From the Famous to the Infamous: San Francisco’s Top Five Wheelchair Accessible Attractions

the top 5 wheelchair accessible attractions in san franciscoOne of the best parts of getting older is the potential for more free time—and what better way to spend it than exploring the city you live in. Especially for those lucky enough to call a cosmopolitan hotspot like San Francisco home, the list of things to do is seemingly endless. Chalk full of galleries, museums, outdoor activities, and fascinating historical sites, this city is one of America’s best. Not to mention it’s also very accessible for wheelchair users, ranking quite high for mobility friendliness.

It’s no wonder we get visitors traveling from all over the globe just to get a taste of this vibrant place—San Francisco is home to mesmerizing aquariums, notorious islands, and renowned fine arts institutions. Visiting these famed spots can be incredibly engaging, giving you an insider’s perspective on a myriad of interesting new subjects. More than anything, exploring the city’s best attractions with your loved one can offer the two of you a chance to learn and explore together while taking in new sights and sounds.

Engaging Activities to Enjoy with Your Loved One in San Francisco

With such an abundance of wheelchair-friendly places to visit around San Francisco, we’ve highlighted our five favorites. Find out which ones resonate most with your aging loved one, then have fun planning some local cultural outings together.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

One of the best museums on the West Coast, SFMOMA is a must-see for any art lover. The museum’s large permanent collection contains around 26,000 pieces of 20th-century art, as well as rotating exhibitions, giving you something new to see on a regular basis.

As with all MOMA museums, the SF site has been specifically designed with accessibility in mind, so your aging loved one can enjoy oodles of world-class art within an accessible environment. Visitors with motorized wheelchairs can also contact the museum ahead of time to ensure the best experience possible.

  • Accessibility: All entryways are wheelchair accessible with ramps, and there are wheelchair-friendly washrooms located throughout.
  • Address: 151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94103   
  • Phone: (415) 357-4000
  • Hours: Friday through Tuesday 10am to 5pm, and Thursday 10am to 9pm; closed Wednesdays
  • Cost: $25 for adults, and $22 for older adults over 65

Alcatraz Island

A trip to the infamous Alcatraz Island can offer your loved one a captivating glimpse into both prison culture and local history. Also known as The Rock, Alcatraz is home to the famous federal prison that once held notorious criminals like Al Capone. Featured in films, numerous prison documentaries, TV shows, and books, the penitentiary has been closed since the early 1960s, but modern tours give an up-close view of the facility—a thrill for many.

Alcatraz is about 1.5 miles from San Francisco city. A wheelchair-friendly ferry at Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf, can transport you and your loved one to the island. Keep in mind, it’s fairly hilly, so we recommend doing a tour through SEAT (Sustainable Easy Access Transport). Leaving twice per hour, SEAT ensures your loved one will get from the island dock to the prison safely and comfortably.

  • Accessibility: The attractions on the island are all accessible, including ramps and restrooms.
  • Address: Alcatraz Cruises, Pier 33, San Francisco, CA   
  • Phone: (415) 561-4900
  • Hours: Seasonal hours vary; check here for current hours.  
  • Cost: $35.50 for adults, and $33.50 for older adults over 62 (for day tours)

California Academy of Sciences

Located inside Golden Gate Park is one of the best—and biggest—natural history museums in the country. Founded in the early 1850s as a place for research and learning, these traditions are still alive today. An ideal place to bring anyone who’s enthusiastic about nature, animals, or how the world works, your aging loved one can check out fascinating exhibits, as well as permanent installations like the Morrison Planetarium, Rainforests of the World, the Earthquake Exhibition, and Steinhart Aquarium. You’ll both feel like kids again in no time after wandering through these interactive exhibitions.

The museum’s building underwent massive changes in 2008, and now boasts excellent wheelchair accessibility throughout the premises. And, a helpful hint—consider purchasing your tickets online ahead of your visit so your loved one doesn’t need to wait in line at the ticket booth.

  • Accessibility: There are ramps available at all entryways, in addition to ADA standard restrooms.
  • Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
  • Phone: (415) 379-8000
  • Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30am to 5pm, and Sunday 11am to 5pm
  • Cost: $34.95 for adults, and $29.95 for older adults over 65

Aquarium of the Bay

If your aging loved one is an animal-lover, they might really appreciate a trip to this fantastic aquarium—it offers visitors an insider’s view from glass tunnels, allowing your loved one to feel as if they’re underwater with the sea life. There’s a huge array of striking creatures—over 20,000—including sharks, sea otters, jellyfish, rays, eels, sturgeons, and many more fish native to the Bay Area.

Near Pier 39 in San Francisco, Aquarium of the Bay is an incredible attraction for animal lovers and aquatic fanatics alike. There’s nothing quite like seeing these majestic creatures face-to-face to appreciate how breathtaking they really are. The aquarium also features educational information galore, so you’ll both come away with new knowledge about marine life.

  • Accessibility: The aquarium features accessible facilities like wheelchair-friendly entryways with ramps and ADA standard restrooms.
  • Address: Aquarium by the Bay, San Francisco, CA 94133   
  • Phone: (415) 623-5300
  • Hours: Most days; check here for specific times and dates
  • Cost: $24.95 for adults, and $14.95 for older adults over 65

De Young Museum

If art history is a passion for your aging loved one, they’ll appreciate a visit to this prestigious museum. Situated inside Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum holds a beautiful collection of American works from the 17th through 21st centuries. It also has international exhibitions featuring art from around the world, including Africa.

Your loved one can feast their eyes upon a wealth of paintings, costumes, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and more. While the building was constructed back in 1894, it’s been updated to include modern comforts, while still maintaining a historical feel. Strolling through the museum is like stepping back in time—a stimulating trip that you and your aging loved one will reflect on for days.  

  • Accessibility: All entryways have been made wheelchair-friendly with ramps, and restrooms are accessible.
  • Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118   
  • Phone: (415) 750-3600   
  • Hours: 9:30am to 5:15pm; closed Mondays
  • Cost: $10 for adults, and $7 for older adults over 65

These are just a few of the wheelchair-friendly attractions for you and your loved one to experience in San Francisco—plenty more exist beyond this list. Not only are they fun to visit in the moment, but they also give you something interesting to chat about. Discussing what you found especially captivating is all part of the overall enjoyment, so be sure to ask your loved one questions about their experience both during, and after, your trip. And, if your loved prefers to go on their own, San Francisco offers multiple options for

And, if your loved prefers to go on their own, San Francisco offers multiple options for accessible transportation they can use. Most of the area’s transportation—including MUNI, BART, trams, and taxis—are wheelchair-friendly and meet ADA standards.

No matter how your loved one might want to explore these stimulating activities, they are all sure to inspire and delight. Exploring cultural attractions can help your loved one exercise their independence—and soak up the energy of their city to the fullest.

If you want to provide your aging loved one with better support, Institute on Aging offers a range of programs, services, and online resources to help. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

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