We choose to hostel not just because we’re looking to pinch a few pennies while travelling, but for the feeling that seems to only exist in these spaces. At hostels, strangers don’t seem that strange and the commonness of everyone’s adventurous spirits is far more important than any differences that might exist. Because as most seasoned hostellers can attest, it’s the people that make the experience – not just the travelers you may be sharing a dorm with, but the staff of locals who make sure that you head to your next destination feeling enriched and renewed. At HI San Francisco City Center, there’s no better example of this than Anthony Jones, the hostel’s activities and engagement coordinator. Anthony is the person in charge of helping you get to know as much about San Francisco as you can, whether it’s during one of his famed Chinatown walking tours, a communal dinner or a movie night.
“Everything for me is shaped by the idea of family,” says Anthony. “My family are immigrants so travel is very much part of it and so is the fact that they were able to stick together journeying together from Greece. So this idea that you are stronger in the many, and the many become one has just been something in my mind forever.”
A San Francisco native, Anthony has been the activities coordinator at the hostel since 2009, and the chapters of his life and past have colored the entire vibe of HI SF City Center. He spent time in seminary school, and though he didn’t end up becoming a priest, Anthony carried the elements of monastic life with him through his days as a music teacher and then eventually into his position at City Center. In fact, he adds, there are many similarities between monasteries and hostels: every individual has a role that is part of the greater good at both institutions, and both function well when there is consistency of activity. “I think that a lot of what I do here is modelled after what I’ve experienced at the monasteries,” he says. “I’ve shaped it in that kind of way without the religious element to it. It’s more of a practice of community and shared responsibility.”
The hostel’s decorations and activities reflect Anthony’s open-minded spirituality and his belief in the importance of cultural celebrations as a means to honor the uniqueness of people and the oneness of people. As you walk into HI SF City Center you might notice the Asian-influenced décor that seems to match the very Western Christmas tree; or the Dia de los Muertos theme in Ivy’s Place, the hostel’s bar. His tea tastings celebrate the ritual in the pouring and drinking of the medicinal brews, and when you get to Chinatown, it’s not just about the fortune cookies (though they are great!), but also about the traditions and spirituality in the Eastern temples.
An important part of Anthony’s role in coordinating events that bring hostellers together for a good time is enabling them to connect with the local community as well. The idea is to make visitors feel like they are surrounded by San Francisco – through the art and the people and the smells and the music – without leaving the building, and to encourage them to get to know the neighborhood too. HI SF City Center is in the Tenderloin, an area of downtown with a really rich history, a few rough edges and residents that could use a helping hand, so some of Anthony’s events are created with this community in mind.
“The things that we do here are all connected,” he asserts. “Our communal dinners are not only connected to the local community as far as the food that we serve, but they also go to helping [local charity] GLIDE as our donations go directly to that organization.” To Anthony, it’s important that the issues of the Tenderloin are acknowledged and respected so that guests get to see the bigger picture during their travels and perhaps leave with a greater sense of understanding and empathy.
Because in the end, it all comes back to the connectedness that even the most independent of travelers are looking for when they stay at a hostel. As Anthony says, there’s a difference between the idea of being alone and being solitary, and you can be solitary at any HI USA hostel while also feeling very much a part of a temporary family. At HI SF City Center, you’ll get the extra bit of sacred magic that Anthony has created from his passion for his city and love of community.