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14 Wheelchair-Accessible & Sensory-Friendly Things to Do in SD

These local hotspots around town offer plenty of accessibility-friendly ways to enjoy the city
Two disabled men sailing together in the San Diego Bay with the Challenged Sailors San Diego organization
Courtesy of Challenged Sailors San Diego

San Diego has no shortage of things to do on any given day, and for those with disabilities, some of the city’s best activities also offer accessibility-friendly options. From wheelchair- and sensory-friendly areas to special access for caretakers, here are 15 San Diego locales ensuring everyone can enjoy all that the city has to offer. 

Sign indicating a "Headphone Zone" and other accessible spaces in the San Diego Zoo
Courtesy of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is world famous for a reason: It’s home to more than 4,000 animals including the largest breeding colony of koalas outside of Australia, and is peppered with beautiful exotic plants. The zoo also boasts wheelchair-accessible paths and guided bus tours with wheelchair access and electronic scooters. For those who would prefer a quieter experience, the zoo’s sensory inclusive offerings include multiple Quiet Zones where you can take a breather before immersing yourself back into the wild.

2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park at nightduring a concert in San Diego
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

As one of San Diego’s most beautiful open-air music venues, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is one of the coolest places to catch a show on the San Diego Bay. It also boasts ADA accessibility across all of its sections with designated seating areas and wheelchair transport escorts who can assist guests to their seats, the restroom, or anywhere they’d like to go. A limited number of assistive listening devices are also available at no cost. 

Alongside these features are the Sensory Bags provided by KultureCity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing accessibility for those with sensory disabilities. The Sensory Bag includes noise-canceling headphones and fidget tools allowing for a more calm and enjoyable experience.

222 Marina Park Way, San Diego, CA 92101

A family taking a picture with elmo at Sesame Place theme park in San Diego, a popular accessible spot for families and disabled people
Courtesy of Visit Anaheim

Sesame Place

If you’re looking for ways to spend time with your littlest family members, head to Chula Vista to hang with Elmo, Kermit, and the whole motley muppet crew at Sesame Place. The theme park has a variety of services available including autism resources, allergen information, ride accessibility, quiet rooms, noise-canceling headphones and special access ride passes. Prior to arriving, fill out the Ride Accessibility Questionnaire to save time at the entrance.

2052 Entertainment Cir, Chula Vista, CA 91911

Aerial view of the Birch Aquarium from Scripps at UCSD with La Jolla Shores in the background
Courtesy of the Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium 

San Diego’s Birch Aquarium is home to 60 habitats featuring sealife from Moray eels to sea turtles, octopus, sharks, coral reefs, and more. It also features Seadragons & Seahorses, one of the world’s largest seadragon habitats in the world. The aquarium sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The aquarium is also wheelchair accessible, with most exhibits being on one level. Ramps are situated around the facility at the Tide Pool Plaza and Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins. Guests can also reserve wheelchairs to borrow while experiencing the exhibits.

2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037

A man admiring art with earphones in and a Beam accessible screen nearby helping an impaired visitor
Courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

You could spend hours delving into The San Diego Museum of Art’s permanent collections that feature South Asian paintings, works from Italian and Spanish old masters, and 19th- and 20th-century American sculptures and still not see everything you want to see. For those with limited mobility, the museum is fully wheelchair accessible and offers complimentary tickets for caretakers of paid guests and assistive listening devices at all of their featured lectures and screenings. The museum is also part of the Social Stories Spectrum Project, which creates guides to prepare individuals with autism for public events and interactions, such as visiting a museum. 

1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102

A group of disabled men sailing boats in the San Diego Bay with the organization Challenged Sailors San Diego
Courtesy of Challenged Sailors San Diego

Sailing with Challenged Sailors San Diego

Sailing with Challenged Sailors San Diego is an all-volunteer organization that holds free sailing excursions every Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Martin16 boats they provide are specifically designed so that individuals with disabilities can either steer at the helm, or sit comfortably as a trained volunteer navigates around San Diego Harbor. Simply fill out their initial sailing application or their full onboarding waiver to get started. 

955 Harbor Island Drive, San Diego, CA

Interior of Petco Park stadium where the San Diego Padres play where accessible seating and accommodation can be found
Courtesy of the MLB

Petco Park

Give any San Diegan room to speak about our baseball team, and they’ll most likely talk your ear off. Go to Petco Park to experience this rowdy spirit, and an accessibility-friendly environment. There are Sensory Bags offered by KultureCity, closed-captioning transcripts of the announcements available on the MLB Ballpark App, and accessible seating for those who require wheelchair-accessible seats, semi-ambulatory seats, or transfer seats. Make sure to call ahead to purchase accessible seating options

100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

The Old Town trolley tour bus in Shelter Island which is a popular accessible attraction
Courtesy of Old Town Trolley Tours

Old Town Trolley Tours

The Old Town trolley tours are an immersive experience offering the sights of San Diego while a guide showcases the city’s most interesting facts. The trolleys depart from Old Town and make 11 destination stops in places such as Little Italy, Seaport Village, and Balboa Park. The tour is also wheelchair accessible and also provide a tour script guide for those with impaired hearing upon request. Be sure to call 24-hours in advance to ensure all arrangements are taken care of when you arrive. 

1050 The Embarcadero, San Diego, CA 92101

The Westfield UTC Mall during the day with accessibility accomodations
Courtesy of Tripadvisor

Westfield UTC Mall

Westfield’s UTC outdoor mall is one of the city’s most luxe shopping venues and its list of food offerings almost makes you forget you’re eating at a mall. While exploring your favorite stores such as Chanel, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Crate & Barrel, Lululemon, Athleta, and more, you can enjoy live music by local artists throughout the mall. Families with children can also enjoy a giant fish playground situated near the center of the mall, the perfect place for kids to have fun. For those with limited mobility, complimentary wheelchairs are available and handicapped parking is located near the main center entrances. 

4545 La Jolla Village Dr Ste E-25, San Diego, CA 92122

The exterior of the USS Midway Museum in downtown San Diego
Courtesy of TripSavvy

USS Midway

The USS Midway museum, located in the San Diego Harbor, offers an immersive, historical, learning experience of the legendary ship, which was the 20th century’s longest-serving aircraft carrier. Aboard the ship you can explore restored WWII-era aircraft, tour the Captain’s and Admirals’ cabins, and experience the life of an aviator on flight simulators. Elevators and access ramps are all planned out to facilitate safe transportation onto the ship. In places where exhibits are less easily accessible, video kiosks depict the space. 

910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

A line to enter the Japanese Friendship Garden and Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego which is ideal for disabled San Diegans
Courtesy of Balboa Park

Japanese Friendship Garden and Museum

The Japanese Friendship Garden and Museum is an immersive experience that allows you to enjoy nature while also learning about traditional Japanese culture. Make sure to swing by the bonsai garden and koi ponds, while enjoying rotating exhibits. The garden, which takes about 45 minutes to traverse, is completely wheelchair accessible, and upon request, visitors can receive shuttle services, audio tours, and braille books detailing the park.

2215 Pan American Road, E., San Diego, CA 92101

The exterior of the Comic-Con Museum at Balboa Park which is an accessible place to visit in San Diego featuring ASL interpreters and disabled services
Courtesy of Balboa Park

Comic-Con Museum

The Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park is a great place to explore all things comics. Enjoy exhibits on the evolution of comic book color, witness never-before-seen art and items that celebrate the legacy of the infamous Stan Lee, and discover the connections between pop culture and real-world technology through interactive exhibits. Intent on giving all attendees a memorable experience, the Deaf and Disabled Services Department offers numerous resources such as comfort rooms and certified ASL interpreters to ensure a good time. Make sure to plan accordingly, as seats in programming rooms cannot be reserved ahead of time. 

2131 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101

The La Jolla Shores boardwalk which is accessible and features lifeguards that can offer visitors beach wheelchairs
Courtesy of Wikipedia

La Jolla Shores

San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches and La Jolla Shores is just one of the locales offering beach wheelchairs (Ocean Beach, Coronado and Mission Bay also provide wheelchairs) that are available by calling ahead and requesting access. The manual chairs require a companion to assist with pushing. 

La Jolla Shores San Diego, CA 92037

An autistic girl at the Fleet Science Center looking at an exhibit with a caretaker
Courtesy of the Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center offers a diverse array of hands-on activities and exhibitions that impart the mysteries of life. Not only is the science center equipped with wheelchair-accessible restrooms and noise-canceling devices, it also hosts Accessibility Mornings on the third Saturday of every month. On these mornings, guests with disabilities are welcomed an hour before the rest of the public to experience the museum in a sensory-friendly environment. 

1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

By Amanda Parmele

Amanda Parmele is a third year undergraduate student at UCSD and works at SD Magazine as a Photography/Visual Editing intern. She takes photos for her school newspaper, is a writing mentor, and loves surf photography, though she cannot surf to save her life.

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