Traveling the Streets of San Francisco by Wheelchair

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…” and be prepared for a city with steep hills. Growing up in the East Bay Area about 30 minutes from San Francisco, I have experienced this city pre and post spinal cord injury and know the challenges of exploring it. Even when I was not in a chair, getting around the city by foot was an extreme workout.  Now that I am in a manual wheelchair the natural hilly terrain is like climbing a mountain.  However, there are ways of conquering this great west coast city with a little planning.

Whenever I go travel to a city, I rather use as little transportation as possible because I like to wander around a city and maybe even get lost. This way, I see more than what I have planned. In San Francisco, it is best to have a general destination in mind and then explore the surroundings as much as you are able to. The landscape around many popular attractions is generally flat; it’s just getting from one attraction to the next where you are likely to run into hilly obstacles.

For one, there are handicapped parking spots available if you are driving but finding open ones can be a challenge in itself. In California if you can find a meter spot and display a handicapped placard then parking is free. However, pay attention to any restrictions such as restricted days because you will be ticketed if not towed. If no open parking meter is available then there are public parking garages but this method gets expensive quickly, so if you are on a budget then keep circling the area for an open meter. Because of these difficulties, it’s recommended that you don’t drive while in San Francisco.

San Francisco has the best public transportation system in California. There are the familiar bus and taxi services that provide wheelchair accommodations but better yet there is the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) and Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI). MUNI includes buses, under and above ground streetcars, and trolleys. Using these two transportation services can get you almost anywhere in the city, epically to the most desired areas. You may have to walk a few blocks but it is better that way because you’ll see more of the city. Furthermore, both of these transportation services are totally wheelchair accessible.

BART is fantastic to get you to general areas of San Francisco as well as other cities in the Bay Area. Every station has accessible elevators to get you to the loading platform which are flat and make for an easy transfer right onto BART. In other words, there are no ramps or anything like that to slow down the boarding process.  In all the BART cars there designated spaces just for the handicapped for your comfort if you want to stay in your wheelchair. The problem with BART is that the ticket scanners are not accessible by design, so each time you stop at a station instead of running your ticket through the stand like everyone else you have to find an information booth and have an employee do it for you. Although this inconvenience is annoying, it does not take much time to deal with so bear with the process.

RELATED READS: SF Wheelchair Travel GuideServing Tea in San FranciscoMuir Woods National Monument – SF Wheelchair Accessible Taxis

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