial kind of guy who liked to hear the opinions of everyone around him whilst dishing out all manner of life advice. He could sometimes be found having philosophical chats with a nice lass from Australia in her late 50s who’d recently got divorced and decided she might as well travel the world for a bit of a laugh. (What an awesome woman) She was quite keen on the idea of buying a gun for self-defence purposes but despite his pro-gun stance, Jon advised her that pepper spray might be a more suitable weapon. He even offered to help her locate the best brand. What an unlikely pair.
LOGISTICAL STATISTICALS: THE ACTUAL PHYSICAL HOSTEL ITSELF
…is pretty full on sweet.
It’s easy to find, taking only about half an hour to reach from LAX airport by bus, and in addition to that is a mere few blocks from the beach, as well as being right in the middle of restaurants, bars and shops galore. Bear in mind that Santa Monica in general is an expensive area; the closest supermarket we could find was Whole Foods- the don of all supermarkets. Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love Whole Foods, but when you’re on a budget there things can get awkward very quickly.
We stayed in a six bed mixed dorm (consisting of three clean and comfy bunks plus a locker for each person), and the only problem we ever had was when the key cards stopped working. This can be especially awkward if you’re just returning from the shower, I’ll tell you that for free. Dorm-sizes vary, and female-only dorms are available. Whatever floats your boat, know what I’m saying!?
As much breakfast as you feel like eating is included in the price of your stay- consisting of bagels, coffee, juice, toast and fruit (namely peaches from a can. I mean it is a hostel for goodness sake)- but there’s also a massive kitchen filled with ovens, fridges, sinks and all that kitchen paraphernalia you’d expect to be able to use in such a situation. What more could you want!?
There was one slightly hair-raising moment when I witnessed some Chinese guys almost burn the building down by setting fire to their dinner, but after we’d all screamed in terror until the flames were put out, we bonded over a moment of shared hysterical laughter- realising that due to a lack of knowledge of each other’s languages this was probably the only way we could calm ourselves down about the whole ordeal. It was a great moment, you guys.
The hostel does organise food occasionally in the evenings- burgers, spaghetti, BBQs etc, which tends to be on the basic side, but as long as you’re not expecting a luxury Michelin-star meal, it’s a cheap meal that does the job.
There’s a beaut little courtyard for chilling out in as well as a whole collection of other hanging out locations around the building: a TV room where they arrange movie nights, a load of computers for panic-booking your next hostel, and a big old common room/dining room type area complete with pool tables.
In addition to the activities at the hostel itself, tours are available (many of which are free), of different places in the Santa Monica and LA area, all of which are advertised on a big old board for you to sign up to in reception.
Currently, beds go for around $44-$50 a night, and it’s worth becoming an HI member as this gets you an extra members discount across all HI hostels in North America.
One thing I will say is that as the hostel is so full on ginormous, it does take away the extremely sociable vibe which you get at other, smaller places. So if you’re into being extremely sociable/are expecting Party Central, maybe this isn’t the one for you. For my first US hostel experience, though-I was pretty impressed. Well done HI: Santa Monica. You’re awesome.