The city was founded by the Spanish in 1776, but grew in the wake of the California Gold Rush of 1849. During the Gold Rush, San Francisco became the largest city on the West Coast, holding that distinction until it was largely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. The city played an important role in the Second World War, as it served as the primary port of embarkation for servicemen being sent into the Pacific Theater.
San Francisco receives an Excellent rating in our accessibility score metric. This recognition is due in large part to the overall accessibility of the Bay Area's public transportation networks and the excellent accommodations available at tourist attractions. Wheelchair users can ride trains, city buses and most street cars without having to leave the comfort of their chair. These same persons can easily access the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and sightseeing ferries in their wheelchairs. San Francisco boasts a cultural sense of inclusion for all persons, regardless of physical ability, and this is carried throughout with the accommodations available at hotels, museums, restaurants and other public places.
Accessibility Score: Excellent (21/25)
The wheelchair accessibility score is calculated based on five critical factors. Further information is provided below in the each section of this travel guide. This score is based upon our own conservative assessment of the city's accessibility.
The public transportation system in San Francisco is operated primarily by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (Muni) and is almost entirely accessible to the disabled and wheelchair users. Every Muni train, bus and street car is accessible to wheelchairs. The three cable car lines in the city are not accessible. Additional information about riding public transportation with a disability in San Francisco is available below.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART trains provide service around the San Francisco Bay Area. The Pittsburg/Bay Point line provides service to and from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The BART line makes four stops in downtown San Francisco:
Civic Center/UN Plaza
At these stations, riders can connect to San Francisco MUNI public transportation options, including Bus and Train.
The BART is fully wheelchair accessible, with elevators or ramps at all stations and barrier free boarding. Wheelchair users are able to roll on and off of the trains without assistance from BART staff or station personnel. Tickets can be purchased with cash or credit/debit card at automated kiosks available at each station. The fare breakdown to the downtown San Francisco stations from SFO airport is $8.65 each way, or $3.20 for seniors.
Additional information on the BART is available via these links:
- BART Accessibility Guide
- Complete Station List & Route Maps
- Fare Calculator
- Route Planner
- Train Schedules & Times
MUNI Metro Train (Light Rail)
The MUNI Metro is a light rail system that operates largely above ground, with a few stations on the network sitting below ground. There are 55 total stations spread across six separate lines: J - Church, K - Ingleside, L - Taraval, M - Ocean View, N - Judah, and T - Third St. The K and T lines operate together between the West Portal and Embarcadero stations.
Whether above or below ground, every stop is 100% accessible to wheelchair users. Above ground stations are equipped with a high platform/ramp, from which wheelchair users can board the light rail Muni Metro train. At these high platforms and at underground stations, wheelchairs can easily roll-on and off the train without assistance. The gap is minimal and will not prevent wheelchairs, manual or powered, from crossing safely.
MUNI City Bus & Trolley Bus
The SFMTA MUNI city bus system operates throughout the City and County of San Francisco with 54 bus lines and 17 trolley bus lines. Buses are equipped with numerous accessibility features which make them entirely accessible to the disabled and wheelchair users. These adaptations include:
- All buses kneel or lower and are equipped with lowered floor ramps or lifts.
- Two wheelchair securement areas with tie-downs are located on each bus.
- Audio stop and intersection announcements are made on each bus.
- Lowered yellow accessible stop/alert buttons are positioned at each wheelchair securement area.
MUNI Street & Cable Cars
MUNI operates three cable car lines and one historic streetcar line. The three cable car lines require riders to climb steps to board and are not wheelchair accessible. The inaccessible cable car lines are listed below:
California (C) line
Powell/Hyde (PH) line
Powell/Mason (PM) line
If directions you have been given require you to utilize any of these lines and you are traveling with a wheelchair or have difficulty climbing stairs, you will need to locate an alternate route.
The city also operates a Historic Streetcar line, the F-Market & Wharves line. The streetcar is wheelchair accessible at most of its stops. Wheelchair users will roll up onto a high platform to access the streetcar. A ramp will be extended by the streetcar operator to bridge the gap between the streetcar and high platform, to allow for easy roll-on/roll-off barrier free access. For a map of accessible and non-accessible streetcar stops, visit sfmta.com (PDF).
Fares, route maps and schedules
Single ride fares on the MUNI are $2.25 each way. Single ride tickets permit unlimited transfers for up to 90 minutes. Fares can be paid with cash or credit/debit card at MUNI rail stations, or with cash on MUNI bus and trolleybus. The city also sells a reloadable Clipper card, which stores transit value and passes. Value stored on the card may be used on most of the Bay Area public transportation options, including the BART. Clipper cards can be purchased online or at MUNI Metro/BART stations. More information is available at clippercard.com.
A discounted MUNI single ride fare of $0.75 is available to seniors (age 65+), persons with disabilities, and medicare card holders. Additional information on the eligibility for reduced fares is available at sfmta.com.
The following unlimited ride passes are available for use on MUNI Metro, Bus, Streetcar and Cable Car, and are a great deal for visitors who will rely heavily on public transportation:
1 day -- $17.00
3 days -- $26.00
7 days -- $35.00
Perhaps the best deal for tourists is the CityPASS, which provides a 7-day unlimited ride MUNI pass and admission to 4 of San Francisco's best attractions. Purchase the city pass and save over $70!
Additional information on the MUNI system is available via the links below:
- For MUNI Metro, Bus, Cable Car & Streetcar route maps, CLICK HERE.
- For schedules, or to plan a trip on MUNI, CLICK HERE.
- For information on how to ride the MUNI, CLICK HERE.
- For a list of other transportation services in the Bay Area, CLICK HERE.
- For information on the city’s ADA Paratransit service and to see if you qualify, CLICK HERE.
Due to the rapidly changing nature of accessibility of the world’s public transit systems, please use the comments section at the bottom of this page to share your experiences and any changes you may have noticed in San Francisco.
Amtrak rail service is available to/from the Emeryville Station in Emeryville, California. It is the closest Amtrak station to San Francisco and is a stop on the California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight, and San Joaquin lines. Passengers arriving at Emeryville Station with San Francisco as their destination are transported to the city center via the Amtrak Thruway buses. Transportation is also provided for trips originating in San Francisco. The following are San Francisco bus terminals are served by the Amtrak Thruway buses:
San Francisco Civic Center Bus Stop (SFV)
San Francisco Shopping Center Bus Stop (SFS)
San Francisco Convention Center Bus Stop (SFM)
San Francisco Caltrain Station Bus Stop (SFP)
San Francisco Financial District Bus Stop (SFF)
San Francisco Ferry Building Bus Station (SFC)
San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39 Bus Stop (SFW)
Tickets purchased to/from these bus stops or stations will include the transit time on the Thruway Bus on the trip schedule. For more information on riding Amtrak in San Francisco, visit www.amtrak.com. A 15-percent discount is available to the disabled and users of wheelchairs and the majority of Amtrak trains in the Western United States are wheelchair accessible.
Accessible Taxi Services
Wheelchair accessible, ADA compliant taxi vans with rear entry wheelchair ramps are available within the San Francisco metropolitan area and are charged at the same meter rates as a normal taxi. Wheelchair taxis can be ordered on demand within the city and at San Francisco International Airport, with wait times of less than 30 minutes on average. The contact information for the accessible taxi/transportation companies in San Francisco is below::
City approved taxi meter rates can be found below:
Flag Drop & first 1/5 mile — $3.50
Each additional 1/5 mile — $0.55
Waiting time (per minute) — $0.55
SFO Airport fee — $2.00
Passengers are responsible for all tolls. There is no additional fee for baggage or trunk usage. There is no surcharge or convenience fee for paying by credit card.
The City of San Francisco is served primarily by San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The airport is fully accessible to disabled passengers and wheelchairs may be taken to both the gate and aircraft boarding door. All airlines provide services for the disabled at each airport in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Each terminal and concourse offers ADA compliant restrooms both pre- and post-security. Each terminal is also outfitted with standalone personal care restrooms, reserved for the disabled and their personal caregivers.
If wheelchair users plan to take public transportation from the airport to downtown San Francisco, the airport terminal contains a fully accessible BART train. Travelers can ride the BART to one of four stations in downtown San Francisco, where it is possible to make connections to the city's MUNI Metro rail or Bus services. More information on the BART trains is available in the Public Transportation section above.
Accessible taxis can be requested on demand at the San Francisco Airport, with average wait times of 30 minutes or less.
For more information on accessibility and accommodations for the disabled at San Francisco International Airport, visit flysfo.com.
The larger San Francisco Bay Area is also served by a number of other airports, with links to their individual accessibility information provided below:
- Oakland International Airport (OAK), www.oaklandairport.com
- Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), www.flysanjose.com
Accessibility of Sidewalks/Streets
San Francisco is an extremely walkable and roll-able city. It is often noted that the city has some of the steepest streets in the world, but these are mostly confined to residential areas and parts of the city not frequented by tourists. A 2013 article from news outlet SF Gate revealed that the city had received the number 2 spot in a ranking of the walkability of United States cities. The city's highest rated neighborhoods in that metric were Chinatown and the Financial/Downtown districts. As these are also two of the city's top tourist areas, that is excellent news for the wheelchair tourist.
The majority of San Francisco's sidewalks are well cared for, with pavements that are even and smooth. While there are certainly outliers and problems with sidewalks littered throughout the city, all of the city's sidewalks are passable. Curb cuts are present at all intersections.
There are some street sections where wheelchair travel will prove to be difficult or impossible, depending on the individual and wheelchair. Even downtown, some sidewalks will have a high percentage grade. In these areas, it is recommended wheelchair users rely on public transportation or use another street to go around the problem hill or rise. This constitutes a small number of streets and intersections in the tourist areas and does not affect the city's overall accessibility.
Attractions & Sights
San Francisco and the greater Bay Area is teeming with attractive tourist attractions and sights, the majority of which are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Many of the city's top attractions are free, while others require paid admission. By purchasing the San Francisco CityPASS through our affiliate link, you can save up to $73.90 on admission and support this website in the process. The attractions reviewed here are at least partially wheelchair accessible. Attractions included as part of CityPASS are noted with a green CityPass link.
Note: Please share any experiences you have accessing these sights in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Alcatraz Island & Prison
Located 1.5 miles off the shore of San Francisco and in the city's Bay, Alcatraz Island was developed beginning in 1847, prior to the Civil War. A lighthouse and military fortification were the first structures built on the island. In 1868, a military prison was built and began housing military criminals. The island is most known for the federal penitentiary that operated between 1934 and 1963. Known as "The Rock," Alcatraz became a high security prison which housed famous criminals such as mobster Al Capone.
Now a National Historic Landmark, Alcatraz is among San Francisco's top tourist destinations. Visitors are able to reach the island by boats operated by Alcatraz Cruises. These boats are wheelchair accessible, with boarding ramps between the ship and pier. Ships depart for the island at San Francisco's Pier 33. The island's terrain is steep and hilly. There is a roughly quarter-mile path from the arrival dock to the top of the island. A tram operates along this path, but will require wheelchair users to transfer out of their wheelchairs. Power wheelchairs are able to make the climb up the path, but manual wheelchair users may have difficulty if they are unaided on the climb. At the peak sits the former federal prison, a lighthouse and several Civil War Era structures. For more information on the accessibility of the tour and island, or to purchase tickets, visit alcatrazcruises.com. Tourists should reserve tickets in advance, as tours fill up quickly throughout the year.
Golden Gate Bridge
Built between 1933 and 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic suspension bridge spanning the body of water that links the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. It held the record for the longest suspension bridge main span of 4,200 feet until 1964. The Golden Gate Bridge has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, It is considered by Frommers as "possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world."
At the foot of the bridge on the San Francisco side sits the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion, a small visitors' center. The pavilion has numerous exhibits which detail the bridge's history, science and engineering. The pavilion is built within the Golden Gate National Park. Multiple premium viewpoints exist within walking distance of the pavilion. These include Crissy Field, a large lawn, and Fort Point, a Civil War era fort located beneath the bridge structure. Visitors may also walk across the bridge, free of charge. Its total length, end to end, is roughly 1.7 miles. The bridge walkway is wheelchair accessible on the Eastern side, that which faces the city of San Francisco. For more information on the pavilion or accessing the bridge, visit goldengatebridge.org.
Fisherman's Wharf is a neighborhood situated on the waterfront of the San Francisco Bay. It is bounded by Van Ness Avenue, Bay Street and N. Embarcadero Street. It grew in the mid-1800s with an influx of Italian immigrants and settlers attracted to the Gold Rush. The neighborhood surrounded the docks and became an important market center for the sale of seafood. Today, the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood attracts visitors to its many seafood restaurants, Ghirardelli Square, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. The center of the neighborhood is the historic Pier 39, a pier filled with restaurants, shopping, an arcade and street performers. For more information on the neighborhood and the businesses and restaurants within, visit fishermanswharf.org. Sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, including the Pier 39 walkways, are wheelchair accessible. The same is true for the majority of restaurants and businesses in the area.
California Academy of Sciences (CityPASS)
Founded in 1854 as a research society for intellectuals, the California Academy of Sciences is today one of the world's largest museums of natural history. Completely rebuilt in 2008, it is also one of the most modern. The museum exhibits pull from a total collection of more than 26 million specimens. Among the museum's primary exhibits are the enclosed rainforest glass dome and the Steinhart Aquarium, with coral reef and swamp habitats. Perhaps most spectacular is the Morrison Planetarium, which features the largest completely digital planetarium dome in the world. The Academy is fully accessible to wheelchairs and is ADA compliant. For more information on accommodations for those with limited mobility or other disabilities, visit calacademy.org/accessibility. Access to the museum is included with the CityPass, but individual tickets can be purchased at $34.95 for adults and $29.95 for seniors age 65+.
San Francisco's Chinatown was the first neighborhood of its kind in North America. It is home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Established in 1848, Chinatown has allowed Chinese immigrants to retain their native customs, language, religion, culture and identity. In addition to being an important enclave for Chinese Americans, Chinatown has become San Francisco's primary tourist attraction, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge. Tourists flock to Chinatown to get a taste of Chinese and Asian culture without having to cross the Pacific Ocean. Restaurants, bakeries, craft stores and other Chinese shops line the streets of Chinatown. Most venues are wheelchair accessible in accordance with the ADA, but some older buildings may have exemptions to compliance due to their age or historical value. For more information on the businesses and attractions located in Chinatown, visit sanfranciscochinatown.com.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The SFMOMA is an art museum with an internationally recognized collection of 20th-century modern art. The museum's collection consists of 29,000 works of architecture, design, painting, photography and sculpture. The museum closed for renovation and expansion in June 2013 and is scheduled to reopen in early 2016. Once it reopens, the SFMOMA will be fully wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant. Currently, many of the museum's most popular pieces of art are on display at various locations throughout the city. More information on these temporary "SFMOMA On the Go" displays is available at sfmoma.org.
Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise (CityPASS)
The Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise is a sightseeing boat tour of the San Francisco Bay. The cruise departs from Pier 39 within the Fisherman's Wharf Neighborhood. Pier 39 is frequented by a community of Sea Lions who live in and around the Bay. The cruise lasts one hour and takes visitors beneath the historic Golden Gate Bridge, around the famous Alcatraz Island and passes Angel Island. The tour is narrated and provides information on the history and importance of sights in and along the San Francisco Bay. The cruise ships are wheelchair accessible on the enclosed lower deck. The open air upper decks can only be accessed via a staircase. All boats have a wheelchair accessible restroom stall in both the male and female facilities. For more information on the accessibility of the Blue & Gold Fleet boats, visit blueandgoldfleet.com. The cruise is included with the San Francisco CityPASS. Tickets can be purchased individually for $29.00 for adults and $25.00 for seniors age 65+. Cruises operate 7 days a week beginning at 10 a.m.
de Young Museum (CityPASS)
Located within San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and nearby the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young is the city's premier Fine Arts Museum. The museum is fully accessible to wheelchair users and features a collection with American art works from the 17th to 21st centuries. The museum also offers African and Oceanic collections of fine art. Among the pieces on display are textiles, costumes, sculptures, paintings, and a wide array of decorative arts. Admission to the museum is included with the CityPASS, or tickets can be purchased individually for $10 for adults and $7 for seniors age 65+. The CityPASS also includes same-day admission to the city's other Fine Arts Museum, the Legion of Honor. More information on the de Young is available at deyoung.famsf.org. Information on the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum is available at legionofhonor.famsf.org.
Golden Gate Park
Covering 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's largest urban park, filling more space than New York's Central Park. Originally opened in the 1870s, the park has grown to include a number of the city's finest attractions and has become a sight in and of itself due to its beautiful landscaping. The de Young Fine Arts Museum and the California Academy of Sciences are located within the park's grounds. Golden Gate Park is lined with wheelchair accessible paths and lawns throughout. Numerous sculptures are located within the park. Among these are sculptures depicting historical figures Beethoven, Don Quixote, Francis Scott Key, President James A. Garfield, and others. The park is home to multiple man-made and natural lakes. One of the park's most picturesque sights is of the North Windmill, built in 1903 to circulate water throughout the park. It still stands today. More information about the park and its attractions is available at golden-gate-park.com.
Aquariums in San Francisco (CityPASS)
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to two popular Aquariums. The CityPASS includes admission to one of the two -- your choice. The first is the Aquarium of the Bay, located on Pier 39 in the Fisherman's Wharf Neighborhood of downtown San Francisco. The exhibits showcase the aquatic life found in the San Francisco Bay, from sharks to jellyfish and sea otters. There are over 300 feet of underwater glass tunnels which provide a scuba diver-like view of the more than 20,000 marine animals at the aquarium. The Aquarium of the Bay is wheelchair accessible. Additional information is available at aquariumofthebay.org.
The second aquarium of note is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, rated the world's best by TripAdvisor. The aquarium has 10 permanent exhibits, which include marine life such as the Giant Pacific Octopus, Hammerhead Shark, Crystal Jellyfish, African Blackfooted Penguin, and others. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to more than 35,000 animals from 623 unique species. Its largest tank holds 1.2 million gallons of water. The aquarium and its exhibits are fully accessible to wheelchair users. For more information, visit montereybayaquarium.org.
Named for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company which was formerly headquartered there, Ghirardelli Square is a shopping and dining area in the Fisherman's Wharf Neighborhood. Ghirardelli Chocolate was headquartered in a building which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places until the early 1960s. Today there are over 20 restaurants and shops in the square, as well as the luxurious Fairmont Hotel. Live music is performed along the block nightly by talented musicians, and the square is less than a block from the waterfront. More information can be found at ghirardellisq.com.
Professional Sports Teams
Two major professional sports teams reside in the City of San Francisco. The are the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and MLB's San Francisco Giants. The greater "Bay Area," consisting of the major cities of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, has nine total professional sports franchises. Discussed here are the San Francisco teams. Both the 49ers and Giants have stadiums with accessible seating and wheelchair access. Links to the team-specific accessibility information and ticket office phone numbers are listed below.
NFL - San Francisco 49ers
Website - Disabled Access Info
MLB - San Francisco Giants
Website - Disabled Access Info
Due to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the vast majority of hotels in the United States are wheelchair accessible and have rooms with roll-in showers. For individuals requiring an accessible hotel room with roll-in shower, we recommend booking with a major hotel chain such as Hilton or Marriott for the best experience. The following is a list of hotels in San Francisco with handicap accessible rooms, roll-in showers and adaptations for those who have difficulty hearing:
|Hotel Name||Metro station||Metro line||Walking distance|
|Argonaut Hotel, by Kimpton||Jones St. & Beach St.||F||4 minutes|
|Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Downtown||Montgomery St.||BART, F, J, K, L, M, N, T||7 minutes|
|Hilton San Francisco Financial District||Montgomery St.||BART, F, J, K, L, M, N, T||12 minutes|
|Hilton San Francisco Union Square||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||5 minutes|
|Holiday Inn Civic Center San Francisco||Civic Center/UN Plaza||BART, F||3 minutes|
|Holiday Inn San Francisco-Fisherman's Wharf||Jones St. & Beach St.||F||4 minutes|
|Hotel Fusion, a C-Two Hotel||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||3 minutes|
|Hotel Union Square||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||2 minutes|
|Hotel Zephyr||Jefferson St. & Powell St.||F||2 minutes|
|Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf||Jones St. & Beach St.||F||2 minutes|
|Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport||Millbrae||BART||1.7 miles|
|InterContinental San Francisco||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||7 minutes|
|JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||10 minutes|
|Kensington Park Hotel||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||7 minutes|
|Marriott San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf||Jones St. & Beach St.||F||3 minutes|
|Omni San Francisco Hotel||Montgomery St.||BART, F, J, K, L, M, N, T||7 minutes|
|Orchard Hotel||Montgomery St.||BART, F, J, K, L, M, N, T||8 minutes|
|Parc 55 San Francisco, by Hilton||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||2 minutes|
|San Francisco Marriott Union Square||Powell St.||BART, J, K, L, M, N, T||8 minutes|
|Staybridge Suites San Francisco Airport||San Bruno||BART||7 minutes|
|Travelodge by Fisherman's Wharf||Jones St. & Beach St.||F||4 minutes|
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Wheelchair Repair / Accessible Van Rental
The following businesses offer wheelchair repair, wheelchair rental or accessible van rental. If you have done business with any of these companies, please share your experiences in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Mobility Works of San Francisco
890 Cowan Rd., Burlingame, CA 94010
Services: Accessible van rental
ITC Medical Supplies
4973 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94118
Services: Wheelchair rental
164 Ostego Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112
Services: Wheelchair repair
Support Us: Purchase a Guide Book
WheelchairTravel.org is committed to providing the information disabled travelers need to access the world. This website offers the detailed accessibility reports that travel guide books can't contain. Travel guides are sold primarily to people who do not worry about the height of curbs or the size of gaps between subway platforms. They dedicate little space to information for the disabled traveler and the information is often incorrect. Still, guide books can be useful because they provide the general tourist background information about attractions and sights that can be carried in your backpack. Guide books also include a large number of photographs and maps of the city. Pair this information with what you learned about accessibility on this website and you'll soon be making memories to last a lifetime.
If you would like more tourist information for this or any other destination, please consider purchasing a travel guide book from Lonely Planet through our referral link. We will receive a small commission from your purchase and will use the money to further expand this resource for the benefit of others.