The most wheelchair-accessible beach destinations in the U.S.

Mar 6, 2021

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Everyone loves a beach day, but for those that use wheelchairs, beaches can often be tricky to navigate. Unfortunately, standard manual and motorized wheelchairs aren’t made to roll in the sand (unless you want to get stuck!), so most beaches are off-limits to wheelchair users without special accommodations.

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Sounds depressing, right? Well, not so fast! Luckily, many beaches now have things like access mats and beach wheelchairs, making a day on the sandy shores possible for beachgoers of all abilities. Here are some of the most wheelchair-accessible beach destinations in the U.S.

(Photo courtesy of Cory Lee for The Points Guy)

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Located on Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast, the city of Gulf Shores has become one of the leading beach destinations for wheelchair users in recent years. Visitors can rent motorized beach wheelchairs from two different companies, Beach‘N Buggy’s or Beach Power Rentals. With these motorized beach wheelchairs, wheelchair users can roll independently on the sand and fully enjoy the beach experience. The motorized chairs cannot go in the water, of course, but an amphibious beach wheelchair is available at The Beach Club Resort & Spa by Spectrum Resorts for guests of the resort. The amphibious chair can roll on the sand and float in the water, giving those with disabilities the best of both worlds. Lastly, thanks to two AccessMats at Gulf Shores Public Beach, wheelchair users can also enjoy the beach even without a special beach wheelchair. The AccessMats go approximately 350 feet out on the beach and allow wheelchair users to use their own everyday wheelchairs, manual or motorized, to roll on the beach.

Related: Machu Pecchu — One of Peru’s Greatest Tourist Attractions — Gets Even More Wheelchair Accessible

Clearwater Beach, Florida

Florida has quite a few accessible beaches, but one of the best is undoubtedly Clearwater Beach. This destination has repeatedly been named the nation’s best beach by major publications and for good reason. You just can’t beat the crystal-clear waters of Clearwater Beach! For wheelchair users, it’s possible to take in the ocean views from the sidewalk, which runs along the beach, or Pier 60. If you’d rather get out on the sand though, manual beach wheelchairs are available to use for free. They are available at the lifeguard station near Pier 60 on a first-come, first-served basis. While the free manual beach wheelchairs are nice, it’s also possible to rent a motorized beach wheelchair from Sand Helper if you’d rather roll up and down the beach independently.

Muskegon, Michigan

When thinking of beach destinations in the U.S., Michigan probably isn’t one of the first places to come to mind, but it absolutely should be. In particular, the city of Muskegon is especially great for wheelchair users ready to enjoy the beach. The Muskegon State Park beach has not only free manual beach wheelchairs to use, but an Action Trackchair as well. The Action Trackchair is completely free to use and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Unlike the typical beach wheelchair, the Trackchair has tank treads and can roll in mud, on sand, over rocks, or anywhere else that the outdoors take you. If you’d like to reserve the chair for a specific day, call Muskegon State Park (231-744-3480) and let them know when you’ll be there.

Santa Monica, California

The Santa Monica Pier. (Photo by Gary Weathers/Getty Images)

Southern California has quite a few accessible beach destinations, but the eclectic city of Santa Monica certainly stands out as one of the best. Wheelchair users can browse the various shops or get something to eat on the Santa Monica Pier before lounging on the beach. The pier is about 1,600 feet long and even has an amusement park built on it, so you’ll never run out of fun things to do. However, when you’re ready to hit up the beach, beach wheelchairs are available in a couple of locations. The Annenberg Community Beach House has one beach wheelchair available for free on a first-come, first-served basis and Perry’s Cafe has a few complimentary beach wheelchairs, both manual and motorized, as well. For even more fun during your time in Santa Monica, visit the North Beach Playground. It’s a universally accessible playground with barrier-free equipment, accessible surfaces, and sensory play elements as well.

Related: From Santa Monica to Burbank: 15 Los Angeles hotels you can book on points

Honolulu

For the ultimate tropical U.S. beach destination, you can go to Hawaii. Multiple Hawaiian islands offer some degree of accessibility on their beaches, but the capital city of Honolulu is the most accommodating. Ala Moana Beach Park has both amphibious beach wheelchairs, available for free on a first-come, first-served basis, and beach access mats. There are access mats and amphibious beach wheelchairs at both the Diamond Head and Ewa concession stands in Ala Moana Beach Park. Just a short drive from Honolulu is Kailua Beach, another one of the most accessible beaches in Hawaii. Similar to Ala Moana Beach Park, Kailua Beach has both beach access mats and amphibious beach wheelchairs. However, the amphibious beach wheelchairs at Kailua Beach do need to be reserved at least one day in advance by calling the Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-768-8980.

Related: This Is What It’s Like to Travel With a Disability in the United States

Miami

Coming in last, but certainly not least, on this list is Miami Beach! It’s simply impossible to talk about accessible beach destinations without mentioning Miami because the destination has really gone above and beyond in recent years. Both manual and motorized beach wheelchairs are now available to use for free from the Beach Patrol locations at 1001 Ocean Drive and at South Pointe Park. Mobi-Mat beach access mats are also available at multiple beach entrances in Miami Beach.

Bottom line

The six beaches listed above have amenities that make them truly inclusive beach destinations. Just because someone uses a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean that they have to miss out on enjoying many of the beaches here in the U.S. Instead, wheelchair users may even have more fun than their able-bodied companions while zooming down the beach at full speed in an awesome beach wheelchair!

Featured photo by AlexanderFord/Getty Images.

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