San Diego -- Accessible Travel and Family Fun!
After an invigorating weekend at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo, the TravelinWheels team headed south to San Diego for an accessibility site visit. San Diego has always been on my bucket list of places to visit. Excellent weather, the beautiful ocean views, and lots of family activities are a draw to millions of visitors every year, and everyone who has been there has raved about it.
The drive down Hwy 5 took us away from the non-stop traffic congestion of Los Angeles County and into the rolling hills and countryside of Orange and San Diego counties. Once we got past Santa Ana, we were treated to lovely vistas and quieter roads. My blood pressure immediately returned to normal!
We had just a few days to check out San Diego before heading back to Chicago, so we enlisted the support and advice of Accessible San Diego, the source for accessible information in the city. Accessible San Diego has been working within the city for years to improve access for people with disabilities. They have partnered with several attractions (including Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Hornblower Cruises), hotels, recreation facilities, and transportation options to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy the wonderful amenities of this lovely ocean-side city.
San Diego, is a fairly compact city, easy to navigate, and easy to get to. Streets are level and wide, curb cuts are plentiful and consistently good, and some parts of downtown have traffic signals with features for pedistrians with sight-impairments. The airport is right in the center of the city, and there are several great hotels in the area. The Amtrak station drops you right in the center of town, where you can catch the regional Coaster trains to other parts of San Diego County or hop on to one of San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit options, that are all accessible, to get you around town. If you choose to drive, we found no shortage of parking lots in the city center, and had no real issues finding street parking, even on Coronado, Island.
After meeting with the Accessible San Diego team, we walked less than three blocks to catch the Old Town Trolley. Taking a hop on hop off trolley tour is a great way to get a feel for the city, and you always have the option to get off and check out an attraction that catches your eye. Old Town Trolley does have three accessible trolleys, so it’s important to let them know at least a day in advance so that they ensure that the accessible ones are in the rotation. The trolley took us to Coronado, through the famous Gaslamp Quarter, through Old Town, and out to the famous San Diego Zoo, which also has museums and gardens to enjoy. We did notice that the trolley stops at the Zoo and Coronado Island were quite busy, while the Old Town and Downtown stops had less people. Consider hitting these areas early in the day to avoid crowds.
Starving after the completion of our informative trolley ride, we headed back into the Gaslamp Quarter to grab a bite to eat. There are many dining options, and we had no issue finding an accessible choice. The Gaslamp Quarter is famous for its history as an area of ill-repute, but now, it is the entertainment center of the city. Trendy restaurants and night clubs dot the area, and it is very close to the Convention Center, which we noted looks like a giant hamster habitat. There are several hotels in the area, if you choose to stay in the heart of it all. Our favorite was the Hotel Indigo, a modern, spacious, eco-friendly and very accessible hotel that offers guests excellent views, amenities, and an incredible roof-top gathering spot with fire pits and a great bar that overlooks PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Encinitas, approximately 30 minutes from city center. The hotel staff was very pleasant, and the facilities were nice. However, the hotel is built on a hill, so there are several carpeted sloped hallways to get to the accessible hotel rooms, which could be an issue for a manual chair. The dining area was a bit tight, especially at the crowded free breakfast. However, the location right next to Hwy 5 was ideal, and proximity to a small surfer town, Cardiff by the Sea, provided us with a different view of the California coast than both Los Angeles and San Diego offered.
Our second day was spent Bayside, near the airport, which offered several reasonable hotels that offer a different mood all their own. Enjoy marinas and fine dining, yet be close enough to Sea World or downtown San Diego to enjoy it all. We visited the Sheraton San Diego, which we were thrilled to hear has free accessible shuttle service to and from the airport! The hotel is located on the bay, and the views were excellent from the accessible rooms we visited. The rooms were of average size, but they were nicely laid out for access. The hotel is a full-service property with a restaurant, accessible pool, business center, and meeting facilities that are great for business travelers or groups.
We made our way over to Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside and Homewood Inn and Suites - San Diego Airport, both reasonably priced and well informed regarding guest comfort and accessibility. The Holiday Inn specializes in reunions and we noticed many mature travelers who were enjoying the hotel amenities. The Homewood Inn and Suites offer excellent sized rooms with kitchens for those who are looking for an economical alternative to eating at restaurants all the time. There were plenty of dining options in the area, and we enjoyed an excellent, and of course, accessible Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, which had a great patio, lots of space between tables, and healthy choices. The view of the marina was incredible, too!
After a day of hotel visits, we headed up the coast fifteen minutes to the world famous LaJolla. LaJolla is simply lovely with shops, galleries, and restaurants on a sweeping vista overlooking the ocean. There is also the beautiful seaside Ellen Browning Scripps Park where we spent quite a bit of time watching the sea lions basking in the late afternoon sun and walking down the accessible path. While most of the entries in the area were level, we did see a distinct lack of accessible parking on the main street, Prospect Avenue. There were only a few spaces. Also, I wouldn’t advise someone attempting to roll down to the seaside park from Prospect. There is an elevator toward the east end of Prospect that can take you down to the park. You can also drive down the hill and park on the street.
Our next day was spent touring the hotels in the Gaslamp Quarter and Convention Center. As mentioned earlier, we really enjoyed the Indigo Hotel. However, the Hotel Palomar offers travelers who are looking for a luxury boutique experience an oasis in the city. The rooftop deck is stunning, and the rooms are huge. Accessibility is good, and the staff is very helpful. I must admit that they have the most unusual unisex restroom that I have ever seen. If you dare to brave it, go to the second floor.
If you are looking for a hotel with a resort feel, the Marriott Marquis, adjacent to the Convention Center and located on the water, is a wonderful alternative. The Marriott Marquis is a large hotel, but we didn’t find it difficult to navigate. The rooms are well appointed and accessible, and the staff was well informed and has enjoyed working with disability groups in the past. They have been a supporter of Challenged America, being a host hotel for some of their events. The pool is fabulous, and the views of the bay were some of the best in the city.
Finished with our hotel visits, we headed over the Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island. Coronado is the home some of San Diego’s largest beaches, which had accessible restrooms, paths, and a great beach wheelchair program that has both power and manual beach wheelchairs.
The beach is within eyeshot of the famous Hotel Del Coronado, a landmark that has filled many postcards from the area. While the hotel rooms are not the most accessible in the area, the hotel’s lobbies, restaurants, and it’s sundeck bar are accessible to all. We enjoyed sitting out on the sundeck with a very expensive cocktail, next to a fire pit, watching the sun hide behind the mountains in the distance.
Rather than heading down the Hwy 5 to return to Encinitas, we took the scenic 101 from San Diego up the coast of San Diego County. The drive is simply lovely, once you get to La Jolla. North of La Jolla, we found ourselves passing through quaint little beachside towns with little cafes and shops, lovely vistas of the ocean, and wooded passages. We discovered a little gem, the Beach House restaurant that allowed us to sit within feet of the crashing waves of the ocean. There is an elevator to get to the second floor, where the best vista is. The tables are a bit close together, so get the staff to clear a path. It wasn’t very crowded on the Wednesday night that we were there. I would imagine it would be difficult to maneuver on a more crowded day.
Unfortunately, this short trip was coming to an end, and while we felt we had so much more to do, we knew we had to get back to our families back home for the Easter/Passover holiday. I look forwarded to a return trip with my family to enjoy San Diego’s beaches, attractions and beautiful weather in the future! I also look forward to working with Accessible San Diego to bring all of you our accessibility guide for San Diego in the coming months.
If you'd like to see more photos of our trip to San Diego, you can go to our Facebook album here!
In the meantime, stay tuned for our next blog, where I describe the wonderful drive along Hwy 101 North to Los Angeles! As always… Safe Travels!