18 Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in San Diego
Ah, San Diego. From beaches to a modern downtown to its historic old town, San Diego offers a plethora of activities for wheelchair users. In this post, I’ll cover eighteen amazing wheelchair accessible things to do in San Diego. But first, let’s take a look at how to get around America’s Finest City.
Note: The information here is based on my observation as a non-wheelchair user. If you have firsthand experience as a wheelchair user in San Diego, please let me know about your time there and your recommendations in the comments section. I appreciate it and know that our future readers will, too!
Wheelchair Accessible Vans in San Diego
With so much to explore in San Diego, renting an accessible van is often the best option. Mobility Works understands this. Their rental center is located in La Mesa, which is west of downtown San Diego.
It’s a bit of a jaunt but worth it.
Once you’ve rented your wheelchair accessible van, you’ll be free to explore San Diego, taking advantage of the city’s well-marked accessible parking spaces.
You can also request that your van comes equipped with hand controls and a transfer seat.
Wheelchair Accessible Public Transportation in San Diego
The most popular way to get around downtown San Diego via public transportation is with the trolley. Trolleys are fully accessible and have designated spaces for your chair.
You can also get around San Diego via bus or the Coaster (train). Both are accessible.
You can read more about wheelchair accessible transportation in San Diego on Metropolitan Transportation System’s website.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in San Diego
Now that you know your options for getting around San Diego, let’s dive into the exciting wheelchair accessible things to do there.
This list is in no particular order, so mix and match according to your interests and time.
1. Beach It
With approximately 70 miles of coastline, there are seemingly endless options for beach goers in San Diego.
Although much of San Diego’s coastline has cliffs, there are nearly a dozen beaches that offer manual and/or power beach wheelchairs. You can rent these beach chairs on the spot at lifeguard stations.
Accessible beaches also come equipped with a beach mat. This will take you over the deepest sand. However, the beach mats stop significantly before the shoreline to prevent damage from tides.
Beach mats are only available from May – September. This is because wind and tides are stronger in the fall and winter, making maintenance a challenge.
Most public beaches in San Diego have accessible restrooms.
Because there are so many amazing beaches in San Diego, I’ve put together a full blog post on nine of the best Wheelchair Accessible Beaches in San Diego.
2. Old Town
A visit to the old town is a must during your time in San Diego. And by visiting, you just may feel like you’re in a combination of a western movie and a small Mexican town.
Wheelchair accessibility is excellent in San Diego Old Town. The terrain is flat and paved. The buildings, while old, have almost all been adapted for wheelchair users.
Ramps are abundant, doorways are wide, and spaces are fairly uncluttered. In almost all cases I saw, there was a sign pointing the way to an accessible entrance at stair entrances.
To get a better feel for wheelchair accessibility in San Diego’s old town, click on the video below:
There are accessible restrooms within the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which is free to enter.
I recommend arriving at the Old Town no earlier than 10:00 am. Strolling through the shops and dining at (Mexican) restaurants are much of what creates the Old Town experience.
3. Sea Lion & Seal Sightings
San Diego isn’t only home to humans—sea lions and seals flock there.
The best place to spot these adorable marine mammals is in La Jolla.
Children’s Pool Beach offers a great lookout point for wheelchair users. If you visit from December 15th – May 15th, you’ll get to see baby seals and possibly even a live birth on the beach!
If you visit Children’s Pool Beach outside of these dates, the beach is open to the public. This means that, during the day, seals and sea lions typically avoid the sandy area beneath the accessible viewpoint.
Want to get a taste of what you may see? Click on the video below to watch a Harbor Seal wiggling its way out of the ocean.
Regardless of the time of year you visit, make sure to roll from Children’s Pool Beach to La Jolla Cove. The journey involves a short stroll over a cement sidewalk that offers stunning coastal views.
It’s a near guarantee that you’ll be able to see sea lions and seals anytime of day or night, year round, from La Jolla Cove. As a wheelchair user, you’ll be able to watch them from the sidewalk.
If you’re traveling with able-bodied companions, they can veer off down a dirt path to get closer to the seals and sea lions.
For more details on accessibility and how to spot seals and sea lions, check out our post on Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego.
4. La Jolla
Now that you know La Jolla is home to seals and sea lions, you might be wondering: are there any other accessible things to do in La Jolla?
Yes, there are!
La Jolla is an upper-class district located a short drive north of San Diego. A number of famous people live there, but locals and tourists alike flock to La Jolla to surf, scuba dive, and enjoy the beach.
Speaking of the beach, La Jolla Shores Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego for wheelchair accessibility. It has a wide cement path that runs on the backside of the beach.
It’s a great place to watch surfers and volleyball players without having to get your chair sandy. Of course, there’s always the option to borrow a beach chair from the lifeguard station.
Directly behind La Jolla Shores Beach is a restaurant, shop, and residential area. Sidewalks are abundant and the terrain is flat (a rarity for many San Diego beach districts), making this a superb place for manual wheelchair users to take a stroll and admire the architecture.
La Jolla also offers long, coastal sidewalks that border the cliff. While there’ll be some bushes that obstruct your view here and there, overall you’ll get to enjoy beautiful views of the coast. There are also nice parks along there.
Finally, another great wheelchair accessible thing to do in La Jolla is to enjoy the boutique shops and restaurants along Prospect Street. Sidewalks are wide and the buildings are modern, so they offer great accessibility.
5. Hike in Torrey Pines
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is famous for its Torrey Pine—the rarest pine tree in North America. It sits just north of La Jolla and is a beautiful place to explore San Diego’s natural landscapes.
There are three accessible hiking trails at Torrey Pines. They range from 0.13 miles to just under one mile long.
Along the trails, you’ll get to observe a variety of local flora and viewing areas over mountains, marsh, and the ocean.
The wheelchair accessible trails at Torrey Pines are dirt and are on a flat to mild incline.
Accessible parking is located by the Lodge, and two accessible restrooms are available for wheelchair users.
6. Seaport Village
The adorable Seaport Village feels like a little seaside tourist town far from the large city it’s located in.
Have your camera ready, because photo opportunities abound here. Cute boutique tourist stores, ice cream shops, benches, and a small pond line pedestrian streets.
Seaport is entirely wheelchair accessible, although there’ll be times when you’ll need to follow accessible signs to avoid stairs.
Being so close to the water, Seaport is flat. Certain areas have mild cobblestone brick, but overall the terrain is smooth.
There’s an accessible public restroom at Seaport.
You can easily combine a visit to Seaport with Embarcadero and the Gaslamp Quarter by rolling between the destinations, which we’ll be talking about next.
San Diego’s Embarcadero is a beautiful area of sidewalk and parks that runs along the water.
While the Embarcadero is technically an area confined to Seaport and the cruise ship area, sidewalks run along a big portion of San Diego Bay. So, if you’re up for further exploration, I highly recommend exploring outside of Embarcadero too.
From Embarcadero, you’ll get stunning views of San Diego’s modern skyline from an up close perspective.
If you follow the waterfront sidewalk north towards the airport, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic city views and a mountainous backdrop.
You can also visit the USS Midway Museum from the Embarcadero. This naval aircraft is partially wheelchair accessible, with ramps and elevators in certain sections. According to USS Midway, about 60% of the ship is accessible.
8. Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is a must for lovers of nightlife. And you won’t get bored easily with over 200 shops, restaurants, clubs, bars, and art galleries.
The Gaslamp Quarter is one of the excellent wheelchair accessible things to do in San Diego thanks to its easy access from downtown areas like Embarcadero and Seaport.
Streets are flat and sidewalks are made up of smooth brick. While the sidewalks are spacious overall, you may find yourself needing to navigate tighter spaces from time to time due to outdoor seating.
9. Del Mar
If you can manage to pull yourself away from beautiful downtown San Diego, consider taking a trip up north to Del Mar.
Del Mar is a beachside town known for its parks, boutique shops, great restaurants, and horseracing.
Wheelchair users will find it easy to explore Del Mar thanks to wide sidewalks and accessible shops. Del Mar Beach has wheelchair accessible access via a beach mat.
But above all, what sets Del Mar apart is its beautiful Powerhouse Park. Wheelchair users can use a dirt path that circles this park to explore it. Alternatively, head onto the grass. Thanks to San Diego’s dry weather, it would be rare for your wheels to get stuck because of rain.
Encinitas is another coastal gem in San Diego. It’s located a few miles north of Del Mar and has a longer stretch of shops and restaurants.
There are some nice lookout points over the water at Encinitas from on top of the cliff. An excellent option is Sea Cliff Park, which is near the entrance to Encinitas when driving up from downtown.
Highway 101 has the highest concentration of shops and restaurants. Here, the terrain is flat and sidewalks are wide.
However, if you plan on visiting the beach, it’s best to drive to nearby Moonlight State Beach. This is both because of beach accessibility and because reaching the coast from Highway 101 generally involves a steep downhill trip.
Coronado is a famous resort town on a peninsula that juts away from downtown San Diego.
It’s known for its luxury Hotel del Coronado, which has Victorian architecture. In fact, this hotel was the largest resort in the world at the time of its opening in 1888.
Wondering if you can stay there?
Yep! Hotel del Coronado offers wheelchair accessible rooms with roll-in showers.
The main things to do in Coronado are drool at the hotel and enjoy the wide, white sand Coronado Beach.
Coronado Beach is wheelchair accessible, with temperature regulating beach mats and beach wheelchairs.
Downtown San Diego is filled with modern skyscrapers, artwork, trendy shops, and restaurants.
Seaport, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Embarcadero all make up a portion of downtown, but I encourage you to stroll the streets outside of these areas.
Downtown San Diego is clean, has wide sidewalks in most areas, and is refreshingly flat. It’s the perfect place for wheelchair users to explore.
Travel Tip: For great views over downtown San Diego, grab a drink at the Altitude Sky Lounge which is located on the 22nd floor of the Marriott.
13. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is the green lung of San Diego. This 1,200-acre property is home to gardens, museums, theaters, and the famous San Diego Zoo.
Wheelchair accessibility in Balboa Park is excellent, making this one of the many wonderful accessible things to do in San Diego.
In fact, you could easily spend an entire day there, assuming you enter the buildings and zoo.
The only tricky aspect to Balboa Park can be finding an accessible parking space. So, aim to arrive earlier or later in the day in order to have a better chance of snagging a spot.
San Diego is a foodie mecca, particularly for lovers of Mexican, seafood, and healthy food.
California is known for its health culture, and San Diego follows suit perfectly. Its restaurants range from luxury to chic cafes to street food.
San Diego is a modern city, so nearly all buildings are up to ADA standards.
With so many cafes, restaurants, and taco stands to choose from, incorporating food adventures into your San Diego itinerary is a must!
15. Harbor Cruise
By now you will have gotten to know San Diego well by land, but what about by water?
That’s where a harbor cruise comes into play. There are a number of different wheelchair accessible harbor cruise options in San Diego.
- Lord Hornblower and Adventure Hornblower. These ships have a ramp. The main deck is accessible with large windows and an accessible restroom.
- Inspiration Hornblower. Board this ship by ramp and then enjoy exploring its main and lower decks via an elevator. It also has an accessible restroom.
There are a variety of harbor cruises you can choose from, ranging from 1 – 2-hour trips along the coast to dinner cruises to whale watching to Sunday brunch cruises.
16. Fletcher Park
Fletcher Park is located in Solana Beach, tucked between Del Mar and Encinitas.
This little gem offers accessible parking with a stunning accessible viewpoint on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
From the viewpoint, stroll down to a flat, grassy area. During the summer, a band plays here on Thursday evenings.
If you’re itching to get down by the water, a steep cement ramp leads down to it. Right before you hit the sand, there’s another accessible viewpoint where you can get a closer view of the surfers and beachgoers.
Feel free to continue all the way down to the sand, although unfortunately, Solana Beach doesn’t have a beach mat. Nonetheless, it’s well worth the visit to get off the regular tourist path and enjoy breathtaking sunsets.
Get Out and Explore San Diego!
With its stunning coastlines, modern downtown, beautiful parks, and delicious food, San Diego offers countless wheelchair accessible things to do.
If you’re a wheelchair user who has been to San Diego, I’d love to hear about your own experience and favorite spots, along with any places I missed here. Alternatively, if you have questions about wheelchair accessibility in San Diego, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.
P.S.- Don’t forget to head over to our guide on Wheelchair Accessible Beaches in San Diego.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.