Cory Lee is a wheelchair user, travel addict, and accessible travel writer. On his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, he hopes to inspire others to roll out of their comfort zones and see all the beauty our world has to offer.
If you are a wheelchair user who loves to travel, then you know how challenging trip planning can be. Often a tremendous amount of research is needed to determine how accessible a city is, and it is really disappointing when a place isn’t very wheelchair friendly. Fortunately, I’ve found that many of the major US cities are quite accessible. Here are five of my favorite US cities that you should definitely visit.
Washington, DC is one of my favorite cities and is widely considered to be one of the most accessible cities in the entire world.
If you are a wheelchair user, one possibility is to travel by Metro, a subway system with six lines and 91 stations. You can board the trains easily from the station platforms, and all stations are equipped with elevators. However, bear in mind that the elevators can be a couple of blocks from the main entrance to the stations, and they tend to be very slow and old. All buses and Amtrak trains are completely accessible.
There are also several companies that offer accessible taxis, which is typically the easiest way to get around.
All of the major DC attractions are wheelchair friendly, including all of the Smithsonian museums. You won’t want to miss visiting the Air and Space Museum, located near the National Mall. Here you can see the Apollo 11 command module, Soviet rockets, and much more! I also really recommend visits to the Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History.
Cherry Blossoms in DC. (Photo: washington.org)
You won’t want to miss seeing the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments located in the National Mall. The Mall has well maintained pathways and lawns, so you should have no trouble maneuvering here as you check out the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, and many other attractions.
Another site worth visiting is Arlington National Cemetery, which is located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. The cemetery extends over 620 acres, and over 400,000 American soldiers are buried here. It is also home to many monuments and memorials. There are paved paths throughout the cemetery, and it is easily accessible for wheelchair users.
Las Vegas is another US city that is extremely wheelchair friendly, from hotels to transportation options and the wide range of activities.
The best way to get around Las Vegas is by taxi, and there is an abundance of wheelchair accessible cabs. When I visited the city, I stayed at the Planet Hollywood Resort, and there was always an accessible taxi available when I needed one. I never had to wait more than a few minutes for a cab, which is a huge improvement over many other cities.
The casinos and theaters on the Vegas strip are overall quite accessible. A great time can be had on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, where there is an amazing variety of casinos, shows, museums, and even a zip-line. If you are a wheelchair user, there is a good chance you will be able to ride on the zip-line, which lets you fly by the major Fremont Street sites.
Another incredible Vegas attraction is the enormous High Roller Ferris Wheel, with a diameter of 520 feet. Each ride lasts 30 minutes and lets you take in breathtaking views of the city. The High Roller is completely accessible, with ramps leading up to the spacious pods, which fit up to 40 people. I have been on the High Roller and found that there is plenty of room in the pod for a wheelchair user to maneuver.
One of the most exciting experiences for Vegas tourists is an accessible hot air balloon ride over the Las Vegas Valley. This adventure is made possible by a company called Love is in the Air Ballooning, which is located a short distance outside of the city. You can easily get there by an accessible taxi and the experience is well worth it!
Hot air ballooning over Vegas. (Photo: Cory Lee)
One side of the basket folds down into a ramp so you can roll in easily and a locking system secures your wheelchair in place. They also strap you in a harness for extra security, and I felt perfectly safe throughout the experience. Best of all, the balloons have panoramic windows which allow wheelchair users perfect views of the scenery. If you make it to Las Vegas, I highly recommend a ride on a hot air balloon!
San Antonio, Texas is a city with many accessible tourist attractions and extensive transportation options.
The River Walk consists of a series of pathways that follow the San Antonio River for five miles. Most of it is accessible and there are many areas where a wheelchair user can easily enter. The northern section of the River Walk is newer, and all bridges are accessible in this section.
The overall accessibility of the River Walk makes travel through the city much easier for visitors in wheelchairs. There are elevators at several points and the majority of the entrances have ramps. In general, most city sidewalks slope down to the curb at intersections, which makes crossing streets relatively easy. For longer trips, San Antonio has several taxi companies with accessible cabs, and VIA trolleys. There are even accessible River Taxis for trips along the river.
San Antonio is notable for housing Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first fully accessible theme park and Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a splash park. All of the rides at Morgan’s Wonderland are adapted to accommodate visitors with mobility impairments, such as the Wonderland Express Train and the Ferris Wheel. The park also has playgrounds, picnic areas, gardens and many outdoor recreational activities such as shows. Admission is free for those with special needs.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio. (Photo: Cory Lee)
Morgan’s Inspiration Island features elaborate water fountains and sprinklers and is the perfect place to cool down on a hot day. There are park attendants supervising all water attractions and since there are no swimming pools there are no lifeguards. Amenities include seven accessible changing rooms, restrooms and waterproof wheelchairs that can be borrowed on a first-come, first serve basis.
San Antonio is well known as home of the Alamo. The site of the famous battle is now a museum and designated UNESCO World Heritage site. All public areas are accessible and there are ADA-compliant bathrooms and water fountains at the back of the grounds located near the covered arbor.
New York City
There are plenty of experiences that wheelchair users can enjoy in New York City, though you will need to make special arrangements for transportation.
The subway is pretty much out of the question, as many stops are completely inaccessible, and even the ones with elevators are unreliable, since the elevators are often out of service. Finding an accessible taxi can also be a challenge, and when you do find one it is usually overpriced.
I suggest renting a van from MobilityWorks to get around the city, which was the mode of transportation that worked best by far.
You also won’t want to miss a ride on the famous Staten Island Ferry, which is a scenic 30 minute ferry ride across New York Harbor. Admission is free, you access the ferry from Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan, and boarding is fairly simple due to entrance ramps. One challenge is it can be very crowded, which might make maneuvering difficult. The main level of the ferry is very flat, and there is plenty of room. For incredible views of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, the Staten Island Ferry is a great option.
Manhattan has dozens of famous museums, which are very accessible, as are the many theaters. Visiting a museum or seeing a show shouldn’t present any problems, though you will want to research the particular museum or theater in advance. And of course, you won’t want to miss exploring Central Park, which has paved pathways that allow you access to many areas.
Central Park in NYC. (Photo: Cory Lee)
Another very accessible American city is Portland, Oregon, known for its eco-friendly culture and gourmet doughnuts!
Portland offers a wide array of transportation options to help you get around easily. There are paratransit services and shuttles, and many accessible taxi companies are available.
If the weather cooperates, I recommend heading over to Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland’s Chinatown. Thanks to an accessible route through the garden, wheelchair users can navigate almost every area. They also have accessible restrooms, and the Teahouse has an elevator so you can easily reach seating areas on the first and second floors.
Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland. (Photo: Cory Lee)
Visiting Mount Tabor is another fantastic outdoor activity. A city park was built around this extinct volcano, and many areas of the park are paved and easy to navigate by wheelchair. It’s a great place to enjoy the outdoors, but the highlight is definitely the view from the top of Mount Tabor. The park also has accessible picnic areas and restrooms, and is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.
If you are in the mood to see a show, check out what’s playing at the Milagro Theater, which features Spanish and Latin American plays. Many of the plays are performed in Spanish with English subtitles projected onto a screen. If you need accessible seating, you just need to speak to someone in the box office to notify them. The accessible seats are located in the front row, so you’ll have a great view!
These five US cities are overall extremely accessible, and I recommend you plan a visit to one (or all) of them if you can. They have so much to offer, though some of the most unique experiences I’ve had were in San Antonio and Las Vegas, especially my unbelievable hot air balloon ride over the Las Vegas desert. If you are a wheelchair user, these are some of the best US cities you can visit, and I highly encourage you to experience them for yourself!
I found Washington D.C. very hard to navigate ! Airport was a nightmare… Museums and galleries did not have well signed access and I was usually confronted with steps at some point… I use a walker and there were few places to rest… edges of planters and other likely places to rest had spikes! Not a good place. I have not been to the other cities you write about…
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