The beach town of Santa Cruz is located in central California just above Monterey and below San Francisco. Santa Cruz is a very wheelchair friendly beach city with lots of activities geared towards the outdoors.
You can find many beach wheelchair accessible walkways, some going right out onto the sand but you will also find beach wheelchairs in case you want to venture further. I have spent many summers in Santa Cruz but I also love it in the winter too as the ocean swells are very active and fun to watch, plus, crowds tend to be much smaller everywhere. Come travel to Santa Cruz in your wheelchair!
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a state historic landmark with roots going back to 1865. The wheelchair friendly area is filled with carnival games, rides, and an arcade. No need to wait in lines for any ride since they are not accessible (to our benefit). There is also tons of junk food to eat and beer to drink, including Santa Cruz’s classic candy shop Marini’s featuring salt water taffy. It certainly is a tourist hot spot so to avoid crowds, I recommend week-days.
When looking at the ocean, on the right side of Santa Cruz Boardwalk there is an accessible wooden ramp (above photos) that travels far out onto the sand. Near by is a lifeguard stand where you can get a beach wheelchair. Also, on the other side of the Municipal Wharf, near the Boardwalk, is another wheelchair accessible beach walkway made out of rubber.
Also at the Beach Boardwalk is where you can catch the Historic Santa Cruz Train that takes you up into the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is a GREAT activity for families and accessible.
The Municipal Wharf
Overlooking the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf is a historical landmark that is a must visit. Created in 1914, today it is the backbone of this charming Northern California beach town. With paved walkways, accessible parking and restrooms, a wheelchair traveler can enjoy the array of restaurants, boutique beach shops, and an ice cream & candy parlor unique to the Santa Cruz Muncipal Wharf. Fresh fish, whole dungeness crab, and lobster are available for purchase everywhere.
A playful delight, the seals of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf are an attraction all their own. They have taken over many of the pier legs and old docks, close to the water where they rest, play, nurture their young, and socially interact. Marini’s is an old-fashion candy shop that has been around since 1915. There’s everything from hand-dipped strawberries to caramel apples to classic chocolates to ice cream to jawbreakers. There is also another store downtown and on the Boardwalk.
Wine lovers who come to Santa Cruz should try Vino Prima Wine Bar on the Municipal Wharf. It’s one of the few places located on the second floor of shops and restaurants but can be accessed by a small elevator near the stairs. At the Vino Prima Wine Bar you can dive your nose and taste buds into an ample selection of California grown wines while enjoying the view of the ocean. A few imported sprinkling wines from France and Spain are also available and on the weekends enjoy $6 mimosas. There is lots of table seating so someone in a wheelchair can pull right up; otherwise there is bar seating too but no lowered space for wheelchairs. What’s convenient about it is that it’s open seven days a week starting in the afternoon, visit the website for complete hour details. You can sample wine by flights, per glass or bottle. I am a big fan of reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, from the Paso Robles-Santa Maria area. One of the downsides is that there is no restroom. If you are planning on taking a stroll down the historic Municipal Wharf or you are headed there for dinner, the Vino Prima Bar would be a fun place to stop and have a glass of wine.
Downtown Santa Cruz
A downtown favorite is the old-fashioned candy shop, Marini’s, serving everything from ice cream, to chocolates to jawbreakers, to caramel apples to salt water taffy. There are more places to indulge in a sweet treat; for instance, Chocolate specializing in its signature product, chocolate. Otherwise, there are tons of cafes, restaurants, and bars all along the main strip and adjacent streets of downtown Santa Cruz. If you enjoy Mexican food than its recommend you try El Palomar Restaurant at the Palomar Inn. Of course there is a plentiful amount of boutique shops of all kinds from exotic lights to soaps to antiques to cards to various styles of clothing.
Music lovers find the time to by Streetlight Records, a fantastic used music store for CDs, LPs, and DVDs but also sells new ones.
Right next to Streetlight Records is a great Santa Cruz style art gallery called, Felix Kulpa Gallery. Its a small one story gallery that is completely level for a wheelchair user. Once you walk through the courtyard gates follow the path past the large displays in various corners. Inside, the gallery utilizes every inch covering many local artists hand-selected by the owner. The cost is free, so if you are downtown and enjoy art you might as well stop at the Felix Kulpa Gallery and soak in some Santa Cruz modern art.
Mission Santa Cruz
Just on the outer rim of downtown is the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. This landmark has a lot of history being built in 1791 by the Spanish. Today the museum has been slightly converted into a museum, which is totally flat and wheelchair accessible. Due to budget cuts, hours of operation vary so it’s best to call the office 831.425.5849 in advanced. Inside the mission walls is also a native garden and picnic tables. More importantly, the Santa Cruz Mission is also where the State Park office can be found if you want to get a 50% discounted pass for all state parks if permanently disabled. Right across from the mission is a lovely park.
ACCESSIBLE OCEAN WALKWAYS
West Cliff Drive has a 3-mile wheelchair accessible path that runs right along the ocean cliffs of Santa Cruz. Occasionally there are small dips, but with a little speed they are no trouble at all. It starts at Natural Bridges State Beach and Park and at one point the pathway of West Cliff Drive overlooks the Beach Boardwalk and Municipal Wharf. Above all, expect gorgeous ocean views unique to the California coastline so even if you spend a couple of minutes in this area, it’s worth it.
Along the shoreline pathway on West Cliff Drive is Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. There is handicapped parking as well as a ramp that easily takes a wheelchair user into the museum. Fittingly, the ocean below the cliff that the lighthouse museum sits on is a very popular surfing spot, which is always enjoyable to watch. The winter swells brings out enormous waves and tons of surfers. Right across from the Surfing Museum is the Lighthouse Field State Beach in which a dirt road that is suitable for a wheelchair meanders you through the trees, fields, and flowers right next to the ocean.
Pleasure Point, located on East Cliff Drive, is another famous surf spot in Santa Cruz with its own long wheelchair accessible walkway along the ocean; perfect to enjoy the salty air and watch surfers riding the waves. Just about 5 miles north on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz is Aptos Beach. A wheelchair user can really enjoy themselves a get around to a lot of places very close to the the ocean. There is a long flat pathway that runs parallel with the beach and many picnic tables, with and without shade. Handicapped accessible restrooms are available along this walkway too. One of the main attractions is the concrete boat that rests at the end of the pier.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Shared Adventures is a CA non-profit that organizes accessible outdoor activities.