Accessible Beaches

pov of a boardwalk

What are the most wheelchair accessible beaches?

Dig out the sunscreen, the unofficial start of summer is almost here

Let’s hit the beach! Summer unofficially starts next weekend, around Memorial Day, and we’re already scheming about how to sneak off to the seaside for a day or two just to get away.

The ocean puts things in perspective, and when you’re sucking in some clear, salty air and soaking up the vastness of the ocean, problems all of the sudden don’t feel so big. It’s like resetting your cell phone when it starts to act up, except it’s a reset for your soul.

After being cooped up all year to stay safe during the pandemic, a trip to the beach sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

Anyway, we wanted to share some of what we’ve found to be the best and renowned seaside destinations for people who use mobility devices. We know Pride Mobility riders come from every corner of the nation, so we tried to include a representative selection with beaches in the north, south, east and west to enjoy aboard a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

A note of caution. Salt water and sand are corrosive and generally bad if they get into your mobility scooter or power chair. If you venture out toward the water, give it a good cleaning when the trip is done.

We looked for one common thread in our beach list. We wanted to highlight spots that allow visitors on wheelchairs to explore as much as they can aboard their own mobility scooters or power chairs. Most, if not all, of these offer free beach wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis. If you’ve never seen one, they’re pretty neat. They have large, inflated tires, mesh seating and PVC frames, which allow you to go up to the surf and get splashed. Some are built to take you right out into the water. If that’s your thing, make sure you call ahead or arrive early enough to secure a beach wheelchair.

But we also know that many of you are happy under a big umbrella with a book and an iced tea, and that you’d prefer to stay put on dry land for the afternoon. If that’s the case, you need to check out one of these hot spots this summer.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

You can find those round OBX bumper stickers on cars in every state for a reason. Beach bums love the Outer Banks. It’s shores are also highly accessible. The Outer Banks tourism arm promises Mobi-Mats, or long roll-out paths that allow standard wheelchairs to get close to the water, at the Eighth Street Beach Access and Jennette’s Pier Beach Access.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Sticking with the East Coast for a moment, Tybee Island in Georgia offers Mobi-Mats at several dune crossings from public access parking lots. Tybee Island is a small, quaint coastal town with historical significance in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. There’s a lighthouse, a museum and old gun batteries. It had been an active part of the nation’s coastal defense infrastructure until after World War II. If you’re a history buff, or simply enjoy quiet towns that don’t get quite as crowded as some of the other more popular East Coast destinations, check out Tybee Island.

Panama City Beach, Florida

Continuing our tour southward, we come to Panama City Beach, which uses Mobi-Mats near the pier. Panama City gets bonus points for its other accessible attractions, including the M.B. City Pier, and the Russell-Fields Pier, which offer fishing, daily fishing licenses and tackle rentals.

Stearns Park Beach, Michigan

If you’re landlocked in the interior, maybe a trip to the coast isn’t in the cards. Lake Michigan might not have that same salt in the air, but you can still experience the vastness of one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. Stearns Park Beach gets top marks for its accessible paths that carry power chair or mobility scooter users almost all the way out to the water. You can also access the Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse, a popular tourist stop, over a paved half-mile breakwater pier. Just be careful. The pier has no handrails!

Sand Harbor, Nevada

If you prefer the light mountain air over sweltering beaches, head for the hills at Lake Tahoe. Sand Harbor Beach in Nevada advertises a sand mat that lets you get pretty close to the water. You can also take in most of the beach area using an accessible boardwalk nature trail that’s about one-third of a mile long.

San Diego, California

Ahh … the West Coast. Sunsets, not sunrises. Cool water, big waves and way too many vegan restaurants. San Diego beaches are known for being accessible with long, paved boardwalks and frequent use of beach mats. In fact, nine of San Diego’s best beaches use mats through the spring and summer months. Like every beach mentioned above, you can typically find big-wheeled beach wheelchairs, including motorized ones at Mission Beach, at lifeguard stations.

Final thoughts on wheelchair mats

We mentioned before that you should deep clean your power chair or mobility scooter after taking it out on the sand, and now’s a good time to reinforce that idea.

On that note, mobility mats, wheelchair mats or the branded Mobi-Mats are wonderful because they create more opportunities for people who use wheelchairs to enjoy the sea. But remember: they’re still superficial coverings for soft, uneven surfaces. Don’t head out without being confident you won’t get stuck out in the sand. If you’re worried that you might sink in, opt for a beach chair. Typically, they’re free and many coastal towns have suppliers that rent them out.

Beach mats, mostly only ever get riders out over the soft sand, to the wet packed stuff that won’t give way under tires as easily. That means, if you’re not keen on putting your scooter or chair right in the sand, you might want to try enjoying the ocean from solid ground on the boardwalk.

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