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Top 10 Accessible Attractions in San Diego
By: Yudit Frei | Feb 21 2017
With year-round sunshine and a laid back vibe, San Diego is an enticing mix of parks, beaches and natural beauty combined with the urban pleasures of shopping and dining. Discover the history of early America and Mexico, explore a 170-year-old lighthouse and visit one of the largest aircraft carriers in the world. Much of San Diego is accessible, as the city tries hard to make attractions available to everyone. There are many places to rent wheelchairs and scooters, including beach wheelchairs at specific beaches. The non-profit organization Accessible San Diego offers a free guide to the city, and can consult via phone or email with visitors who may have questions.

Downtown Seaport Village Kites | Courtesy SanDiego.org

1.Balboa Park
1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
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Balboa Park California Tower | Courtesy Museum of Man

Balboa Park is America’s largest urban park, home to 17 museums, 8 performance spaces, 15 restaurants and a number of attractions including the San Diego Zoo. There are 19 separate garden areas, 65 miles of hiking and biking trails, 5 children’s play areas and 3 dog parks. With so much to choose from, it’s easy to spend a whole day in Balboa Park.

The Natural History Museum here is particularly accessible and offers free wheelchair rental, assistive listening systems and entrance for service dogs. Each museum is run independently, so visitors should check accessibility before a visit. Wheelchair users and those with limited mobility can benefit from the long smooth walkways around the park; it is recommended to avoid the hilly areas. You can also rent an Electriquette Wicker Cart (you must be over 16 and have a driver’s license) and ride down the historical Prado, or rent a surrey bike with place for 2, 4 or 6 people to tour the streets or the bike trails.

The Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden have smooth, wide paths suitable for wheelchairs. The two public restrooms in the park have wheelchair accessible facilities. Many, but not all, of the museums and restaurants have an accessible bathroom. The Prado Restaurant, which offers fine dining and California cuisine, in the park is wheelchair accessible.

There are many accessible tram and bus stops around the park. Check the park map to see the stop that is closest to where you would like to visit. The map also shows the location of the many parking areas; all have accessible parking places but at peak season these are filled quickly so it’s advisable to arrive before 10 a.m. There are two taxi stands in the park, one by the San Diego Zoo and the other in the Plaza de Panama in the center of the park.
2. SeaWorld San Diego
500 Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109
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Girls Feeding Dolphins | Courtesy SeaWorld

SeaWorld is one of San Diego’s most popular attractions, home to Shamu the orca whale, turtles, penguins, sharks and other sea life. As well as animal attractions and shows, there are also theme park style rides. SeaWorld, and many of its rides and attractions as well as most of its restrooms are accessible.

This guide offers details about requirements for each attraction, and contains comprehensive information about accessibility in the park. All Sea World staff have taken Disability Sensitivity Training and you are advised to start your visit at Guest Services, who will strive to meet your needs. There are electric and manual wheelchairs and strollers available for rent. Gift shops and theatres are accessible by ramps.

For visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing, ASL sign language interpretation is available with two weeks notice. Scripts of all shows are available at Guest Services. For those who are blind or have low vision, a guide can be booked two weeks prior to your visit. Guests who are blind must be accompanied by a companion on all rides. Service animals are welcome. Accessible parking is available by the main gate. Spaces are large enough for vans. There is an accessible Metropolitan Transit System bus approximately every 15 minutes from the Old Town Transit Center.
3. USS Midway Museum
910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
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Downtown USS Midway | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

The Midway is a decommissioned floating aircraft carrier which is now home to a self-guided audio walking tour, suitable for all ages. The tour can take up to 3 hours and museum guides throughout the Midway are happy to answer questions and tell stories.

About 60% of the museum is wheelchair accessible and there is elevator access between decks. There is also a video shown on the main deck of all the museum exhibits, which is especially beneficial for those who cannot get to see them in person. Some complimentary wheelchairs are available for use. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are situated on the hangar deck.

To assist those who are deaf, devices are available with a touchscreen featuring an ASL sign language interpreter and close captions. There is also a script of the audio tour available. An audio descriptive tour is available at no extra cost for those who are blind or have low vision. If you wish to book a tour, plan at least 48 hours before your visit. Trained service animals are welcome, but not those who are still “in training.”

The Midway is accessible by train or trolley. There is accessible parking by the main ticket booth and additional parking can be found in Navy Pier, which offers elevators in the West Garage.
4. San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
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Couple and Trainer Brushing Rhino | Courtesy San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is situated in Balboa Park, has been voted the Best Zoo in the World on TripAdvisor. It is one of the biggest zoos in the United States – one of only four zoos that is home to giant panda and the place with the largest koala population outside Australia.

The Zoo just opened the first phase of a new eight-acre exhibit called Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks. The largest in the 100-year-old zoo’s history, the expansion is a $68 million project that transforms 1930s-era grottos and enclosures with new habitats for African plant and animal species that range from savanna to shore. Africa Rocks renovates what was previously a steep canyon into a gently winding, ADA-accessible pathway through a West African forest, acacia woodlands, Ethiopian highlands, kopje gardens and a Madagascar habitat.

You can download an accessibility guide and a map, which shows which areas are wheelchair accessible. Blue paths are advised for guests in wheelchairs. Other areas are also wheelchair accessible but certain parts are very steep and may be difficult. Moving walkways are not suitable for mobility devices. The tram tour has space in the front car for a person in a wheelchair. There is also a free shuttle bus in the zoo.

There is wheelchair access to all shows. You can rent a wheelchair (price on request) or get an “Easy Access Pass” which is helpful for those with limited mobility. Staff are not allowed to help a person in or out of a chair or provide medical assistance of any kind. Accessible restrooms are located throughout the park. Assistance for the hearing and visually impaired is available but must be booked in advance. Scripts and assisted listening devices are available for the shows. Service animals are welcome, but you need to be aware that certain areas have limited or restricted access to animals. Kennels are available if you wish to leave your service animal and visit these areas.

The zoo provides parking for guests with disabilities or you can take the #7 MTS bus.

Top Tip: There is free admission for caregivers and companions of people with disabilities.
5. Seaport Village
849 West Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101
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Downtown Seaport Village Marina | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining complex, with 54 shops and 17 eateries. Musicians and caricature artists line the wide streets and there is even an old fashioned carousel. There are special events year around, including at Easter and Christmas. 

Don't miss The Headquarters at Seaport, a newer shopping center set in historic Police Headquarters from 1939, now converted to an open-air market offering a range of shops & eateries.

The wide flat streets of Seaport Village are great for wheelchairs and those with service animals. Outdoor concerts, attractions and photography opportunities are perfect for all visitors. For a wheelchair accessible restaurant, try Sally’s Seafood on the Water. There are accessible restrooms throughout the complex. There is a convenient accessible trolley stop, or it is a five-minute walk from the Santa Fe Train Depot. Paid parking is available.
6. Old Town, San Diego State
4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
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Old Town Bazaar del Mundo | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

Old Town San Diego is a historic park devoted to recreating life in the Mexican and early American period. There are historical attractions as well as theater, galleries, eateries and shopping, live entertainment and actors in period costumes. The park covers seven city streets, which are closed to private vehicles.

Modifications are being made to make the site more accessible and this is a work in progress. Many of the historic structures have been modified and now have wide entranceways and ramps, but some small doors and staircases remain. Exhibits which are accessible include The Robinson Rose House Visitor Information Center and gift shop, the Mason Street School, the Union Printing Office, the first floor of the Seeley Stable Museum, the exterior of La Casa de Estudillo and its garden, the Courthouse Jail exhibit, and La Casa de Machado y Silvas. The Old Town Theater and Cosmopolitan Hotel are fully accessible. The ground floors of the shops and restaurants are wheelchair accessible.

Staff are available to help if needed. Restrooms throughout the park are also accessible, with the exception of the restrooms at the Fiesta de Reyes. Assistive listening systems and touchable artifacts are available at the Visitor Center. An American Sign Language interpreter can be booked a week in advance. There is a trolley stop nearby. Accessible parking is available at various points, but Lot C is not advisable.
7. Petco Park
100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
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Downtown PETCO Park | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

San Diego’s baseball park – home to the San Diego Padres - is a great place to catch a game or do a behind the scenes tour. The stadium was designed with accessibility in mind. There is accessible seating located in all price categories. If you have specific questions, you can refer to the Guests with Disabilities Guide or contact the San Diego Padres' Coordinator of Disabled Guest Services at (619) 795-5181.

Petco Park will provide you with a wheelchair escort to and from your seat. There are even electrical outlets for charging equipment near to the disabled seating areas. Elevators and wheelchair lifts are readily available. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are available at Sections 109, 202, 219, 310, and 311 Assistive Listening Devices, braille and large print menus are all available at Guest Service Centers throughout the park. Closed captioning for announcements can be accessed on any smartphone with the ‘MLB at the Ballpark’ app. If you don’t have a smartphone, rent an iPod Touch from guest services. Service animals are welcome. Behind-the-scenes tours are also wheelchair accessible, but wheelchairs are not provided.

At present, the tour does not cater to visitors who are deaf or blind. There is parking for guests with disabilities at 6th and K Parkade. Petco Park offers a courtesy shuttle service to and from nearby parking lots. Three trolley stations - 12th and Imperial, Park (12th) and Market and the Gaslamp Quarter Station (Fifth Avenue and Harbor Drive) reach Petco Park and there are many buses. You can also come by ferry leaving Coronado every 30 minutes.
8. Boat Tours

Whale Watching Harbor Excursions | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

A sightseeing tour by boat is a great way to get to know the San Diego area. Many companies run boat tours. Hornblower Cruises and Events is a particularly accessible company, with three boats that have an access ramp, large viewing windows and accessible restrooms on the main deck. Access to the top deck is via stairs only. They also offer assisted listening devices for the tour. Hornblower offers dinner or brunch cruises, harbor tours and whale watching.

Seal Tours runs amphibious tours that begin on land and continue in the sea, for 90 minutes of narrated sightseeing. Seal Tours has a special manual wheelchair lift to assist people to board. They ask for 24 hours notice so that they can arrange as much help as possible for people who need assistance.
9. Point Loma
Point Loma, San Diego, CA
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Downtown View from Point Loma | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

Point Loma is a hilly peninsula in southern San Diego. It is historically significant as the landing place of the first Europeans in California and is home to residential and commercial areas, military bases and a university. For visitors, Point Loma is best known for the Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse, as well as whale watching tours.

In 2005, Cabrillo National Park won an award for their commitment to universal design and equal opportunities. Most of the park around Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse is wheelchair accessible, with pathways and ramps. You can pick up a special pass at the visitor’s center that allows those with limited mobility to drive all the way to the lighthouse. However, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a historical structure and the only way to the top is using the stairs.

Wheelchair accessible drinking fountains and telescopes are situated in the park. A wheelchair is available for loan at the visitor’s center. A unisex accessible restroom is available at the visitor center. Some exhibits inside the lighthouse incorporate touch screens and audio/visual technology and all films have captions.

The park has incorporated a number of tactile models that explain the history and topography of the park, especially for persons who are blind or have low vision. A bronze whale model is situated at the whale lookout, so that everyone can understand the size and features of a whale. In addition, the park brochure is available in braille format. Service animals are allowed, but other animals are not.

Municipal Bus #84 stops at the park’s visitor center. Accessible parking is available. H&M Landing runs whale watching and deep sea fishing trips from Point Loma. The crew will lift your manual wheelchair onto the deck and help with your fishing gear. They are unable to lift electric wheelchairs.
10. La Jolla Cove
Coast Blvd S, La Jolla, CA 92037
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La Jolla Beach | Courtesy Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org

An ideal spot for swimming, snorkeling and diving – La Jolla is a small, ecologically protected beautiful beach with water that is calm and full of marine life.

Sadly, this particular attraction is not wheelchair friendly. Access is only by stairs or down a steep incline. The showers and toilet facilities at La Jolla Cove are also not accessible. However, above the beach is the Ellen Browning Scripps Park, which has a concrete walkway along the cliffs and offers some stunning views. And nearby, La Jolla Shores Beach has special beach wheelchairs with wide tires for the sand and areas of the beach that are accessible by regular wheelchair.

Accessible parking is available in nearby lots, but the parking gets full early in the summer months. Public transportation closest to the cove is the #30 bus.

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