There’s nothing like a gentle sea breeze through your hair while basking in the sun on a beautiful beach. While visiting the beach used to be challenging for wheelchair users, there are now many wheelchair accessible beaches and resorts across the US. Wide accessible boardwalks, beach wheelchairs, and long rubber mats to the shoreline are just a few of the features you’ll find to make your dream vacation a reality.
Wheelchair Accessible Beaches
I’ve compiled a list below of some of America’s best wheelchair beaches – take a look and see if there’s one near you!
- Gulf Shores, AL
- Panama City Beach, FL
- San Diego Beaches, CA
- Key Largo, FL
- Hanauma Bay, HI
- Myrtle Beach, SC
- Stearns Park Beach, Ludington, MI
- Tybee Island, GA
Gulf Shores, AL
The south is well known for its hospitality. You’ll find this especially true for Gulf Shores, Alabama. Not only are the locals polite, with that wonderful southern drawl, but the beaches are sandy-white and pristine. You’ll probably want to rent a beach wheelchair to make the most of your visit. These chairs are made specifically for sandy travel, so you can roll about the shoreline with ease. Luckily, there are numerous beach resorts and companies offering rentals throughout this area, or you can purchase one in advance from Scootaround.
For dolphin lovers, you’ll probably want to think about taking a local cruise. There’s nothing quite like seeing these smart and majestic creatures swimming fancy-free in the wild. They often like to swim by the boats, so you can see them up close and personal, along with a host of sea birds and other wildlife. If you’re planning ahead, you’ll find there are charter boats available that offer full wheelchair accessibility.
Panama City Beach, FL
What could be better than being able to roll onto the beach in your own wheelchair? Located on sparkling turquoise waters, you’ll want to visit the M.B. Miller County Pier at Panama City Beach. Here you’ll find the wheelchair version of the “red carpet” called the Mobi-Mat. You can roll directly from the wooden walkway ramp onto this smooth rubber pathway, perfect for power and manual wheelchairs, plus those who use walkers and other mobility aids.
This wheelchair accessible beach offers another advantage for mobility device users called the Mobi-Chair. There are two Mobi-Chairs available, free of charge, on a first-come, first-served basis. These unique chairs can float and seat two people. The wheelchair user gets strapped in and pushed to the seashore by a companion. Once in the water, the person pushing the chair hops into the back seat, and both float out onto the sea. You’ll probably want to arrive at the beach early to take advantage of these chairs!
San Diego Beaches, CA
While there are over a dozen wheelchair accessible beaches in San Diego (check out this excellent guide to San Diego’s beaches), you’ll probably want to visit Coronado City Beach, Mission Beach, or Imperial Beach. The sand at Coronado City Beach literally sparkles due to the mica, a gold-like mineral, that is found here. Mission Beach features the classic, bustling boardwalk and is perfect for grabbing a bite to eat. Imperial Beach is the city’s southernmost beach, just four miles from Mexico, and is a wonderful setting to take in a stunning seaside sunset.
Not only are these some of the most beautiful beaches around, they offer motorized and manual beach wheelchairs free of charge to visitors. Or if you need something with a little more power, Scootaround can provide rentals throughout San Diego as well. The beaches also offer handicapped parking and wheelchair accessible restrooms, so you’ll enjoy the ocean breeze and eternal views while lounging in the moderate temperatures that make this city famous. The powered beach chairs are a blend of a regular power wheelchair and a dune buggy, allowing independent exploration of the beach, while the manual beach wheelchair requires a friend to assist. What’s better than spending the day at the beach with a friend anyway?
Key Largo, FL
Home to a variety of wheelchair accessible beach resorts, the golden and white sands amidst the soul-soothing sounds of lapping waves make this a favorite beach hotspot. Key Largo is renowned for sunbathing on the beach, snorkeling in crystal-clear waters, fishing, and is home to a unique ecosystem.
A visit here would be incomplete without chartering a boat. Luckily, Tranquil Adventures offers wheelchair accessible boat eco-tours. In proximity to the Everglades, tourists will have the chance to see native mangroves, underwater coral reefs, and may even spot an alligator lurking along the shore. Furthermore, Tranquil Adventures offers adaptive equipment and special lifts for water transfers, allowing travelers with disabilities the opportunity to snorkel, swim with the dolphins, and even kayak.
After spending a day upon the sea, you’ll probably want to watch the sunset while dining on fresh seafood. There are many wheelchair accessible indoor and outdoor eateries throughout Key Largo.
Hanauma Bay, HI
How does a visit to one of Hawaii’s wheelchair accessible beaches sound? Look no further than Hanauma Bay, which means “Curved Bay” in Hawaiian and features an 1,800-foot crescent-shaped beach. This natural wonder is carved out among the cliffs of an ancient volcanic crater.
With a mountainous backdrop, this protected beach is accessed from the top side via road or a transport shuttle. The shuttle is only $1 per person and is highly recommended, as the steep road has been known to burn out power wheelchair motors. Another option is to travel via car. If you use Para City Transport in your hometown, there is a reciprocal agreement in Hawaii, meaning you can schedule a ride for only $2.
Last, beach wheelchairs are offered free of charge to visitors. You can pick one up at the beach kiosk, which is open from 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. daily. You’ll probably want to take your own cushion for optimal comfort. Otherwise, get ready to enjoy a fun-filled day at the beach on this excursion.
Myrtle Beach, SC
With over 60 miles of beachfront property, Myrtle Beach is a top destination for beach-goers. This city is one of the most famous wheelchair accessible beach resorts. Dedicated to inclusivity, there are over two dozen fully accessible beach entrances spattered from one end of the city to the other. Additionally, free parking at metered spaces is available to anyone with a handicapped hang tag or distinguished Veteran license plate tag.
On the beach, you’ll hear Atlantic waves crashing while enjoying moderate temperatures year-round. The city also offers beach wheelchairs free of charge and will even deliver them to your requested location. The promenade is the ideal spot to savor an ice cream cone after a hot day on the beach. When you’re ready to relax under the setting sun, the Marsh Walk at Murrell’s Inlet offers visitors a roll along a half-mile accessible walkway. Here, you can also enjoy fine waterfront dining as the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Stearns Park Beach, Ludington, MI
If you’ve never considered a visit to Lake Michigan, you’re missing out on the opportunity to visit both a woodland and beachfront region. You’ll probably want to begin your journey at Stearns Park Beach in Ludington, which was voted as the fifth most accessible walkway in the nation. Here you can remain in your own wheelchair while exploring the beaches of Lake Michigan. The north walkway extends to the water’s edge and is perfect for all types of wheelchairs. The south walkway meets up with the concrete walkway and ends at the pier.
Another famous sight to see when visiting Ludington is the North Breakwater Light. You’re sure to have seen this famous lighthouse in pictures and movies, but it can only be called a light since a house was never attached, thus its name. Lastly, this area boasts the best of both worlds with forested woodland and waterfront trails snaking their way throughout Ludington State Park. If you’re ready to make smores around a campfire, many of the campsites here are also wheelchair accessible.
Tybee Island, GA
Another one of the southern wheelchair accessible beach resorts, the charm and natural splendor of Tybee Island will let you unwind in style and comfort. The beaches here are also home to Mobi-Mats, so accessing the beaches from the walkway ramps is a breeze. Speaking of a breeze, you’ll feel the warm air tickle your hair and fill your senses with the smell of salty sea spray. The Mobi-Mats wind throughout the entire tip of the peninsula and the city offers free beach wheelchairs to traverse the sandy areas. They even offer a floatable beach wheelchair so you too can enjoy a water-logged afternoon at the beach.
Tybee Island is an important nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles, and you’ll often spot the little ones making their heroic journey to the sea, especially during the early dawn hours or late nights. These special turtles are protected, so please do not touch them or their nests, or shine bright lights on them during the nighttime.
An adventure at one of these wheelchair accessible beaches will leave you relaxed and refreshed. Whether basking in the sun on a golden beach, rolling about the boardwalk, or viewing wildlife in its natural glory, you are sure to find the perfect beach destination suited to your tastes and needs.
Traveling to one of these beaches? Scootaround can take care of all your mobility rental needs, with a wide range of options that are sure to help make your beachfront vacation unforgettable.
Cory Lee is a wheelchair user, travel addict, and accessible travel writer.
On his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, he hopes to inspire others to roll out of their comfort zones and see all the beauty our world has to offer.
Images Used in This Article
Beach image, "Gulf Shores Alabama Beach" by John Tuggle is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pier image, "Panama City Beach, FL" by dconvertini is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Coronado beach image, "20160916-01072.jpg" by Tristan Loper is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Hanauma aerial image, "Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, HI" by Iawepw is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Sky image, "Sky Wheel, Myrtle Beach, SC" by Forsaken Fotos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Lake Michigan image, "Waves on Sand" by ksblack99 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pier Image "Pier on Tybee Island" by Carolyn Sugg is licensed under CC BY 2.0