By Cory Lee
Growing up in the southeastern United States, I have spent a lot of my time on vacations enjoying every inch of Florida that I possibly could.
As a wheelchair user, I am in a constant search for accessible destinations with plenty of activities that are easily doable, delicious restaurants that I can roll straight into and enjoy, and friendly people.
I have found all these things in four of my favorite destinations in Florida. After reading about these spectacular places, I’m sure you’ll want to roll down to the beautiful and sunny state of Florida to check them out for yourself.
Sarasota has so much accessibility, I get excited just thinking about traveling there again.
It’s home to Siesta Key Beach, one of the most accessible beaches in Florida. Here, you’ll find plenty of accessible parking spaces, complimentary manual beach wheelchairs available on a first-come, first-served basis, and more than 400 feet of Mobi Mat. The views of the water here are absolutely gorgeous.
Sarasota is also home to The Ringling, which you will definitely want to enjoy while you are here. Since Sarasota was the winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1927, the city has long had a strong connection to the circus. You can now tour The Ringling estate, complete with a circus museum, an art museum, beautiful gardens, and the home of John and Mable Ringling.
I easily rolled all the way through this massive estate, complete with paved paths, but if you prefer, there are also wheelchair accessible trams that can take you all around the area. Another bonus: personal care attendants enter with free admission.
After visiting The Ringling, check out St. Armand’s Circle. This is a luxurious shopping, dining, and entertainment district with more than 130 shops and restaurants. I found easy curb cuts and smooth sidewalks as I strolled through this area. My favorite restaurant in the entire world – Columbia Restaurant - is located here as well. They offer scrumptious Spanish cuisine that makes my mouth water just writing about it. My meal always begins with the “1905” Salad, which is tossed table side, and always ends with the White Chocolate Bread Pudding. No matter which dishes you choose for your tapas or entree, you won’t be disappointed; the food here is delicious, and the service is always impeccable.
I just can’t visit Tampa without starting my day at Goody Goody. This is home to the world’s best pancakes, served all day, and trust me when I say that you will get plenty of them - each one is served at a whopping 12 inches in diameter.
The pancake is delicious just by itself, but what makes it even better are the two options of lip-smacking syrup. You can choose from Cracker Maple Syrup or Bananas Foster Syrup and, with either one, you can’t go wrong.
Another amazing draw to this city for me is the Riverwalk. This is a 2.6-mile-long paved pedestrian trail along the Hillsborough River that connects downtown’s major attractions to the stunning views of the city. It’s easy to roll on and so enjoyable for a relaxing stroll.
And, while rolling around the gorgeous city, why not get a free ride? The TECO Line Streetcar is fully accessible, and did I mention free?! Wheelchair users can roll straight in. You can get all around Tampa, including downtown, and Ybor City, with easy stops along the way.
One of my favorite things to do in any city is to visit the zoo, but Zoo Tampa is one of my very favorites in all of my travels across 39 countries. It traverses 62 acres and is flat and easily manageable. The viewing areas are not only wheelchair accessible, they’re very close to the animals – perfect for getting that keepsake photo of your day at the zoo.
Just hearing the name, “The Palm Beaches,” makes me smile. It’s such a beautiful place, with palm trees and beaches.
DuBois Park in Jupiter and Ocean Reef Park in Riviera Beach are at the top of my list when visiting the Palm Beaches. Both parks offer beach wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost and can get you so close to the water, you will not want to leave.
At DuBois Park, you’ll have an awesome view of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum, a perfect backdrop for your selfies.
After your day at the beach, head down to the famous Worth Avenue in Palm Beach for some delicious food options and an upscale shopping experience. These shops span four blocks and include designer brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The sidewalks are smooth with plenty of curb cuts and the shops are accessible with friendly staff welcoming you inside.
After shopping till your wheelchair can’t even hold any more bags on the handles (I’m speaking from experience here!), it’s time to load up and drive on over to Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee. This drive-through zoo is 600 acres large and houses more animals than I could count. I saw lions, rhinos, zebras and, my very favorite, giraffes. I never had to leave my comfy van to see them all, either. The roads were smooth and we drove at a slow pace for the epic, up-close photos.
There’s no way I could tell you about Miami and not mention the most epic wheelchair accessible place -- Shake-A-Leg Miami. Here, wheelchair users and their families can ride in an accessible sailboat, go kayaking with kayaks modified to fit any disability, and fully enjoy water sports and activities -- at no cost.
If relaxing is more your style, don’t worry; Miami offers manual and powered beach wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis at 1001 Ocean Drive. I also saw Mobi-Mats, which I enjoyed along the beaches at Ocean Drive. This allowed me to remain in my own wheelchair and still enjoy the beach and the views of the Atlantic Ocean.
While in the area, don’t miss the Art Deco Historic District all along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. You can pick up a map of the area at the Art Deco Welcome Center, which is fully accessible. The map is great to pinpoint all the names and locations of the cool and colorful buildings in the area.
I love visiting Florida. The only thing I don’t like is having to leave. There’s just something therapeutic about that salty air and watching the waves roll in. So, what are you waiting for? Don’t put that vacation off any longer. Come on down to sunny Florida. Your wheelchair will thank you for it!