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San Diego Offers an Accessible Vacation Destination for All

With its mild climate, 70 miles of sun-kissed coastline, world-famous family attractions and welcoming vibe, San Diego offers an ideal vacation destination for all travelers, regardless of physical ability. To ensure that visitors with disabilities can enjoy San Diego to the fullest, many attractions and activities offer fun and unique experiences that are accessible to all.

The following are eight exciting outdoor activities that people of all abilities can enjoy, taking full advantage of San Diego’s sunny surroundings.

  • As “California’s Beach City,” San Diego features some of the best beaches in the golden state to slather on the sunscreen and go sunbathing, surfing and more. To ensure that all visitors can enjoy the sun, surf and sand, San Diego offers free manual or power beach wheelchairs at nine popular beaches for travelers with disabilities or limited mobility. A hybrid of the common power wheelchair and dune buggies, the power beach wheelchairs are comfortable, sturdy, self-propelled and designed to navigate the soft sands. Most wheelchairs are offered on a first come, first served basis. For more information, visitors can call the following telephone numbers:

    • City of San Diego Beach Wheelchair Line (Mission Bay, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla Shores) (619) 525-8247
    • Coronado Beach (619) 522-7346, ext. 3
    • Silver Strand State Beach (619)-435-0126 (manual beach wheelchairs only)
    • Imperial Beach reservation line (619) 685-7972
    • Oceanside Harbor Beach and Pier Beach (760) 435-4018 (manual beach wheelchairs only)
    Also, two floating beach chairs are available at no charge at the lifeguard tower at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas on a first-come, first-served basis. And Imperial Beach, Cardiff State Beach and Moonlight Beach offer sand access mats to provide an easier pathway for manual wheelchairs to access the beach.
  • Surf Diva at La Jolla Shores offers year-round, adaptive surf programs for visitors of all ages and all abilities – customized for guests’ individual needs – to experience the freedom of riding a wave with the assistance of special adaptive surfboards. Instructors are experienced in teaching students of all adaptive needs, including amputees, visual impairment and limited mobility. Surfboards, ranging in size from 6-foot foamies (soft surfboards) to 12-foot tandem boards, are selected based on the needs and goals of the guest. Life vests and helmets are also provided. Reservations are recommended one week in advance.
  • For an overview of San Diego’s most popular points of interest, accessible sightseeing tours are offered from land, sea or air. Experience the wonders of San Diego Bay aboard Hornblower Cruises & Events' fleet of luxury yachts. Lord Hornblower, modeled after a turn-of-the-century steamship, and Adventure Hornblower both feature an accessible ramp, with large viewing windows on the main deck. And Inspiration Hornblower features an accessible ramp, plus an elevator to the lower deck. Assisted listening options are also available for the narrated portions of the voyage.

    Another exciting, accessible aquatic tour option is SEAL (Sea and Land Adventures) Tours, aboard amphibious vehicles that start in downtown San Diego and splash down into San Diego Bay and Mission Bay, featuring views of the city and its postcard-perfect coastline. Manual lift boarding for wheelchairs is available from Seaport Village.
  • Guests with limited mobility can fly with Rotor Zen Helicopters for birds-eye views of SeaWorld San Diego, Mission Bay, La Jolla Shores, downtown San Diego, the USS Midway, the Coronado Bridge and more. Tours depart from a new ADA-accessible facility, Signature Flight Support, at San Diego International Airport. The crew can assist passengers with boarding the helicopter. Any of the doors can be easily removed and reinstalled to accommodate passengers with special needs. Wheelchairs do not fit on board; however, staff can hold a wheelchair in the lobby and then return it after a tour. Note: Tours require two passengers minimum and can accommodate three passengers maximum per flight.
  • Old Town Trolley Tours, featuring narrated, trackless trolley tours of San Diego’s top sightseeing areas including Old Town, Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, Embarcadero and Coronado, offers three vehicles with lifts, with two wheelchair spaces available on each trolley. Trolleys with lifts are available with 24-hour notice. Written scripts of the entertaining tours are available for the hearing impaired and additional description tours are available for visitors with vision impairment. 
  • Explore one of San Diego’s most diverse coastal wetlands and prime bird watching areas on the ADA-accessible Nature Center Loop Trail at San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in San Diego’s North County. The scenic, mile-long trail provides close-up views of the salt marsh habitat, featuring a boardwalk traversing a riparian woodland habitat and interpretive displays highlighting the reserve’s menagerie of animals and plants. Adventure-filled free Family Fun Days, which takes place on the first Sunday of each month, feature themed explorations of the loop trail, plus hands-on activities, crafts and the opportunity for kids to earn a Junior Ranger Badge.
  • Another natural wonder and the largest urban open space park west of the Mississippi, Mission Trails Regional Park features the Old Mission Dam, a nationally registered historic landmark that includes a wheelchair-accessible pathway to the San Diego River, an excellent area for bird watching and taking in the scenery. The pathway features informational displays and touchable models of the dam and surrounding terrain. At the accessible, state-of-the-art Visitor and Interpretive Center, guests can explore the wonders of nature and learn about the indigenous Kumeyaay people who once lived on this land.
  • The world-famous San Diego Zoo, an urban paradise of lush botanical gardens and naturalistic animal habitats, offers assistance for visitors with disabilities by providing a comprehensive Accessibility Guide and an Accessibility Map of the easily reachable routes. Most of the zoo, including the popular bus tour, is accessible to guests in wheelchairs and others with vision or hearing impairment. The amazing new Africa Rocks exhibit, spotlighting the biodiversity of the African continent from savanna to sea including African penguins, meerkats, Nubian ibex, ring-tailed lemur and Hamadryas baboon, extensively renovated a former steep canyon into a gently winding, ADA-accessible pathway. Don’t miss Africa Rocks’ 7-story, Insta-worthy waterfall at the top of the path, the largest manmade waterfall in San Diego.

Local Paralympian gold medalist Alana Nichols, who enjoys surfing Cardiff Reef, kayaking the caves of La Jolla Cove, sailing on the open ocean and sprint kayak training in Mission Bay for the Paralympic Games, shares her insider tips on San Diego’s adaptive community and accessible ways for visitors to get out and enjoy the coast.

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