From coast to coast, the United States has accessible adventures galore. There’s something for everyone: movie buffs, beachgoers, animal lovers, and more! Here are some of the best accessible travel destinations and experiences you can find in the U.S.
1. Mesa, Arizona
It’s official: Mesa, Arizona, is the most accessible city in the United States. It’s the first-ever Autism Certified City, an official designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
In addition to maintaining these standards (regularly inspected and reviewed), Mesa has implemented a number of other accessibility initiatives. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program allows travellers to discreetly signal trained workers in local businesses when they need extra assistance. They have also partnered with Aria, an app that provides live, human-to-human assistance for visual interpretation, a free service available anywhere in the city.
Plus, you can have extra peace of mind planning your trip with Threshold 360, which provides full 360-degree virtual tours of Mesa hotels, attractions, and other locations.
2. Santa Monica, California
Santa Monica is the perfect sunny getaway, with all the fun of the California coast without LA’s (in)famous traffic jams.
Stay in one of the city’s many accessible hotels, like the Viceroy Santa Monica, which offers Braille and tactile signage in rooms and public spaces for visitors with low vision.
Play on one of Santa Monica’s beautiful beaches. The Accessible Santa Monica Beach Map highlights all of the accessible pathways, playgrounds, and beach wheelchair rental locations (most of which are complimentary).
Shop on Third Street Promenade, where there are ample ramps and access ways. The promenade also has low curbs and audible crosswalk controls. Splash your cash on designer pieces, or grab a bargain on gifts and souvenirs.
And, finally, recharge at Santa Monica Place, the ADA-compliant open-air mall with wheelchairs available to loan from concierge. Enjoy the eateries, and feast your eyes on the stunning street murals.
3. North Carolina Maritime Museum, Southport
Everyone’s on board with nautical adventures at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport. Visit the one-time haven of blockade runners and pillaging pirates for a fun and educational family day out. Permanent exhibits include an in-depth look at the Age of Steam and a history of the Indigenous Mariners of Coastal North Carolina.
The Museum is the first Certified Autism Center in the state of North Carolina. They offer a sensational Sensory Saturday program the first weekend of every month, with lowered lights and audio. There’s also a free downloadable Museum Book available via the website, with information about what to expect and where to find everything you need.
The Museum offers complimentary wheelchair rental, and a range of scavenger hunts and other activities that engage people of all abilities. Street parking is available around the building, and accessible family restrooms are located inside.
Best of all, admission is free, and the Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday year-round.
4. Surf City USA, California
Ten miles of open coastline, divided into five world-class beaches – it sounds like a dream! Surf City USA offers the ultimate beach experience for lovers of sun and sand.
Huntington City Beach is a stand-out, voted Best Beach by OC Register (Best Of Orange County, 2021). Hang ten with the best waves in California, or stay onshore and snap some Insta-worthy pictures with the iconic 1,850-foot pier against a stunning ocean backdrop. As the sun sets, cosy up around one of the 100 fire rings available for public use.
Huntington City Beach is wheelchair accessible, with concrete paving and two Mobi-Mats. In fact, all of Surf City USA’s beaches have wheelchair-accessible bathroom facilities (including showers), access ramps, and beach wheelchairs available. Pop in to see the team at the Visitor Information kiosk (end of the pier, 325 Pacific Coast HIghway), or scope it out ahead of time on the Surf City USA website.
5. Hershey’s Chocolate World, Pennsylvania
Even grown-ups will feel like a kid in a candy store at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Indulge your sweet tooth and learn everything you could ever want to know about America’s most delicious chocolate treats.
Guest Services will do everything they can to make your visit sweet. The main entrance is wheelchair accessible, as are the headline attractions: the Chocolate Tour, Create Your Own Candy Bar, HERSHEY’S Unwrapped, and 4D Chocolate Mystery. All bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, too. Some rids and tours may require additional assistance or accommodations, which Guest Services can provide.
Hershey’s Chocolate World wants to ensure that everyone can partake in mouth-watering treats. For guests with allergies and dietary sensitivities, menus highlight which options are available. As all food is made from scratch in a central location, there is a risk of cross-contamination, but if you alert a staff member to your allergen concerns, they will work with you to ensure you don’t miss out.
6. Universal Studios + Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida
No need to wait for your Hogwarts letter! Witches and wizards of all ages and abilities can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. While the rides are the big attraction (you can even take a spin on Hagrid’s motorbike), there are many magical opportunities for interactive fun all around the park.
With the purchase of an Interactive Wand, kids (and kids at heart) can cast spells throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. A flick of the wrist and the right incantation will make the magic happen. You can order your wand online ahead of time (recommended if you’d like extra time to practice), or pick one up on the day.
Universal Studios is top-of-the-line when it comes to accessibility, too. They offer detailed information and access guides online for guests with additional needs. Visit their accessibility page to find out everything you need to know to plan your trip.
7. The Space Center in Houston, Texas
The Space Center in Houston is out of this world, and accessibility is no problem.
Every single theatre, exhibit, attraction, tram, and tour is wheelchair accessible, with lifts, ramps, and ground-level access provided as necessary. There are also accessible bathrooms and adult changing facilities available. If you’d like to make use of one of the center’s complimentary wheelchairs, visit the Guest Services Desk on the first floor.
American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services are available with advance notice, as well as induction loop technology and captioned visual displays.
The Space Center also offers unlimited access to the Aria app for the duration of your visit, for visitors who could use live, human-to-human assistance with visual interpretation.
Space, and everything that goes along with exploring it, can be overwhelming. The Space Center offers sensory-friendly events, backpacks with noise reduction headphones and other assistive devices, and a comprehensive sensory guide to all aspects of the center. It’s available on the Space Center website.
8. Warner Bros. Studios, Los Angeles
Experience the movie magic at Warner Bros. Studios, one of the busiest working studios in Hollywood.
Fans of Friends, The Big Bang Theory, DC superheroes, and classic films will be blown away by this unique opportunity to see their favourite sets and stars up close.
There are a range of tours available, from an hour with an expert Tour Guide to a six-hour behind-the-scenes extravaganza (including a fine-dining lunch and a coffee at Central Perk).
Best of all, Warner Bros. goes above and beyond to ensure that its tours are welcoming and inclusive. Transport carts are compatible with most types of wheelchair (and they also loan wheelchairs as needed, free of charge). All tours can be accompanied by ASL interpreters, by request in advance. The Guest Services team are on-hand to ensure that everyone’s access needs are met. Contact them ahead of time by phone (+1 (818) 977 8687) or email.
9. Fort Worth Zoo, Texas
Get close to more than 7,000 animals at Fort Worth Zoo, voted the No. 1 Zoo in North America by USA Today. It’s open 365 days a year, with half-price tickets available on Wednesdays, making it a perfect budget-friendly option for families travelling off-peak.
From the moment you step through the front gates, you’ll feel welcomed and supported to make the most of your zoo experience. At the Safari Supplies store, you may request a complimentary wheelchair, or rent a motorised scooter for all-day use.
Nearby, at Guest Services, you can also pick up a complimentary Sensory Bag to use for the day. It includes a weighted animal the guest can hold, noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, and other resources to help reduce the sensory load. (The Fort Worth Zoo is a Certified Autism Center, too.)
Visit the Zoo’s website to check out its comprehensive accessibility guide with map, and an impressive social story.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.