Mary Lanyon Fay, San Diego civic leader and education activist, started the San Diego Hostel movement in 1938. She inspired the development of a chain of hostels that were used by traveling bicycle groups. In 1959, the San Diego Council of American Youth Hostels became a not-for-profit organization.
In 1971, the energy and commitment to global awareness compelled the San Diego Council to expand its vision and join Hostelling International’s team of over 4,000 not-for-profit hostels worldwide. The Council celebrated its adoption into the Hostelling International USA team by opening the doors of the first Hostelling International San Diego hostel in the YMCA building downtown. In 1979, it purchased a property in Point Loma and created the Hostelling International San Diego, Point Loma Hostel, a comfortable 53-bed hostel close to the beach.
On April 1, 1997, the Downtown hostel moved to its current location, 521 Market Street, in the heart of the historic Gaslamp District. This urban hostel sleeps 150 people, and provides U.S. and International travelers with safe, affordable overnight accommodations.
In 2009, Hostelling International USA celebrated its 75th Anniversary and the 100th Anniversary of hostelling. The San Diego Council hosted a series of events to celebrate its history with the community.