Yesterday, I answered Sofia Lozano’s question about how to overcome a parent’s reluctance to use a wheelchair. She also asked about activities in San Diego for aging parents, because she and her husband, Anand, are taking his mom and dad there over the Fourth of July 4 weekend.

You’ve picked a great vacation destination, Sofia: San Diego’s well-known mild climate (the average year-round temperature is a balmy 70 degrees!) makes it a great place to visit in any season. You should be able to count on sunny skies for your weekend getaway. It can get windy, though, so make sure everyone brings a sweater or light windbreaker.

There are plenty of attractions in and around San Diego for both you and your in-laws to enjoy! Because you mentioned your mother-in-law’s mobility issues in your question, I’ll focus here on locations and activities that are wheelchair friendly. (Even if she opts to forego the wheelchair, she will still have an easier time getting around in places that are accessible.)

I always recommend sightseeing tours as great ways to explore a new city without having to worry about getting lost, parking issues, or too much walking. They give you a chance to take in the sights while your guide talks about local history and the attractions along the tour route. These tours are also useful for getting ideas for things to do and sites to see more closely on your own later in your trip. Here are just a handful of the tour options available in San Diego:

  • Old Town Trolley Tours offers a hop-on, hop-off day tour that makes it easy for you to go off on your own explorations whenever you like. Covering over 100 points of interest, this route offers a pretty good overview of San Diego. All trolleys can handle collapsible wheelchairs; some trolleys have wheelchair lifts, but you’ll need to call 24 hours in advance to make arrangements for them.
  • Take advantage of San Diego’s seaside location by enjoying a local cruise. Hornblower offers day tours, dinner cruises, and other themed outings. Some (but not all) of the company’s ships are handicapped accessible, so be sure to call Hornblower directly (888-467-6256) to ensure that the cruise you book will have the accessibility you need.
  • There’s even an option if you want to explore San Diego by land and by water in the same tour: amphibious vehicles operated by Seal Tours. Wheelchair access is possible only on some of the tours that depart from Seaport Village, though, and you’ll need to contact the company in advance (619-298-8687) to make arrangements for one.
  • Because it’s on the migration route for several whale species, there are several San Diego whale watching charters that offer you amazing experiences. (I love whale watching, though you can see in the photo below that Mom finds it pretty boring.) The tours vary widely in ship size, duration, and ticket cost, so when you find one that interests you, contact the company directly to check on accessibility.
Activities to do in San Diego with Aging Parents: whale watching

Mom is clearly enthralled with whale watching…..

  • If you and your in-laws like the ocean, you’ll love San Diego’s easy access to the water and miles of gorgeous coastlines. To increase the accessibility of the state’s beaches, the California Coast Commission provides beach wheelchairs (which have wide tires so they don’t sink into the sand) at beaches throughout the state—including 15 in San Diego County alone! They’re all free to borrow; in some places you can reserve them ahead of time, and other locations make them available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of wheelchairs are manual/push chairs, though motorized chairs are available at some beaches. (Check this page for location details.) I know you’re uncertain if your mother-in-law will agree to use a wheelchair at all during your trip, but she might be more open to the idea if using one of these nifty chairs would enable all of you to visit the beach together!
  • No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to its world-famous zoo! I consider the San Diego Zoo a “must-see attraction” because it’s one of the best in the world. The zoo’s many accessibility features include on-site rental of manual wheelchairs and electric scooters as well as a free shuttle service specifically for visitors with mobility issues. Some areas of the zoo have pathways with steep grades, however, so those may be places where it’s ideal for your mother-in-law to use a wheelchair.
  • The zoo is located in spectacular Balboa Park, which houses so many other attractions that you could easily spend an entire day (or your entire trip) just exploring them! These include over 15 museums, several performing arts venues, stunning gardens, and the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad (whose 3-minute-long trip covers four acres of the park—and gives your in-laws a break from walking!). Be aware, however, that the sidewalks and trails that connect the park’s attractions can be steep in some places. As with the zoo, this is a place where you might want to try to convince your mother-in-law to use a wheelchair.

These suggestions make up just the tip of the iceberg! For information about the accessibility of other attractions and services in the city, take a look at this page from Accessible San Diego. The lists there should help you narrow down your options and plan your trip!

I wish you and your family all the best for your upcoming trip, Sofia! When you return home, please let me know how everything went. Good luck!