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Tips for Exploring Southern California in a Wheelchair

Tips for Exploring Southern California in a Wheelchair

Travel expert Cory Lee shares advice on how to enjoy an accessible Golden State vacation

Posted 8 months agoby Jenny Willden

On a recent six-day trip to Southern California, Cory Lee of @curbfreecorylee visited Long Beach, Anaheim, and Greater Palm Springs to showcase what it’s like to travel as a person with a disability.

Lee’s trip started in Long Beach at wheelchair-accessible Granada Beach and the Aquarium of the Pacific. Next, he channeled his inner Mickey Mouse with his first-ever visit to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, where he also loved rolling along Center Street Promenade and dining at The Anaheim Packing House food hall. He spent the last days of his trip relaxing in Greater Palm Springs with a tour of the region’s distinctive mid-century modern architecture and its zoos, gardens, and deserts.

Check out his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, for Long Beach and Greater Palm Springs wheelchair-traveler planning advice. And read more about his adventures around Southern California below.

What are the top three highlights from your Southern California trip?

Disneyland was my number one highlight. First, tons of accessible rides allowed me to remain in my wheelchair, which made for a fun day! Second, I loved Granada Beach in Long Beach; it had access mats my wheelchair could roll on, and you could watch dogs playing at Rosie's Dog Beach. Third, I loved feeding giraffes and riding an accessible carousel at The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Palm Desert.

What are some of the most accessible attractions at Disneyland? 

I wrote a blog post detailing all Disneyland’s accessible rides, but Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure at Disney California Adventure was my favorite. Being able to ride in my wheelchair made it exceptional. In addition, wheelchair travelers will love the Jungle Cruise [Disneyland Park] and the Pixar Pal-A-Round, [Disney California Adventure Park] a Ferris wheel ride with an accessible gondola. 

What else would you recommend in Anaheim?  

Try Anaheim Packing House, a food hall home to delicious eateries and shops. Then, go shopping around Center Street Promenade. My favorite store was RARE by Goodwill, where I found costumes, antiques, and pretty cool clothes.

What are some of the best meals you ate along the way?

My mouth is watering just thinking about the lobster-and-shrimp taquitos and fish and chips I had at Parker's Lighthouse in Long Beach's Shoreline Village. The experience was made even better thanks to the harbor views. Another scrumptious meal was Southern-style fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni, and cornbread at Georgia's Restaurant in Anaheim. Oh, and let's not forget that sweet tea. I’m from Georgia, so the name immediately caught my attention, but the meal blew me away. The whole experience reminded me of Sunday dinners at my grandmother's when I was a kid.

What did you enjoy most about Long Beach?

I enjoyed the city’s diversity, from the sunshine at Granada Beach to shopping at 2ND & PCH and Spirit Cruises’ accessible harbor tours. Granada Beach has access mats along the sand, allowing wheelchair users to enjoy beach access. For going further than the mats, the beach provides complimentary beach wheelchairs. In addition, companion care restrooms and wheelchair-accessible parking improve accessibility. 

That’s impressive. Were there any noteworthy accessibility features at the hotels?  

My room at the Element Anaheim was one of the best, thanks to outdoor pools with lifts, large rooms, and a roll-in shower with a handheld sprayer and grab bars. JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Greater Palm Springs offers rooms with an accessible balcony, a bathroom with a roll-in shower, a pull-under sink, and grab bars by the toilet. And when you’re ready to leave your room, you can go for a swim in several pools with access lifts.

You saw several different sides of Palm Springs. What stood out? 

The beauty of the desert stood out to me the most. While I rolled through The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, I found magnificent photo ops of the oasis and mountain areas. But the iconic mid-century modern architecture in Greater Palm Springs came in a close second.  

Cory Lee, Palm Springs, California

What was touring Sunnylands like?  

I had never heard of Sunnylands before my visit. After my tour, I learned it was a private estate owned by a single family, the Annenbergs. They hosted Queen Elizabeth and President Obama, who visited 13 times. You can take a wheelchair-accessible tram to tour the 200-acre estate, see the gardens and sculptures, and learn about sustainability efforts.

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

Research ahead of time and prearrange your transportation. Other than that, pack your sunglasses! They don’t call it sunny California for nothing.

What’s next on your California bucket list?

Next is visiting Yosemite and Joshua Tree national parks. Both look beautiful, and I know there’s so much to explore.