Hostel Adventure Program welcomes San Francisco's Latchkey Kids

Some San Francisco kids have never been out of their inner-city neighborhoods, let alone on a beach. This summer, a pilot partnership between the City of San Francisco's Latchkey Program and the Hostel Adventure Program of HI-USA Golden Gate Council brought 200 urban youth out of the noise and concrete of the city to the rolling hills and dramatic coastline of the Marin Headlands for a day of environmental education.

On five separate days in August, the Hostel Adventure Program (HAP) hosted daylong sessions for youth participants from ten different Latchkey Summer Camp sites. As the name “latchkey” implies, these camps serve potentially at-risk urban children ages 6-13, who would otherwise stay home alone during the day while their parents are at work. For many, HAP is their first venture into nature. Using the Marin Headlands Hostel as a base camp, HAP naturalists engaged the kids with a hands-on curriculum featuring the environment, ecology, art, sensory awareness, and interpersonal skills.

“Not only is this a fantastic opportunity for the kids to step out of the familiar comfort of their neighborhoods, but once they have this first experience in the natural world they will understand it as more than just an abstract concept. It becomes real to them, and conservation and the environmental crises they hear about every day, like global warming, will be issues they’ll be more aware of as they continue to grow,” says Ali Cannon, director of HAP and Educational Programs Coordinator for the Golden Gate Council.

Experiential learning is at the core of HAP, and if done well the kids don’t even realize they’re being educated. As the youth participants from Latchkey’s Midtown Terrace and Miraloma sites followed naturalist Leah Mowery on a hike down a dirt path lined with encroaching greenery towards the distant blue sparkle of the Pacific, they tasted fresh fennel, discovered caterpillar cocoons, swung on eucalyptus trees, and most importantly, memorized a rhyme identifying the differences between poison oak and blackberry plants.

After chasing waves on the beach, the kids were blindfolded and challenged to walk up a steep, rocky path from the beach, necessitating a great deal of team work, communication, and cooperation. They had a lesson on animals’ camouflage disguised as a game of hide-and-seek, and took turns taking “trust falls” from the top of a picnic table into the interlocked arms of their teammates.

Since its establishment in 1986, the Hostel Adventure Program has served more than 20,000 kids, targeting at-risk, underserved, urban youth and aiming to develop their appreciation and understanding of nature, interpersonal skills, and intercultural understanding.

Most HAP programs include overnight stays at HI hostels, where State and National Parks serve as the base for exploring coastal and woodland habitats around the Marin Headlands, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Point Montara. The hostel stays are an exceptional part of the HAP experience, because kids get the chance to be in a communal living environment, as well as the rare opportunity of sleeping in a setting lit by stars rather than city lights.

At $40 per student per day, the program costs about half the price of comparable programs while also offering scholarships to groups based on need.

To book a Hostel Adventure, contact Educational Programs Coordinator Ali Cannon, at or (415) 863-1444 ext.310. For information on how to donate to the HAP scholarship fund, click here or call (415) 863-1444.

Tagged in 
If You Go