NANTUCKET — Travelers who stay at a youth hostel are usually looking for one thing — a clean, safe, cheap place to sleep. A striking, historic building is a bonus. And a setting across from a gorgeous beach? Jackpot.
The Star of the Sea Youth Hostel on Nantucket Island is a former lifesaving station, the last such station on the East Coast on its original foundation, said our host Janice Demooy, who has managed the place for the last seven years. The gray-shingled, red-trimmed building dates from 1874 and has been a hostel since 1963. It’s part of the worldwide Hostelling International network.
Accommodations are dormitory style. The women’s dorm on the second floor of the main building has 23 beds, and a shared bathroom with individual shower stalls. A ladder in the center of the room leads to a rooftop lookout with a panoramic view of the beach and ocean. The men’s dorm, in a separate building, sleeps 16. Couples and families are accommodated in a coed dorm or in the “private room,” a single unit that sleeps five and has one bathroom.
Because it was pre-season, we had the private room to ourselves. Metal-framed bunks were topped with worn but comfortable linens and quilts. Deep windows admitted natural light by day, and recessed lights in the ceiling were enough to read by at night. There’s no storage, but there were plenty of hooks on the walls. In the large bath with a walk-in shower, we found towels and a hair dryer. But the nicest feature had nothing to do with the room — it was the fact that each time we crossed the lawn to the main building, we could hear the ocean.
Part of the charm of hostels is the opportunity to meet other travelers. At Star of the Sea, guests have use of a large, well-equipped kitchen, where they can store food, cook, and then dine with other visitors in a common dining room. Breakfast of yogurt, cereal, pancakes or muffins, and coffee is included in the room rate. A sunny den offers books and games, and there’s free Wi-Fi.
Across the street, a path through the sand bordered by dune grass and beach roses leads to a section of Surfside Beach, a beautiful open-ocean strand. Hostel guests can help themselves to beach towels, sunscreen, and insect repellent, and rinse off in the outdoor showers when they return.
The hostel is about 3 miles from downtown and the ferry dock. There’s seasonal bus service to Surfside Beach from late June to Sept. 1, but most people travel around the island by bicycle. If you want to pick up a few groceries first and then take a taxi to the hostel ($12), several companies will deliver bikes to the site.
What can’t you do in a hostel? Drink alcohol, have food in your room, and party all night long (quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.).
While hostels cater to young people, they welcome guests of all ages. The oldest guest at Star of the Sea when we visited was 84-year-old Jan Hamber from Santa Barbara, Calif., who arrived with her 60-year-old son, Bob, on a red scooter. She said she wanted to try something “new and adventurous.”
Hostelling International also operates a hostel on Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven with 67 beds, including accommodations for families and groups. It was selected as the association’s friendliest hostel worldwide in 2011.
STAR OF THE SEA NANTUCKET HOSTEL 31 Western Ave., Nantucket. 508-228-0433, www.hiusa.org/massachusetts/nantucket/nantucket, $37-$40 per person per night.