Beautiful sandy beaches are a vacationers’ dream. For wheelchair users or anyone with a mobility aid (cane, crutches, walker, and scooter), the shifting surface can be treacherous and often impossible to navigate. Fortunately, a day at the beach can be enjoyed by everyone when communities consider the needs of all their visitors.
Beach Wheelchair Travel Tips
If you or someone in your travel group requires an accessible beach, spend a little time researching the destination before you leave home. Call or visit the area’s official tourism website—often called a Convention and Visitor Bureau or CVB —to find the best match for your particular needs.
Accessible beaches have ramps or specially designed synthetic mats that grip the sand and create a stable surface. Typically, these do not reach all the way to the water because high tides would cover them. If you want to explore beyond the mat, you’ll need a beach wheelchair.
Unlike standard wheelchairs, beach wheelchairs feature oversized wheels that easily glide over the sand and won’t get stuck. Some beach wheelchairs are motorized—allowing the driver to be independent. Most manual beach wheelchairs do require someone else to push the occupant.
Hundreds of beaches across the country provide beach wheelchairs. You can borrow one for the day or a few hours—often at no cost. Typically, you’re asked to leave something valuable, such as a driver’s license or deposit, in exchange for the loaner beach wheelchair. Most communities only have a small number of beach wheelchairs available and lend them on a first come first served basis.
To guarantee you have a beach wheelchair during your vacation, renting might be the best option. Private businesses that rent beach gear—paddle-boards, umbrellas, bikes—often rent beach wheelchairs.
Whether borrowing or renting a beach wheelchair, be sure to address when the chair needs to be returned and ask for detailed instructions on how to use it. Some beach wheelchairs will be ruined if they go into the water and others can float in the waves. Thoroughly discuss the features of the beach wheelchair before venturing out and ask for the phone number of someone who can assist you with any additional questions or concerns.
For the wheelchair user’s comfort and safety, consider bringing a cushion from home. Not every beach wheelchair has a seat belt. Travelers can improvise by using a long piece of velcro looped around their waist. Also, some wheelchair users may find transferring from their personal chair to a low slung beach wheelchair difficult and should plan accordingly.
Whether you are visiting a small seashore town or a beach in a metropolis, there’s dozens of communities with a range of accessible services. Here’s a list to get you started.
The Best Wheelchair-Accessible Beaches in the U.S.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Cruising the shore is a breeze in Corpus Christi where all-terrain beach wheelchairs easily maneuver the soft sand. The bright yellow balloon tires, high backs, and padded armrests provide a comfortable ride and transform into floating lounge chairs when taken into the water. Borrow a beach wheelchair from the lifeguard stands at Packery Channel, Michael J. Ellis Beach & Seawall, Whitecap Beach, and McGee Beach. On the mainland, a beach wheelchair is available at McGee Beach. Beach wheelchairs are loaned at no charge (must leave photo I.D.) from noon until 6 pm.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Known as a family-friendly getaway, Gulf Shores is about 50 miles south of Mobile. Mild temperatures and 32 miles of pristine beaches makes this coastal community a year-round destination. The city has four beach mats in place:
- East Gulf Place (parking/beach access for Gulf Shores residents only)
- Gulf Place just east of Hangout Restaurant
- Bathhouse at 101 West Beach Blvd.
- West Gulf Place (public parking/beach access)
Beach wheelchairs can be rented from three local companies.
Huntington Beach, California
Located about 35 miles southeast of downtown LA, Huntington Beach embraces people with disabilities. Not only does the beach provide access at multiple entrances, but there’s an adaptive surf program, a therapeutic horseback riding center, and an all-inclusive playground. Wheelchair-friendly beach access can be found at the state beach parking lots, the Huntington Beach Pier, 11th and 9th Streets, and Dog Beach. Rent a beach wheelchair from Zack’s Rentals.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Known as the Grand Strand, the Myrtle Beach area spans sixty miles and is one of the most wheelchair-friendly destinations in the country with more than 40 accessible beach access points. Loaner beach wheelchairs with balloon tires and seat belts are delivered and picked up from your location at no charge. Travelers with a valid handicapped, Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, or Medal of Honor vehicle license tag or an official handicapped hang tag may park for free at any publicly operated meter.
Pensacola’s more than 450 years of history, walkable downtown, and 18 miles of sugar-white beaches makes a fascinating get-away. Five of the beaches have mats: Casino Beach, Park West, Moms Beach (Quietwater Beach), Boardwalk Beach, and Baby Beach. Johnson Beach, a designated recreational area on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, has beach wheelchairs available. Ask a park ranger or volunteer for assistance.
South Walton County, Florida
Located in Northwest Florida, the 26 miles of South Walton County beaches sit beside the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Each of the sixteen beach neighborhoods emit a unique vibe. Seven of the nine beaches are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible and offer different benefits. For example, the Van Ness Butler Jr. Beach entry is about a three minute walk from the intimate Watercolor Inn. Stairs and a wooden ramp provide access to the beach which has accessible bathrooms and parking. During peak season, life guards are stationed here. A beach wheelchair can be borrowed free of charge through the South Walton Fire District (available March 1 – Oct 31, 10:30 am – 5:30 pm).
Last year, Bradford Beach completed the final phase of a five-year accessibility plan to make the beach usable for people with a range of disabilities. A 100-foot-ramp, made of smooth concrete, runs from the street to the beach. The 8-foot width allows two wheelchairs to easily share the path. A portable mat extends from the end of the sidewalk to the water’s edge seasonally. Four beach wheelchairs may be borrowed at no charge through the concessionaire, The Dock, at the Beach House.
San Diego, California
Lather on the sunscreen and explore San Diego’s 70 miles of coastal beaches.
Beach mats are found from May through September at nine area beaches. Lifeguard stations at Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Pacific Beach loan and rent a variety of beach wheelchairs.
Roll the 100-year-old Prom in Seaside. The 1.5 mile Promenade is the best spot for people watching. The Pacific Ocean, rocky bluffs, and sandy dunes provide stunning views. You can borrow a beach wheelchair—at no charge—from the Sunset Empire Parks & Recreation District.
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