San Francisco: A Guidebook for Disabled Travelers
Candy Harrington is a recognized expert in the field of accessible travel. Her newest title, "101 Accessible Vacations: Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers" is the first guidebook dedicated exclusively to wheelchair-accessible destinations, lodgings and recreational opportunities. Here is her entry on San Francisco:
“Don’t let a few hills discourage you from visiting San Francisco,” advises Bonnie Lewkowicz. “Just plan ahead and use public transportation to get around the hills.” And Bonnie knows what she’s talking about.
As the founder of Access Northern California, she’s the recognized expert on local access. Indeed, she spends the bulk of her time inspecting hotels and performing on-site access evaluations for the annual San Francisco access guide.
And as far as public transportation in San Francisco goes, there are many accessible choices. San Francisco is one of a handful of US cities that has accessible taxi service.
Several taxi companies, including Yellow Cab and Town Taxi, have taxi vans with ramp access and wheelchair tie-downs. The fares are the same for accessible taxis as for standard taxis, but they can be difficult to find on the street. The best course of action is to call the taxi company directly or have your hotel doorman get one for your.
BART operates an underground train system which runs along Market Sreet and serves the downtown tourist area. It also connects to several other BART lines and stops at the International Terminal at the San Francisco International Airport.
All BART stations are accessible by elevator, however it’s not uncommon for elevators to be out of service. Plan ahead, check with the BART elevator hotline and always have an alternate route or stop in mind, just in case of an elevator breakdown.
Enjoying a street entertainer on Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco- photos by Charles Pannell
Additionally, San Francisco Muni operates a bus and train system. The trains feature roll-on access and the buses have lifts, kneelers and wheelchair tie-downs. A free Muni Access Guide, which details accessible services throughout the system, is available from the Muni Accessible Services office.
Of course you have to make some choices and decisions when visiting San Francisco, as it’s literally impossible to see everything. Fisherman’s Wharf tops my must-see list, as it offers a wide variety of food options, lots of street entertainment and the best people-watching west of the Mississippi. You’ll find plenty of curb-cuts, accessible parking and level access throughout the wharf area.
Getting there is half the fun too. Just hop on the historic F-line and enjoy a city tour, and stop off at Fisherman’s Wharf along the way. The fare is a bargain $1.50, and the F-line vintage streetcars offer roll-on access via boarding platforms and wayside lifts at all of the Embarcadero stops and several key Market Street stops.
Accessible transportation on Alcatraz Island
Another San Francisco must-see is Alcatraz Island. It’s a very popular attraction, so buy your tickets in advance; either on-line, by phone or in person at the Pier 33 Hornblower Alcatraz Landing ticket office.
Same day tickets are rarely available so plan ahead as tours usually sell out at least a week in advance. Transportation to Alcatraz Island is provided by Alcatraz Cruises, and although all vessels have ramp access, the ramp slope is tide dependent. All Alcatraz Cruise ships also have accessible restrooms aboard.
The famous cell block is located at the top of Alcatraz Island, and is accessed by a steep pathway. Anybody who cannot manage the 12% grade is welcome to ride SEAT, a wheelchair accessible tram, which departs from the dock area once each hour.
Exploring Hyde Street Pier.
Bear in mind, Alcatraz is an old site and it has some uneven patches of concrete and a few tight spots here and there; but relatively speaking the access is good. Accessible restrooms are located in the museum and near the cell block. Be sure and opt for the audio tour of the cell block. This excellent tour is narrated by former prison guards and highlights the colorful history of Alcatraz.
Once you’re back on the mainland, be sure and visit the Hyde Street Pier just west of Fisherman’s Wharf. Golden Access Passport holders are admitted free to this national historical park. Here you’ll find a sampling of vessels found on the Bay at the turn of the nineteenth century.
You can get a good look at most of the ships from the pier, but the Eureka Ferry offers roll-on access. Be sure and have a look at the collection of vintage automobiles on her car deck.
For a different look at the waterfront area and a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, catch a taxi down to Crissy Field, San Francisco’s newest national park. As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Crissy Field offers visitors over 100 acres of open space where the city meets the bay. This former airfield now boasts a restored tidal marsh, miles of hard packed dirt trails and a great bay view. Two all terrain wheelchairs are available for free loan at the Crissy Field Center.
Of course no matter what you do in San Francisco, advance planning is a must. Says Lewkowicz, “Plan ahead, do your research and find out about the work-arounds.”
To that end, the most comprehensive access resource is ANC’s Access San Francisco; a detailed guide with access information about San Francisco’s hotels, restaurants, museums, shopping, recreation and transportation options. This helpful resource is packed full of useful information, and it’s available free from the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau or ANC. Updated access information can also be found on the ANC website.
So, don’t let a few hills discourage you. Pack your bags and head for the city by the bay; and don’t leave home without your copy of the Access San Francisco.
If You Go
Ramped taxis are widely available in San Francisco.
Muni Access Guide
BART Elevator Hotline
Alcatraz Island Tickets
San Francisco CVB
Access Northern California
As the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of "Barrier Free Travel; A Nuts & Bolts Guide For Wheelers and Slow Walkers," Candy Harrington is the recognized expert in the field of accessible travel. Her newest title, "101 Accessible Vacations: Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers" is the first guidebook dedicated exclusively to wheelchair-accessible destinations, lodgings and recreational opportunities. Candy also blogs regularly at BarrierFreeTravels.com.
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