San Diego, California has some of the best beach access in the world. Many beaches in San Diego have beach wheelchairs available for loan or rent. Many of these beach wheelchairs are free of charge and are manual (someone else has to push you), but it’s not the only option. Furthermore, none of the chairs can actually go in the water but you’re able to get close enough for some to be able to maneuver to the water.
Instead of having to conduct exhaustive research just to find one accessible beach for this article, I had the hard task of having to narrow my choices to three. The three beaches each offer a different kind of experience. Whether you just want to relax on the beach and sunbathe, fire up the BBQ while watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, go for a swim, or stroll the beach-side promenade, the options are plentiful; from Oceanside at the northern end of San Diego County, to Imperial Beach in the south.
Mission Beach, San Diego
Mission Beach, located at the center of a continuous stretch of beach known as “The Strand,” is one of the most popular and crowded beaches. The Strand extends over two miles, beginning at the Mission Bay Channel entrance and ending at the north end of Pacific Beach, a gathering spot for students. It’s hard to tell where Mission Beach ends and Pacific Beach starts except that access is better at Mission Beach. It’s here that I tried out the motorized beach chair and had my mind forever changed about beaches being inhospitable to wheelchair riders. The beach is fairly deep and has several openings in the adjacent beach wall that makes it easy to access. As I traversed the sand in this not so subtle piece of equipment it struck me that no one paid attention to it, it was as though I was just another person enjoying the beach.
From the southernmost end of Mission Blvd to just north of Pacific Beach a wide paved promenade separated by a low wall, parallels the beach for nearly three miles. It’s a booming activity zone of bicycling, rollerblading, running, skateboarding and while it can be crowded, the divided lanes help to control the traffic flow. Lining the promenade is everything from expensive modern beach homes to funky rental beach cottages to full-service lodging facilities. Further north in Pacific Beach, you’ll find restaurants and novelty shops however many have a step up.
At the quieter south end of the beach by the jetty, there is a picnic area and volleyball nets but the parking & restrooms here are only semi-accessible. Sand often blows on to the parking spaces and the restroom stall doesn’t have enough clearance to pull up alongside. Better accessible restrooms are available at several locations along the promenade however I found the ones at Belmont Park to be the cleanest.
When you tire of the beach you can head over to adjacent Belmont Park, an historic beachfront amusement center. Here you’ll find rides, games, restaurants and shops or cruise on over to Mission Boulevard, two blocks east of the beach, to enjoy taco shops, coffee houses, fast food chains, breakfast joints, and ethnic food.
Parking is challenging especially on the weekends so it’s best to arrive early. There are several accessible spaces by the lifeguard tower at the foot of Ventura Place. To reserve the motorized beach wheelchair call (619) 980-1876, Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.
La Jolla Shores, San Diego
Located a quick drive north of downtown San Diego, La Jolla (Spanish for jewel) Shores, is recognized as one of the best family-friendly beaches in the County. This picturesque one-mile long sandy shore has a palm tree lined, wide paved promenade running between the beach and adjacent Kellogg Park, a grassy area perfect for picnicking, The nearby hills of La Jolla provides a protective back-drop. A low seawall prevents continuous access to the beach. Behind lifeguard tower 32 there is an opening with level access. The beach is popular with guests from nearby hotels and locals alike. After the crowds have thinned in the late afternoon it’s the perfect place to watch a sunset then continue the romance with a sumptuous dinner at one of the many restaurants in quaint but pricey, La Jolla village.
There are accessible restrooms north and south of the lifeguard station. Accessible parking is in the lot at the foot of Calle Frescota.
Coronado Municipal Beach
South of San Diego, on the ocean side of the tiny upscale island city of Coronado, the Coronado Municipal Beach boasts a pristine and expansive white sandy beach. It’s reached by bridge from downtown San Diego and is bordered to the north by the North Island Naval Air Station and to the south by the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base. If you’re lucky you might even catch glimpses of low flying planes practicing maneuvers or aircraft carriers as they practice war games. To some this may sound unappealing but the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego can offer a perfect distraction from the occasional noise. In January watch for migrating whales. You can also take a ferry, which I did, but from the landing it’s about a mile to the beach; it’s a level walk along city sidewalks.
A wide paved promenade runs the length of the beach, approximately one-mile, passing behind renowned Hotel Del Coronado, one of the oldest and largest all-wooden buildings in California. It is a fine example of an American architectural genre: the wooden Victorian beach resort and well worth stopping in to look around. Alongside the promenade you can indulge in one of the informal outdoor dining options or have a tropical drink under a cabana while admiring the scenery. Several blocks east toward the main downtown area are more restaurants and boutiques within easy walking/rolling distance.
At Ocean Blvd. & Isabella, a concrete ramp leads to a restroom, shower and level access to the beach. The restroom is mostly accessible except there may not be enough clearance for a wheelchair to pull up alongside. Difficult street-side parking is along Ocean Blvd. A manual beach wheelchair, available on a first-come first-served basis, is available at the life guard tower at this same location.
Another beach worth mentioning, 15 miles south of San Diego, is Imperial Beach. Both a manual and motorized beach wheelchair are available. The motorized chair must be reserved 48 hours in advance at (619) 685-7972 and is available Friday-Sunday, 10am-2pm.