Wheelchair Accessible San Francisco Delights
by Barbara J. Bookman 199

Barbara Bookman, wheelchair athlete, pitted her strength against the hills of San Francisco and returned home with a new appreciation for the word "steep."

The steep hills of San Francisco need not deter disabled travelers from visiting this fabulous city. There are plenty of flat, accessible places to roll one’s wheelchair. A weekend here gave me only a taste of the variety of goodies this city offers, but it’s a taste I’ll return for again and again.

I flew into San Francisco International Airport with my friend Annie. We traveled on Southwest Airlines from Albuquerque, NM and gave Southwest high marks for their professional attitude and excellent service. I sat in the first row of seats, which allowed me to easily transfer to and from my wheelchair. Southwest promptly delivered my Quickie after our arrival, and I rolled easily through the terminal on the way to Avis Car Rentals. This airport is completely accessible including the restrooms. Avis had my requested two-door car (with hand controls) ready for me, and within minutes we were heading into San Francisco (about 20 miles away).

We checked into the Cow Hollow Motor Inn ( 2190 Lombardy, San Francisco, CA 94123 Tel. 41255/921-5800), which provided security parking and an elevator to our second floor room. Our room was clean, spacious, quiet, and easy to maneuver in. The bathroom featured a low-sided tub with a handheld shower spray. The motel staff was very responsive to my needs and lent me a folding chair for the shower and a plastic laundry bag to fit over it.

The streets surrounding the motel feature a variety of accessible, artsy shops, restaurants and inexpensive places to snack. We enjoyed Korean Hibachi, and Peet's Coffee, but there were too many eateries to sample on such a short trip. We didn’t have time to visit Barney's Gourmet Burgers or any of the nearby Italian restaurants. Don’t plan on losing weight in this city.

Our first afternoon was sunny and beautiful, so we drove over to Golden Gate Park. We spent the rest of the day visiting the Asian Museum there (completely ramped and accessible) and rolling through much of this beautiful park grounds. Much of the park is flat and accessible with ramps. We also visited the Japanese Tea Garden there, which has some challenging access issues, but shouldn’t be missed if you’re interested in Japanese garden design. With care (and a narrow wheelchair) one can safely cross some of the narrow paths that bridge the koi ponds and enjoy the lovely landscaping and solitude.

Our sweet tooths needed a fix after the park, so we drove over to Tart To Tart (8th Ave. & Irving) near the University of San Francisco. This is definitely the place to binge on some of the best desserts imaginable. Talk about cheesecakes galore, not to mention superb coffee and a large unisex restroom in the back. Open 7:30 a.m. – midnight.

Fortified with caffeine, we headed for Chinatown – not exactly an easy place to find parking. We circled the busy, narrow streets for over 30 minutes before finding a place at the bottom of a steep hill. Actually this worked out well as it was time for me to work off some of those calories.

Fisherman's Wharf photoWe had a fun time exploring the colorful array of merchandise, but were too full to sample any of the delicious smelling Chinese restaurants. The sidewalks were crowded with people and many of the stores were a tight fit for my chair, but this area is still worth the hassle. Going down the steep hill I came up on was equally challenging, but we made it back to the car, and drove around a bit more enjoying all the colorful lights of the area before calling it a day.

The next morning we got an early start and ate breakfast at Bepple’s Pies around the corner from the motel. Then we set off to explore Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Finding a parking place anywhere in that area is a challenge here but persevere. Ghiradelli Square is a renovated 19th century factory that has been turned into rows of unique upscale shops and restaurants. The shops sprawl over several levels but elevators make it all accessible. A few blocks away, Fisherman’s Wharf is flat and easy to maneuver. It comes complete with the usual tourist paraphernalia and T-shirt shops. We had a fish lunch at Alioto’s on the wharf and enjoyed the people watching.

We still had a good part of the afternoon left to sightsee and decided we didn’t want to leave the area without a glimpse of the famous California coastal redwoods, so we headed for Muir Woods National Monument about 20 miles away. We traveled north on Highway 101 and took the Mill Valley-Muir Woods exit. In no time at all we were in the middle of a redwood grove and found ourselves surrounded by 1000-year-old towering trees. The paved, level path here (1.5 miles long) is ideal for wheelchair users. This magical place shouldn’t be missed and provides a nice contrast to the bustle of cosmopolitan San Francisco.

Redwood Trees photoAs the afternoon waned and the fog rolled in, we headed back to the city. We only had one more evening in the city and wanted to see the famous Haight-Ashbury area. It proved to be yet another perfectly flat area for wheelchair sightseeing. We bought some pizza slices and enjoyed checking out the variety of boutiques, music stores and avant-garde shops that keep the tourists coming.

Exhausted, we returned to the motel by midnight and slept deeply until it was time to catch our early morning flight home. We vowed to return again and again.

Traveling Hints

Take a warm sweater or jacket as things cool down quickly when the sun disappears.

San Francisco Access Resources

The San Francisco Access Guide is a free bus booklet available from the Accessible Services Program at (415) 923-6142.

Access Northern California

If you have any specific access questions or need advice on the city, call the Independent Living Center of San Francisco (70 10th St., Tel. (415) 863-0581, TDD (415) 863-1367.

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