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7 Wheelchair-Accessible Beaches

These sandy destinations also offer amenities for people who use wheelchairs

spinner image barbara and her son weston twardowski on a boardwalk in gulf state park in gulf shores alabama
Writer Barbara Twardowski and her son, Weston Twardowski, on a boardwalk in Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Courtesy Jim Twardowski

For the past three decades, my family has vacationed in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama, where I have loved hunting for seashells and floating in the warm waves. As the years passed, a progressive neuromuscular disease weakened my limbs. Walking became impossible, and now I use a wheelchair full-time.

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​My love for the beach never waned, but how I enjoy it changed. Mostly, I appreciate the water from afar. I like spotting wildlife while meandering on wheelchair-accessible pathways at Gulf State Park, sitting on the outdoor deck of a beachfront hotel watching sea oats sway on the dunes, and dining at restaurants with ocean views.

​In 2018, Gulf Shores began installing beach access mats. These nonslip mats create a temporary pathway that prevents individuals with mobility challenges — or anyone who needs extra support — from sinking in the soft sand. Today, there are four access mats on the Gulf Shores beach and one at Gulf State Park's Cotton Bayou Beach in Orange Beach.

spinner image a wheelchair accessible pad on the beach in gulf shores alabama
The beach access mat at Cotton Bayou beach in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

​Small and large communities across the country are making their beaches more accessible for people who have disabilities. The addition of beach access mats, ramps, boardwalks, viewing areas, designated parking and beach wheelchairs removes physical barriers and allows everyone an outing at the beach. Here are six beaches in addition to Gulf Shores that are welcoming for wheelchair users like me.

​Daytona Beach, Florida

spinner image a mobility device available for rental with an included beach umbrella at daytona beach in florida
Visitors can borrow or rent a beach wheelchair in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

​When it comes to easy access, Daytona Beach allows parking right on the beach on 11 of the shoreline’s 23 miles. Vehicles displaying handicapped insignia park for free on the beach.

​You can borrow a beach wheelchair (first come, first served) from lifeguard stations at Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach and Ormond Beach Station on Cardinal Drive, and at Beach Headquarters in Daytona Beach. Note: The amount of time you have the loan depends upon the waiting list. 

​Hilton Head, South Carolina

spinner image a sign for coligny beach park at hilton head in south carolina
People who use wheelchairs can borrow one at Coligny Beach Park in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Images-USA / Alamy Stock Photo

​Lounge on this Lowcountry barrier island where 12 miles of beach hugs the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, Hilton Head unveiled an elevated overlook pavilion at Islanders Beach Park. Located beside a boardwalk surrounded by trees, the wheelchair-accessible viewing area provides benches and shade. 

​All of Hilton Head’s beaches have access mats stretching to the hard-packed sand and near the high tide line. Three beach wheelchairs are available to borrow at both Islanders Beach Park and Coligny Beach Park. Reserve a beach wheelchair on the town’s website up to three days prior to your visit. A $25 refundable credit card charge is required. 

​Jekyll Island, Georgia

spinner image dune grass in front of the beach and ocean in jekyll island georgia
Jekyll Island has four accessible beach access points.
rschnaible/Getty

​A barrier island that’s also a Georgia state park, Jekyll Island boasts 10 miles of pristine shoreline. People who have disabilities can access the beaches from four entry crossover points (Oceanview Beach Park #26, Great Dunes Park #32, Beach Village #38, St. Andrews Beach #67) using mats or a ramp. A limited number of beach wheelchairs may be borrowed at these entrances.

​Oceanview Beach Park completed renovations in 2019 adding a balcony-style overlook with two Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-accessible benches.

Santa Monica, California

spinner image the santa monica pier in santa monica california
The Santa Monica Pier is accessible for people with mobility issues.
Luciano Lejtman/Getty

Santa Monica Beach stretches for 3.5 miles and is packed with amenities. The landmark pier juts into the Pacific Ocean and is an ideal way for a wheelchair user to see the crashing waves and smell the salty air. Inside the historic hippodrome, the spinning carousel offers one chariot that’s accessed via a ramp.

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​Under the Santa Monica Pier, Heal the Bay Aquarium provides complimentary manual beach wheelchairs for two hours (leave a driver’s license as collateral). Wheelchair-accessible pathways to the water are located at six points. All the wheelchairs are first come, first served.

​​South Padre Island, Texas

spinner image a pier extending over the ocean on south padre island in texas
Walkovers help make the beach easy to enjoy on South Padre Island.
Jeff R Clow/Getty

​South Padre Island is a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay. Each year the island hosts approximately 5 million overnight visitors — an impressive number for a community with only around 2,000 residents.

​The Island Metro shuttle buses have wheelchair lifts and run seven days a week. The buses provide rides on Gulf Boulevard, where nine entrances to the beach have access mats and 12 have walkovers.

​Borrow amphibious beach wheelchairs by calling the Fire Department (956-761-3040) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can also stop by the station anytime to check one out as long as a firefighter is at the station. The 10 beach wheelchairs are available first come, first served. 

​South Walton, Florida

spinner image a beach wheelchair access ramp in south walton florida
Miramar Beach offers easy access to the sand and sea in South Walton, Florida.
Visit South Walton Florida

​Sixteen neighborhoods sit beside the turquoise water and sugar-white sand of northwest Florida. Eight of South Walton’s regional beach access points are wheelchair accessible.

​A limited number of beach wheelchairs are also available at no charge. To borrow a beach wheelchair, ask the lifeguards on duty from March 1 to Oct. 31 (between 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.) at the these five locations: Miramar Beach (Tower 54); Ed Walline (Tower 33); Van Ness Butler (Tower 22); Santa Clara (Tower 21); Inlet Beach (Tower 11). Tip: The blue beach mat at Ed Walline extends farther down the beach than the other options.

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