The San Francisco Golden Gate Park has a number of treasures to explore for travelers with access needs. The park consists of 1,017 acres in San Francisco’s Sunset District, the largest in the city, and is close to Ocean Beach as well as the Lands Ends Trail. Inside the park are a collection of attractions but the park is also occasionally used for special public events, like the music festival Outside Lands.
You can enjoy an entire day at Golden Gate Park without spending a dime. There are miles of trails and pathways of all kinds that interweave between towering trees, gardens, picnic areas, and water features. It is almost impossible to explore all of the park in one day. A large Rose Garden is gorgeous when in bloom, and the Shakespeare Garden and the Redwood Memorial Grove is favorite not matter the season. In the spring, tuples bloom around the Dutch Windmill and buffalo roam in their large protect prairie habitat.
The largest garden in Golden Gate Park is the SF Botanical Garden. The entire 55 acres of the garden is made up of smaller gardens reflecting over 7,500 plant species found worldwide. Almost every plant has a small sign near it stating its name and origin. Therefore, a trip to the San Francisco Botanical Garden is an aesthetic and education one. Picnic tables and benches are found sporadically all over the garden. This garden is wheelchair friendly and costs nothing to enter. Directly to the right when you come through the main gate are wheelchair accessible public restrooms.
There are all kinds of walkways all over the park, depending on how much you would like to explore. The main areas are paved for a smooth ride for a wheelchair user. There are a could parts of the park that have slight inclines, which makes for a good little workout. In the prehistoric garden the walkway is wooden planks and is no trouble at all to roll over. Once you go off the main pathway to explore into the gardens deeper then the ground could be made up finely packed granite or very thin pieces of tan bark. Either way, both ground make-ups are wheelchair accessible, even for manual chairs, however, rolling over them does require a little muscle and balance.
Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is a beautiful green house that is accessible for a wheelchair user but has an entrance fee. The Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is an attraction to see for the wheelchair traveler if you enjoy plant-life. Handicap parking is located at the east side of the building and also on John F. Kennedy Drive in front of the Conservatory. Drop-off ramp access to the Conservatory is available on the west side of the building near the wheelchair accessible public restrooms. Right outside is a small food stand with outdoor tables if you like to get a snack, hot dog or something to drink. There are 4 main green house rooms inside the Conservatory of Flowers: Aquatic Plants, Lowland Tropics, Highland Tropics, and Potted Plants. On the far left side of the Conservatory is the Special Exhibit, which changes every so often. The temperature inside climbs as you work your way from left to right of the conservatory, and even for those who run cold you will find the need to remove a lay or two of clothing. Each plant and flower throughout the Conservatory is carefully labeled and every room has some educational information posted on that particular climate zone.
What is NOT so wheelchair accessible in the Golden Gate Park is the Japanese Tea Garden, which is located near the museums. Since the majority of the garden is not accessible it is FREE to enter, so do not even bother stopping at the ticket booth to explain yourself. Though the Japanese Tea Garden is not entirely accessible, including the tea house itself, it is still worth spending at least five minutes in the accessible parts to enjoy the beauty of it and take a few photographs. Some will be able to go further than others. For example, if traveling on the left-sided path you will cross two stone bridges, the second one is extremely narrow. If exploring on the right-sided path one way will lead you stepping stones and the other to cobble stones. For those using an electric wheelchair, the cobble stones are not a problem, but it is a gnarly surface for a manual one. Other pathways in the garden will be immensely steep and not ideal for any wheelchair user but if traveling with a companion than certain obstacles in the pathways can be tackled, including accessing the tea house.
de Young Museum
One of the most popular attractions in Golden Gate Park is de Young Museum, which showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. All floors are wheelchair accessible using elevators, including the exhibitions that change every few months; see what’s new.
Accessible bathrooms on all three levels in the building and several levels of the Education Tower, as well as a family bathroom in the Kimball Education Gallery. If you are hungry for a snack, meal or just good coffee, the de Young Café offers a fresh interpretation of American and European classic cuisine and feature menu items crafted with seasonal ingredients.
To get to the museum, a wheelchair traveler can uses the Muni system that has a station right outside the park or you can park a private vehicle in one of the 16 handicapped spots or in the parking structure. Finding an open handicapped parking spot may be a bit of a challenge, especially on the weekends, so it’s recommended that you take the closest open spot you can find and parallel park. You may have to circle a few times to find a good spot.
California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a fantastic hands-on, educational museum for people of all ages and a perfect way to spend a day in San Francisco. The CA Academy of Sciences has many exhibits that explores all four corners of this earth as well as the history and makeup of it. Below is only a sampling of the many, many displays at this museum, so see a complete map here.
Rainforests of the World puts you in the exhibit. A spiraling pathway takes you up this 4-story dome (above left photo), starting with the understory of a rainforest up to the tops of the trees. Birds and butterflies fly inches from your face and perch on dewy plant life all around. The center of the dome is a large pool of water, mimicking the flooded floors of the amazon. Along the way to the top are other rainforest creates displayed in glass cases, including a poisonous small green frog. There are many places to stop at level platforms for a wheelchair user if needed but no restrooms. This is a very popular exhibit, so it’s recommended you get in line in the morning or wait for a good moment during lunchtime.
The African Hall comes to life with beautiful dioramas of zebras, lions, gorillas, and more. In addition, there is a little information about the historical evolution of man in Africa. The hall is completely level and very spacious for a wheelchair user. At one hall ends is a live African Penguin exhibit with over a dozen penguins to watch above and below water.
Ocean, Amazon, and Swamp Aquariums can be viewed above and below so one an see all sides to these underwater creatures. Some displays to look forward to are the stingrays, electric eel, angelfish, and Amazon Boa. One of the most famous live animal exhibits is the albino alligator that can be view above and under water. In addition to live animals, there are tons of educational and hands-on displays where you can learn more about the environments and creatures you have been seeing.