How to Explore San Francisco With Wheelchairs and Strollers

  • How to Explore San Francisco With Wheelchairs and Strollers

    With these travel tips and destinations in mind, you are sure to have a wonderful visit to the City by the Bay.

    Anyone who has traveled with a stroller or by wheelchair knows that it can be a challenge to figure out what neighborhoods and attractions you can access in a new city, making travel planning a nightmare. So, if you are looking to plan a vacation that is accessible to everyone in your family or travel party, look no further than San Francisco. While San Francisco might be one of the hilliest cities in the world (second after La Paz, Bolivia), it is also one of the most accessible with lots of wide sidewalks and ramps making way for strollers and wheelchairs. “San Francisco has a lot to offer everyone, including those who are limited to wheelchair accessible areas,” says Cory Lee, accessible travel expert and owner of CurbFreeCoryLee. Cory was able to see many attractions using his motorized wheelchair and had a great time. My mother, sister, and I took to the streets of San Francisco with our kids, strollers in hand, to find out for ourselves where you can go with your own four wheels and the whole family. These family-friendly spots are easy to explore with strollers and wheelchairs, so everyone can join in on the fun.

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  • Chrissy Field

    With dramatic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, Chrissy Field is a popular spot for a walk or an afternoon at the beach. The hard-packed trail through Chrissy Field is a perfect surface for walking or strolling from the Marina Green to Fort Point. You will also find picnic spots and restrooms along the way. If you need a pick-me-up, pop into the Warming Hut for a hot drink or a snack, or grab food at one of the delicious restaurants on Chestnut Street.  You can even decide to travel across the Golden Gate Bridge like Cory Lee did on his trip. Park in the East Beach Crissy Field Parking Lot or any of the other paid lots in the area.

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  • Walt Disney Family Museum

    Located in the nearby Presidio, the Walt Disney Family Museum is perfect for Disney fans of all ages. The museum is housed in former U.S. Army barracks and showcases the life and times of Walt Disney with a view into early animations. There are also a host of rotating exhibits, including one on Walt Disney and World War II.  The museum is free for active-duty military and veterans and offers complimentary manual wheelchairs onsite on a first-come, first-served basis. The museum strives to be accessible for all audiences with video sign-language tours for the hard of hearing, noise-canceling headphones for those with sensory processing sensitivities, and accessible walkways for wheelchairs and strollers. Parking is available in metered spots or parking lots throughout the Presidio.

    Chris Labasco/Dreamstime

  • Golden Gate Park

    Golden Gate Park is a destination with many destinations within it. The park itself has while sidewalks with plenty of room for wheelchairs and strollers, and clearly marked ramps for wheelchairs. You can wander the park taking in the beautifully designed buildings, groves, and greenery, pick a spot for a picnic, or see one of the attractions. The California Academy of Sciences is a kid-favorite with its interactive and modern exhibits, animals, rainforest, world-class planetarium, and a living roof. Find details on accessible parking and entrance here. The Japanese Tea Gardens are a sight to behold with their beautiful temples, Japanese-style gardens and tea house, but it not entirely accessible by stroller or wheelchair, as some areas just have stairs (full disclosure: we got stuck in some areas and had to carry the stroller up the stairs). The Conservatory of Flowers is also a stunning spot to share the plant world with the whole family and is accessible for both motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs. There is free street parking or paid parking lots in Golden Gate Park. Due to a rise in car break-ins in Golden Gate Park, we recommend parking in a paid or secure parking lot, as someone broke into our car and stole our diaper bag.

    Irina Kosareva/Shutterstock

  • The Ferry Building Marketplace

    Sitting on the water near the base of the Bay Bridge and the end of Market Street, the Ferry Building Marketplace has been a San Francisco landmark since 1898. Today the iconic structure is an ideal place to feed the family with dozens of kiosks and restaurants from top local producers. Find gourmet ice cream, local cheeses, fresh-baked bread, fruit, oysters, Vietnamese food, and burgers. There is plenty of room to move around in the building. This is also the spot where you can catch a ferry to Larkspur, Sausalito, or Alcatraz. Ferry boat operators have accessible boats. Parking can be a challenge in this area so public transportation is recommended, but there are a few accessible parking spots nearby.

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  • The Exploratorium

    Located along the Waterfront between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium inspires the inner scientist in all of us with interactive exhibits that mix art and science. This sprawling museum has six different areas to experience with unique games, exhibits, and even plants you can pet (our kids really loved the plants)! You will learn about gravity from a slinky, hear sound travel across the room with unique sound receptors, and capture light’s reflection through water-specialized cameras. You can also see floor-to-ceiling views of the San Francisco Bay, making it a crowd-pleaser.

    Talia Salem

  • Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf

    One of the most popular and touristy parts of San Francisco, the twin attractions of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf offer dozens of restaurants, museums, and attractions to entertain the whole family. Kids love to see the barking sea lions that perch themselves between the two sites. Not all attractions are stroller or wheelchair-friendly, and these areas can get quite crowded during peak times making it difficult to get around. There are parts of the area that have a wooden boardwalk, which can be a bit more challenging with a wheelchair. If you have a sweet tooth, continue along the waterfront to Ghirardelli Square, the historic home of the chocolate factory, which now offers the original chocolate shop, as well as restaurants and other stores.

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  • Bonus Tip: Plan Your In-Destination Transportation in Advance

    “When I start planning any trip, the first thing I look for is transportation within the destination,” says Cory Lee. “If there wasn’t any accessible transportation, I would be stuck. You would be unable to even leave the airport.” For his SF trip, Cory rented his wheelchair van from MobilityWorks in San Francisco. If you are traveling with a stroller, driving or renting a car with ample truck space might be your best option. Cab companies like Luxor offer paratransit transportation services in San Francisco. Public transportation in San Francisco also offers many accessible features like wheelchair ramps, lifts, and priority seating, but they can be crowded during rush hour. After you figure out how you are going to get around, then you can look into how you are going to get there.

     

    Michael Vi/Shutterstock

  • Bonus Tip: Find Like-Minded Facebook Groups and Ask for Travel Tips

    There are many travel groups for various audiences that are teeming with insights and information for your trip. Do you research online and in these groups before your travel. “Accessible travel Facebook Groups are great resources,” says Cory Lee. “I love getting first-hand perspectives from other wheelchair users.”

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  • Bonus Tip: Call Before You Dine as a Family

    Call restaurants in advance to make sure they have handicap-accessible bathrooms, highchairs, and accessible ramps. Online listings and reservation apps can be out of date or lack essential information needed to decide where to eat. Some of the other establishments might not be as accessible or kid-friendly. “Calling ahead is always a good idea,” says Cory Lee.

    Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

  • Bonus Tip: Plan your Accommodations Shrewdly

    While most hotels in San Francisco are wheelchair accessible, finding family-friendly hotels or guest room configurations can be a challenge. Getting multiple hotel rooms or suites in San Francisco can be costly. Consider staying in Oakland or a surrounding area for more affordable and potentially larger accommodations. Call the hotel before to make sure that they have all of the amenities and accommodations you are looking for, as some hotels have adjusted their operations due to COVID-19.

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  • Bonus Tip: Pack Layers for Fickle SF Weather

    It is not uncommon to see shivering tourists surprised by the brisk summer weather buying overpriced San Francisco sweatshirts because they didn’t dress warmly. Save yourself the expense and fashion faux pas by packing layers for you and the whole family. San Francisco, and the greater Bay Area, have many microclimates due to its topography and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, so the weather can change dramatically throughout the day and even between neighborhoods.

    Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock

  • Bonus Tip: Plan Walking Judiciously

    While San Francisco is very accessible and walkable, some neighborhoods are quite hilly and hard to get around with manual wheelchairs or strollers. Nob Hill, Russian Hill, parts of North Beach, Downtown, Pacific Heights, and Cow Hollow have some formidable inclines. Plan accordingly or plan for a workout.

    With these travel tips and destinations in mind, you are sure to have a wonderful visit to the City by the Bay.

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