By Julia Abballe
Why stress over accessibility while on vacation? Why not enjoy 70 miles of sun-kissed, San Diego beaches, attractions, and that sought-after California vibe, with or without a disability?
The city that boasts 265 days of sunshine a year has worked hard to transform itself into a place that everyone can come and soak up the sun, enjoy the sights, feel the ocean, and test out the California lifestyle. This is why Alana Nichols, a Paralympian Gold Medalist, tells us that San Diego is her favourite place to enjoy the water, the beach and to simply have fun.
Surf, Sun, Sand
Need an assistive mobility device? Usually, the idea of 70 miles of sand and water may not appeal to you, but the great news is that San Diego tourism has made it a priority for everyone to enjoy the city’s main and most prominent attraction. With free manual or power beach wheelchairs, and floating beach chairs offered at some locations, San Diego beaches are made fun for the whole family.
Borrowing technology and design from power wheelchairs and dune buggies, these fabulous beach wheelchairs have large, wide wheels in the back, and smaller wheels in the front, allowing for easy maneuvering over sandy dunes. They also travel along the shore, so the thrill of splashing and dipping your feet in the water can be experienced by everyone.
Through the efforts of the City of San Diego, Port of San Diego, local residents and council members, these hybrid wheelchairs are now accessible at multiple beaches throughout San Diego County: Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Coronado Beach, Silver Strand State Beach (manual chairs only), Imperial Beach, La Jolla Shores and Oceanside Harbor Beach (manual chairs only). Typically available on a first-come-first-served basis, they can also be reserved online or over the phone for some locations. There are both powered and manual chairs available, as well as two floating beach chairs available only at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. Free of charge, seven days a week, at the lifeguard tower, between the hours of 8AM and 5PM. The chairs can be used for up to 2 hours at a time.
San Diego also offers sand access mats on three of their beaches. These mats, held down by large spikes, are laid across the sand, providing a pathway to access the beach. Beach workers sweep the sand off of the mats daily. Find them at Imperial Beach at Pier Plaza and Dunes Park (parking for people with disabilities also nearby), Cardiff State Beach by Lifeguard Tower 15, and Moonlight Beach, where a 150 ft. mat can be found year-round by the lifeguard tower.
Catching a Wave
Surf Diva, a year-round, adaptive surf program offered at La Jolla Shores, is available to visitors (and locals) of all ages and all abilities. They use special adaptive surfboards to cater to the needs of each individual, to allow everyone to experience the uninhibited freedom of riding a wave into the sunset.
“Surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking and waterskiing are all sports that kids and adults can partake in the San Diego area. There are several adaptive surfing programs, specifically, in San Diego including The Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program of San Diego, The Challenged Athletes Foundation, The Junior Seau Foundation Adaptive Surf Program (for kids) and The Stoke for Life Foundation.” – Paralympian Alana Nichols
Seeing the sights of San Diego should be on everybody’s to-do list. Experience San Diego from land, sea or air with one of these tours:
Hornblower Cruises Take to the water once more, but this time, try it out on a lux ship designed with accessibility in mind. Hornblower Cruises and Events is a seven-fleet, charter yacht company offering the experience of seeing the sights of San Diego from the water. Witness dolphins, wales, and the beautiful coastline from up close or catch an iconic California sunset as it dips into the ocean.
You can find accessible ramps on both The Lord Hornblower and Adventure Hornblower, which lead to large viewing windows and restrooms on the main deck. Or you can ride the Inspiration Hornblower which has an accessible ramp and restrooms as well as an elevator that can take you down to the lower deck. It is best to notify the staff that their accessible ramp is needed when booking your reservation. The company also offers assisted listening devices and options at their ticket booth.
Old Town Trolley Tours Sea sick and ready for land? If the water’s not for you, check out the Old Town Trolley hop-on hop-off Tours. Learn about San Diego’s history and take advantage of its unique, entertaining and amusing stories. You can purchase an all-day ticket which allows you unlimited access to the tours, and hop-on-hop-off privileges at eleven different stops, travelling between bustling downtown San Diego, enchanting Balboa Park and charming Coronado Island.
There are three trolleys that have lifts and two spaces for wheelchairs on each. They are available with 24-hour notice. The tour also offers written scripts, and additional description tours for persons living with hearing and vision loss.
Seal Tours During your visit, be sure to check out San Diego’s friendliest faces. Travel land and sea on one of these 90-minute tours, from downtown San Diego to Big Bay and Mission Bay. Take in magnificent views of the city and watch the local sunbathing seals relax and enjoy their natural habitat. There are manual lift boarding options available from Seaport Village.
The Fun Never Ends
There is a reason many have written love songs to the state of California; the lifestyle, the sun-kissed beaches, the oceans, and the endless variety of fun. Whether you’re planning your next family vacation, an adventurous road trip, or a spontaneous getaway, San Diego has everything sought-after in California, plus the dedication and care to all of those facing accessibility barriers when travelling. From accessible outdoor malls and outlet centers, accessibility services at annual events (such as Del Mar Racing Season and Comic-con Convention), an accessible Visitor and Interpretive Center at the Mission Trails Regional Park, and accessibility guides at the world-famous San Diego Zoo—your next vacation is singing the siren’s song for sunny San Diego.
“Because San Diego is so inclusive there is a large community of active people with disabilities that are more than willing to create opportunities for others to get on the water or back into healthy and active lifestyles.” – Paralympian Alana Nichols
- Always be sure to call ahead—when planning your trip, please notify all places, even those who offer accessibility services, of the details of the type of needs required. Most places prefer notice to make any necessary arrangements for your visit.
- The more detail the better—when providing information about the types of special services required, service providers want to know the ins and outs of yours or your travelling companion’s medical requirements, so that they can ensure the best experience and service.
- Word from your doctor—though this may seem like an unnecessary requirement, it is always best to have a doctor’s note and phone number with you while traveling.
- Something to remember—keep in mind that some assisted devices may require the help of another person to utilize. For example, the manual chairs offered at certain beaches require someone to push them along.