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Northern California Trip Planning for Deaf Travelers

Northern California Trip Planning for Deaf Travelers

From hiking through redwoods to cruising across San Francisco Bay, Lily Yu of Deaf Journey shares her tips for planning an accessible Northern California vacation

Posted 8 months agoby Jenny Willden

On a recent trip to Northern California, deaf Asian-American travel advocate Lily Yu and her husband explored the urban and outdoorsy wonders of San Francisco, Oakland, and the Tri-Valley. She showcased their adventures on Instagram (@deafjourney), where she offers deaf lifestyle and travel tips. Below Yu shares trip highlights and culinary experiences.

What are the top three highlights from your trip around Northern California?

It’s hard to pick the top three experiences from our trip, but if I had to choose, it would be Blue & Gold Fleet’s San Francisco Bay Cruise, Oakland’s Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, and Tri-Valley’s Blackhawk Museum.

We rode Blue & Gold Fleet’s final 60-minute cruise of the day to catch a beautiful sunset and amazing views. We sailed under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, past the famous Pier 39 sea lions, around mysterious Alcatraz Island, along San Francisco’s historic waterfront, and past the fascinating city skyline. 

Beginning one morning in Oakland, we took a hike around Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park to walk through the largest remaining natural stand of coastal redwoods. We had the trails mostly to ourselves and loved the easy 2.5-mile French, Bridle, and Stream Trail Loop.

Tri-Valley’s Blackhawk Museum wowed us because it truly delivers many “worlds” in one museum. ​​Best known for its collection of rare and classic cars, the museum has expanded into five galleries: The Classic Car Collection, The Spirit of the Old West, Into China, Art of Africa, and World of Nature. There’s so much to explore in each, and all transported us back in time.

What are some of the best things you ate and/or drank along the way? 

In San Francisco, we thought Son and Garden’s famous cotton candy–topped Cloud 9 cocktail was creative—and impressively good without alcohol. The Filipino ube pancakes covered in coconut sauce and berries at Alnico in San Francisco were great for breakfast. For dinner, Daughter Thai Kitchen in Oakland is delicious; the 24 Hours Beef Noodle Soup with beef short rib, egg noodles, and veal broth was a favorite.  

What were your impressions of Presidio Tunnel Tops?

It was our first time visiting Presidio Tunnel Tops, a new attraction that opened in summer 2022. The site is fully accessible and welcoming for all ages. There are plenty of places to sit and take in the view of the Golden Gate Bridge while enjoying a meal from one of many food trucks. Outpost is a nice play area for kids with swings, slides, and climbing areas made of natural materials. We loved Campfire Circle's fire pit as a place to warm up. If you’re looking for a room with a view, Lodge at the Presidio is the closest hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge where you can see the bridge through the room windows. 

Are there any places you felt were particularly accessible for deaf travelers?

Yes, Walt Disney Family Museum’s mobile app includes an American Sign Language video tour. Simply download an app to take the self-guided tour, so you don't have to put in a request for an interpreter. On our cruise, Blue and Gold Fleet provided a transcript where we could learn more about the history of San Francisco as told on the cruise. 

What did you explore while in Oakland?

We stayed at the Claremont Club and Spa resort  in Berkeley for a night. We loved visiting Lake Merritt, the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland Museum of California, Temescal Alley, Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, and Oakland’s Chinatown for art murals by Dragon School 99.

Deaf Journey in California

So many of the places you visited were visually stunning. What stood out?

The Garden Court in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco is a gorgeous place for breakfast with its glass ceilings and chandeliers. Another must-stop area is San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden because of its natural beauty, tranquility, and harmony. You can see an arched drum bridge, pagodas, koi ponds, and more.

Tri-Valley is full of hidden gems. What are some must-stops while there?

If you’re looking to get outdoors, Holdener Park’s Blue Oak Canyon Loop and Old Ranch Road’s 1-mile loop trail are nice, easy options. See cows at Sycamore Grove Park and explore hiking, biking, or walking trails through the 847-acre open-space park.

When looking for self-care, book a spa experience at The Purple Orchid. I enjoyed a relaxing 30-minute Signature Hydrafacial Service with Kathleen. If you’re looking to indulge in something sweet, make for Meadowlark Dairy to taste their spectacular ice cream.  

Do you have any advice for travelers planning a trip to California?

It's hard to find parking in San Francisco so I recommend using ride-sharing apps in the city. If you’re exploring beyond San Francisco, reserve a rental car to get around different areas. It can be chilly, so always bring a jacket along. When dining or planning tours, make a reservation in advance.  

Are there any particular amenities that you look for or appreciate most as a deaf traveler?

Yes, hotels should have an ADA room for people with disabilities that includes doorbell lights for Deaf people. Deaf travelers should make sure the room’s fire alarm has flashing lights when it goes off, and be sure to check if the TV has closed captioning on. Hotel employees should know basic American Sign Language to communicate with Deaf people. It would be nice if all attractions could provide an American Sign Language interpreter. Also, it's nice to create an app where Deaf people can take a self-guided ASL tour.