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BEST YOUTH HOSTEL Phoenix 2004 - Metcalf House

They leave well-rested, well-nourished and well-traveled. But at Metcalf House, a hostel that's more like a home, guests sometimes leave almost as much behind.

The historic hostel is on Ninth Street between Portland and Roosevelt, and part of its charm resides not only within the wood and brick crevices of the almost century-old house, but also in the knickknacks, art and handwritten musings of travelers past. Once you make it through Metcalf's lush front entrance of bamboo, ferns, palms and cactuses, you'll find a handmade cuckoo clock left by a German tourist above the living room fireplace. Tacked to the ceiling above the dining room table are more than a dozen portraits drawn by a visitor who spent six months at Metcalf House. Others leave foreign currency on windowpanes, helpful hints for getting around Phoenix (in foreign languages), or flags of their home country draped across one of the 18 beds the hostel provides.

For $15 a night (or $30 for the hostel's only private room), guests get plenty in return. Manager Sue Gunn is known to mother weary travelers with tidy and cozy accommodations, and the backyard firepit -- with a great view of the downtown skyline -- provides ample ambiance for a night's worth of conversation.

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