What you should know about wheelchair access in San Francisco

This is my wheelchair accessible guide to San Francisco, California, USA.

I spent a few days in San Francisco in winter in January 2018 with my Mum.

Flying to San Francisco from Sydney

There are direct flights from Sydney to San Francisco arriving in about 13 hours with Qantas. Mum and I had the third seat in our row vacant allowing me to lie down and sleep on the plane.

San Francisco is 19 hours behind Sydney time. This meant we landed before our departure time and experienced the same day twice.   


We stayed at the beautiful Argonaut Hotel in a great location of the Fisherman’s Wharf. I felt daunted by the height of the check-in desk but had the assistance of Mum.

Once checked in and with our key cards, we used one of the two elevators to access our floor. Our bags were delivered to our room and a tip of a few dollars per bag was exchanged. The room was spacious with big comfy beds and super soft pillows. The bathroom was spacious too with a hand held shower, comfortable fold down seat, a sink that I could roll right under and a mirror at just the right height. There were staff to open the front doors of the hotel whenever we left and returned.


Mum walked and I pushed my wheelchair from the great location of the Argonaut Hotel. It was flat exploring Fishersman’s Wharf and Pier 39 but San Francisco is hilly!

We booked tickets and rode on the Big Bus hop on hop off bus. The buses leave every 20 minutes from each stop. Some buses in their fleet are wheelchair accessible but not every bus. Keep this in mind when hopping on and off especially in the colder and more miserable rainy weather. Some bus drivers did strap my wheelchair in and others didn’t. I preferred my wheelchair to be strapped in because it was much sager when we went up and down the hills of San Francisco. We did the full guided night and day tour which included going over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wheelchair taxis are available but difficult to get. We were able to get one from the airport to our hotel; however, we had to settle for a van and being lifted on return.


Pier 93 is the second most visited attraction in California after Disneyland. It is wheelchair accessible with ramps and a short stroll from Argonaut Hotel. There are many seals to look at on the peer in winter as well as shops and restaurants.

PHOTO Heather Swain

Aquarium of the Bay is also located on Pier 39. Our entry were included in Big Bus tickets and it kept us out of the rain. It’s accessible with lifts and flat surfaces throughout. I really enjoyed learning about aquatic life especially the jellyfish and sharks.

Alcatraz,”The Rock”, was a highlight of my trip to San Francisco. We spent about half a day on Alcatraz. It was once a working military and then federal prison before closing down after becoming too expensive to run. We bought tickets through our hotel concierge and took a long stroll from Argonaut Hotel to Alcatraz. There is a ramp to board and disembark the ferry with wheelchairs boarding and disembarking first. There is plenty of space inside to look out the windows. Once on Alcatraz there is a cart that allows wheelchair users to remain in their wheelchair and be loaded along with other guests (where there is room) and be taken to the top where the main prison is located. There is a lift and ramps to access the inside. It’s accessible to follow the 45 minute audio tour. There are also accessible restrooms. The same cart is available to go back down the hill to the ferry.

locked up PHOTO: Heather Swain

The Painted Ladiesare a row of beautifully painted Victorian style houses located on Alamo Square. It is on a hill but there are flat places in Alamo Park to stop and take photos and view the beautiful architecture. The park is also hilly but enjoyable under blue skies. There is a wheelchair accessible restroom in the park.

The Painted Ladies PHOTO: Heather Swain

Lombard Street is known as the “Crookedest Street in the World”. I had seen it in pictures and bought a postcard but I really wanted to see it for myself. It was only made possible by the help of others. We weren’t driving in the USA so that wasn’t an option and the historic tram isn’t wheelchair friendly. We also knew that I wouldn’t be able to walk the stairs to the top or push up the street with cars coming down. The only way up was to push. Mum began pushing and when we stopped to rest we were lucky to be offered and accept help from some European guys. I enjoyed looking up to see Lombard Street and looking down at the view of San Francisco. Getting down was difficult too as it was steep and I panicked. Mum helped me get down by walking backwards and we went on smoother roads other than the sidewalk.

Safe travels in San Francisco 


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