You can find wheelchair accessible walkways along the beach, some going right onto the sand. Beach wheelchairs are available too in case you want to venture further. I have spent many summer days in Santa Cruz, and love visiting in the winter too when the ocean waves are big. Come travel to the City of Santa Cruz in your wheelchair!
Shared Adventures is a non-profit that organizes accessible outdoor activities in Santa Cruz.
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 in a manual wheelchair, they are no trouble at all, and no trouble with a power wheelchair. This accessible trail starts at the Natural Bridges State Beach and Park and then loops around to overlook the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Municipal Wharf. West Cliff Drive has endless photo opportunities of gorgeous ocean views unique to the California coastline, so even if you spend a couple of minutes in this area, it’s worth it.
Also along West Cliff Drive are the picturesque lighthouse and Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Handicapped parking is in front as well as an easy ramp that takes a wheelchair user into the museum. Fittingly, just below the museum is a very popular surfing spot, which is always enjoyable to watch. The winter storms bring enormous waves and tons of surfers. Right across from the Surfing Museum is the Lighthouse Field State Beach, in which a hard, dirt trail meanders through the trees, fields, and flowers right next to the ocean. Weather depending, many wheelchairs can hike this trail.
Pleasure Point, located on East Cliff Drive, is another famous surf spot in Santa Cruz. Visitors will find another wheelchair accessible walkway along the ocean; perfect to enjoy the salty air and watch surfers riding the waves. A wheelchair users can enjoy themselves a get around to a lot of places very close to the ocean.
About 5 miles north on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz is Aptos Beach. There is a long flat pathway that runs parallel to 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. Visitors in the area also may want to travel to Nisene Marks State Park and Seacliff State Beach.
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. Nearby 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. The train ride is a GREAT wheelchair accessible activity for families. The train makes a stop in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Henry Cowell State Park, which has wheelchair accessible trails. Visitors can drive to this park too.
The Municipal Wharf
Overlooking the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the historic Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and a must-visit. Created in 1914, today it is the backbone of this charming Northern California beach city. With paved walkways, accessible parking, and restrooms, a wheelchair traveler can enjoy the restaurants, beach shops, and sweet treats unique to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Fresh fish, whole Dungeness crab, and lobster are available for purchase.
A playful delight, the seals at the 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 and has everything from hand-dipped strawberries to caramel apples to classic chocolates to ice cream to jawbreakers. Another store downtown and on the Boardwalk. Salt Water Taffy is a must in Santa Cruz.
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 and can be accessed by a small elevator near the stairs. At the Vino Prima Wine Bar, dive into an ample selection of California-grown wines while enjoying the view of the ocean. A few imported sparkling wines from France and Spain are also available, and on the weekends enjoy 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. Sample wine by flights, per glass or bottle. 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 Santa Cruz favorite is the old-fashioned candy shop, Marini’s, serving favorites like ice cream, chocolates, jawbreakers, caramel apples, and of course salt water taffy. There are more places to indulge in a sweet treat; for instance, the store Chocolate specializing in chocolate. Otherwise, there are tons of cafes, restaurants, and bars all along the main strip as well as the adjacent streets of Downtown Santa Cruz. 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 go by Streetlight Records, a fantastic used music store for CDs, LPs, and DVDs that also sells new ones. Right next to Streetlight Records is a great Santa Cruz-style art gallery called, Felix Kulpa Gallery. It’s 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
On the outer rim of downtown is the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. The mission was built in 1791 by the Spanish, and today, the mission has been slightly converted into a museum, which is barrier-free and wheelchair accessible. Inside the mission walls is a native garden and picnic tables. Right across from the mission is a lovely park.
Due to budget cuts, hours of operation vary so it’s best to call the office at 831.425.5849 in advance. Importantly, the Santa Cruz Mission is where the State Park office can be found if you want to get a 50% discounted pass for all California State Parks if permanently disabled and a resident of the state.