Full of beautiful scenery and bustling streets, California’s Bay Area is one of the world’s most appealing places to explore. And it’s certainly full of nostalgia for older folks lucky enough to have grown up here, or who visited during younger years. But wheelchair users might find themselves a bit reluctant to discover all of its charms to their fullest because of the region’s notoriously varied terrain. Known for its steep hills and narrow streets, places like San Francisco and Oakland can, at first glance, appear unfriendly to those with reduced mobility. Or, family members may be hesitant to bring their loved one on an outing if they expect it’ll be tough for them.
Fortunately, the Bay Area actually features a variety of wheelchair accessible transportation, buildings, and public spaces. Its public transit system is largely wheelchair-friendly, while private transportation like taxis and scooter rentals are also available throughout the region. Planning ahead and getting to know the Bay Area’s public transit options like Muni and BART, and local wheelchair-friendly taxi services, can also help caregivers ensure their aging loved one has a smooth time getting around the city. Exploring the sights and sounds of San Francisco can help rekindle your loved one’s memories and spark nostalgic feelings of past adventures exploring this beautiful area.
Brushing Up on Wheelchair-Friendly Transportation in the Bay Area
No matter where you and your loved one are heading, researching the route in advance can help avoid unexpected hiccups. When wheeling around, watch out for height differences in curbs that can prove tricky to navigate—not all sidewalks in our city have level areas to roll on and off the road from. The Bay Area also has quite a few hilly streets, which can be a lot easier to tackle with a motorized scooter. If your loved one doesn’t own one personally, you can rent one from Scoot Around for around $200 per week.
It’s also helpful to plan transportation routes according to your loved one’s mobility level. If they’re able to walk short distances, try using the buses and trains most of the time. Otherwise, wheelchair-friendly taxi cabs and scooters are good alternatives that are worth the extra cost to let your loved one explore the city with ease. While most public transit meets ADA standards, do steer clear of the Cable Cars, which were constructed long before those regulations were put in place. Overall, there are many options for wheelchair accessible transportation for your aging loved one to choose from when getting around town to explore their favorite sentimental spots.
The Muni Bus System
These public buses run throughout the Bay Area, and are equipped with lifts for wheelchair accessibility. They also have tie-downs to secure wheelchairs on board, as well as kneelers. The Muni Access Guide provides more detailed information about Muni’s wheelchair services. Call the number below to make specific inquiries or to learn more about the system’s accessibility features.
- Muni Access Guide: (415) 923-6142
The BART Train System
An elaborate underground train system, BART is useful for getting around quickly, especially from tourist spots like Market Street, the airport, and busy stations like the Embarcadero. The trains offer roll-on access, and wheelchair-users can take elevators to reach the stations. One caveat is that the elevators are sometimes out of order. To make sure the BART stations you’re planning on using have working elevators, phone ahead to ask.
- BART Elevator Hotline: (510) 834-5438
These taxis, typically vans, offer wheelchair-friendly ramps, as well as the ability to secure the wheelchair in place during the ride. Happily, the price is usually the same as for a typical taxi cab. Since wheelchair accessible cabs can be quite hard to come by on the street, we suggest calling one of the companies below ahead of time. You can also explain any additional requests or needs your loved one has over the phone.
Sentimental Afternoon Trips to Enjoy with Your Aging Loved One
With all these transportation options available, your loved one can explore their favorite parts of the Bay Area without needing to feel anxious about getting around. No matter what they used to like doing—whether walking on trails, taking a ferry, or eating at their favorite restaurant—they’ll be able to continue to enjoy it in their later years. Going on a few afternoon day trips can help them gain confidence getting around on their wheelchair. And, more importantly, it can give the two of you some shared quality time.
Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
Noodling around Fisherman’s Wharf is a lovely way to spend a day with your loved one. It offers numerous restaurant choices to suit any taste and most buildings here are wheelchair accessible. Some of our favorite places to eat include Scoma’s for wildly fresh seafood, Alioto’s for Italian fusion cuisine, and Eight AM for an unforgettable brunch. You’ll often find live entertainment going on as you wander past different local venues. It’s easy to lose track of time sauntering from street to street, peeking inside the different shops, and sitting down at a streetside bistro to people watch as the sun sets.
In terms of accessibility, many streets here have lower curbs for wheelchairs to easily enter on and off sidewalks and the general terrain is fairly even, making for stress-free rolling. If you happen to come in your own car, accessible parking is offered—and you can usually find at least a few free spots. If you prefer not to drive, we recommend getting there either by private taxi or by taking the F-line in one of its classic streetcars.
Take a Ferry to Sausalito
If you’re looking to step outside mainland city life, a ferry ride to Sausalito offers a breath of fresh air. You and your loved one can easily spend the day strolling around the charming streets of downtown Sausalito and soaking up views all around. Having lunch or a midday snack at one of the many waterfront restaurants is a great way to rest and refuel. We recommend The Spinnaker and the Barrel House Tavern, though there’s a wide variety to choose from. Linger over tea together at BridgeWay Cafe while sharing life stories or casual conversation—there’s something about getting away on the water that lets people relax more than usual.
You can get there by taking a ferry from Golden Gate Ferry or Blue and Gold Fleet. Both lines go back and forth between San Francisco and Sausalito about 9 times a day. All ferries are fully wheelchair accessible, including bathrooms, roll-on access, and lifts. Golden Gate Ferries depart from the Ferry Building located at the bottom of Market Street, while Blue and Gold leaves from Fisherman’s Wharf. Unless it’s around holiday season, there’s no need to buy tickets ahead of time. Tickets run about $5.75 for anyone over 65 and $11.75 for adults. We recommend holding off on purchasing a round trip ticket, though, so you can decide in the moment when you want to return.
Hang Out at Crissy Field
Another neat spot to bring your loved one to is Crissy Field. This national park is more than 100 acres, with plenty of space for you to relax and soak up the sun. Hard dirt trails allow all-terrain wheelchairs to easily roll—and you can borrow these for free from the center on site. Bring a picnic to snack on while watching the birds and observing nature in the tidal marsh. It’s a particularly picturesque place to birdwatch or work on your loved one’s nature photography skills.
Crissy Field offers accessible parking, restrooms, routes, and picnic areas. It’s even possible to reserve a beach wheelchair ahead of time! You can get here by taxi, public buses, or trains. Visit the Muni site to find out which buses to take by typing in your current location and where you want to go. Similarly, head to the BART site to find the quickest route via train. There’s also a free PresidiGo shuttle route that will bring you and your loved one directly to Crissy Field.
Visiting beloved attractions like these can bring back wonderful memories for your aging loved one. Especially if they’ve lived in the Bay Area for some time, there may be many spots here that hold a special place in their heart. Maybe it’s a restaurant they went to on their first date, or a picnic area they used to visit with their family often. They might have a favorite park where they used to jog, or famous local attractions they took their children to way back when.
You and your loved one can enjoy these cherished sites as a way to reconnect with each other—and encourage your loved one to share some nostalgic stories as you reminisce together. Perhaps the best part about exploring these attractions with your aging loved one is the new memories you’ll make along the way.
If you want help to better support your aging loved one in a wheelchair, Institute on Aging offers a range of programs, services, and online resources to help. Contact us today to learn more.