From our friendly, diverse neighborhoods to our comfortable year-round climate and endless options to relax and rejuvenate, San Diego welcomes visitors with open arms. And that emphatically includes our visitors with special needs.
In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (May 18), we’d like to spotlight how San Diego’s world-class attractions and other visitor favorites around the city offer a range of assistance programs and adaptive technologies for those with disabilities.
San Diego’s attention to accessibility is one reason the region is now home to a pair of attractions that are among the first on the West Coast to be designated as Certified Autism Centers: Sesame Place San Diego (operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment) and LEGOLAND California.
It also helps demonstrate why San Diego is the home of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides adaptive sports equipment and opportunities nationwide; and why the city also has birthed such ventures as Access Trax, which is devoted to ADA-compliant beach access for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
And we’re proud to add that after visiting here recently, Cory Lee — a renowned wheelchair travel expert with a sizable social-media following — said in a blog post about the city’s wheelchair accessibility for travelers: “I had pretty high expectations for San Diego and after spending five days in the city, I’m happy to say that it surpassed all of my hopes and dreams.”
Here’s a look at some of the disability-access programs and services offered around San Diego:
San Diego startup Access Trax provides lightweight, portable mats to ease beach access. The company rents and sells the mats — billed as “the only portable, foldable pathway for accessibility over outdoor terrain” — to families, events and governments in 15 countries. Access Trax was an inaugural member of the San Diego Tourism Authority’s Tourism Accelerator program, and recently won a $25,000 MetroConnect prize to expand the company’s presence in markets such as Canada and Australia.
For travelers with mobility challenges who are eager to hit San Diego’s famed beaches, the region offers numerous options for reserving specialized beach wheelchairs. And several area beaches also have installed mats to provide easier access to the sand. Learn all about the offerings here.
Sesame Place San Diego
This splashy new attraction — the only “Sesame Street”-themed park on the West Coast — combines all the family-friendly fun of the TV show with an impressive collection of zippy rides and water slides. As a Certified Autism Center, Sesame Place also offers a wide range of accommodations for those on the autism spectrum, including staff who are trained in sensory awareness, social skills and other areas; ride accessibility; two quiet rooms; and a downloadable sensory guide to the park for pre-trip preparation. In addition, young visitors may get a chance to meet 4-year-old Julia, a bright and friendly “Sesame Street” character who has autism.
Like all LEGOLAND parks in North America now, LEGOLAND California is a Certified Autism Center. This means the staff has received specialized training and there are sensory guides at each ride and low-sensory areas and quiet rooms, among other accessible features. LEGOLAND offers numerous other accommodations for its visitors with disabilities, including mobility challenges. Discover the full range of accessibility options and download a sensory guide on the attraction’s website.
San Diego Zoo
The world-renowned zoo’s Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, which opened in 2022, is a dazzling 3.2-acre adventure zone built on the site of the former Children’s Zoo and offering a wonderland of accessible wildlife encounters, play areas and hands-on learning opportunities. And the entire zoo is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Location, denoting trained staff and volunteers plus the availability of “sensory bags” (which contain calming items), quiet areas and other accommodations for those with special needs. A detailed “social story” is also available for pre-visit familiarization. Those offerings complement the comprehensive disability-access services described in the zoo’s Accessibility Guide.
SeaWorld San Diego
This venerable San Diego theme park and wildlife organization is about to open its latest thrill ride: The Arctic Rescue coaster. SeaWorld’s services for visitors with disabilities include a Special Access Program for those whose conditions make it difficult to wait in line for such experiences as the park’s numerous rides, which cater to everyone from young kids to adventure-minded grown-ups. The program is just part of an extensive suite of accommodations detailed in the SeaWorld Park Accessibility Guide.
San Diego Padres
With the Major League Baseball season now in full swing, the Padres — who nearly made it to the World Series in 2022 and have another strong team this year — offer a full lineup of accessibility services at Petco Park, the team’s inviting waterfront home. Like the San Diego Zoo, the Padres have partnered with the nonprofit KultureCity. Among the club’s accommodations are sensory bags that include noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys and other items (check the guide for information on where to find them), plus a Sensory Map and Sensory Story for pregame familiarization.
More Information on Accessible Travel
The SDTA provides multiple resources geared toward visitors with disabilities. Check out this roundup of additional accommodations and services around San Diego. And happy travels!