San Francisco: airport transportation, Hotel, medical rentals, city tour (including Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz), Pacbell Park, San Francisco weather, wheelchair accessible taxis, accessible van rental, Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland
Los Angeles: Hotel, Walk of Fame/Mann's Chinese Theater/Hollywood Entertainment Museum, Malibu/Santa Monica, Edison Field/Dodger Stadium, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, tv tapings, studio tours
San Diego: Hotel, city tour, Qualcomm Stadium
For additional information on Los Angeles accessibility, see "HAWAII/LOS ANGELES 2002"
By James Glasbergen
Our trip to California was a fun vacation that combined a lot of sightseeing with a lot of baseball. We divided 3 weeks between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The goal was to catch a baseball game at each of California's five ballparks while taking in the major attractions of those cities at the same time. We spent a total of 6 days in San Francisco, 12 days in Los Angeles, and 1 day in San Diego. By the end of the trip we managed to catch 7 baseball games, a football game, 6 TV show tapings and 4 studio tours in Los Angeles, as well as touring the major sights in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Upon arrival at San Francisco airport, we gathered our luggage and headed out to the curb to find our ride. I made arrangements with a local company to bring us to and from our hotel in San Francisco. The company had one wheelchair accessible minivan in San Francisco that had a ramp, and it HAD to be booked well in advance to ensure its availability on a certain day. Although the lady claimed we were 45 minutes late for our reservation (that was the time I originally told them my flight was landing, not realizing they would be expecting me by the curb at that time), she immediately phoned for the accessible van. After a short wait, the van picked us up and brought us to our hotel.
We stayed at a fairly nice hotel in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, the main entrance was not wheelchair accessible as there was a step going into the hotel lobby. Fortunately, there was an accessible side entrance. Although it always remained locked, the hotel staff was always happy to open it for us whenever we wanted in or out. We got to know them well during our stay since we were in and out of the hotel a fair bit. Our hotel room was very nice and very accessible. There were 2 queen beds with plenty of room under each bed for a hoyer lift. Our bathroom was very accessible. There was plenty of room to manoeuver around and a nice roll-in shower.
We rented a hoyer lift from a local medical company. They conveniently delivered it to our hotel and picked it up without us having to be there. They simply dropped it off and picked it up at the front desk and just charged it to my credit card.
On our first day in San Francisco we took a city/Alcatraz tour. The bus picked us up at our hotel. The driver was very friendly and fairly knowledgeable about how to use the lift and the tie-downs. The city tour was not overly exciting and contained only a couple highlights as far as I was concerned. The view from the top of Twin Peaks was spectacular, while the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to a look-out area was also impressive.
At the end of the city tour, the bus dropped us off at Fisherman's Wharf and the driver purchased our tickets for Alcatraz. We then boarded the ferry that was to take us to Alcatraz. The ferry was completely accessible, with a ramp and no steps to board the boat. Alcatraz island was very interesting and very accessible. For those who did not like long walks up steep slopes, there was a wheelchair accessible van that would take you up to the cell block. For those in power wheelchairs like myself who did not feel like waiting for a van, we could easily make our way with the crowd up the hill to the cell block. However, while it was paved the whole way up, it was old and quite bumpy in some parts. The cell block was totally accessible and quite interesting. The only thing a wheelchair could not do was get in to the individual cells in solitary confinement because the doorways were too narrow, although some may not be too interested in checking out the view from the inside of a solitary confinement cell anyway! Upon return to Fisherman's Wharf, we simply waited for the right bus to come by, and they brought us back to the hotel.
Over the next few days we went to 2 Giants games at PacBell Park, a 49er game at 3-Com Park, and we took a guided tour of PacBell Park. Wheelchair seating at PacBell and 3-Com were quite good, and the entire PacBell Park tour was accessible, except for actually getting down into the dugout. There was wheelchair seating all over PacBell Park, although I liked the outfield seats the best because it was the only wheelchair seats where you could see the sky above you instead of the overhang from the next deck, not to mention that they were the only wheelchair seats in the sun. Even though San Francisco is in California, it does not generally get very warm there. It was in the mid-60's the entire time we were there (59 one day), which was in mid-August. I was freezing almost every minute of my 6 day stay, even though I wore a sweatshirt, scarf, and jacket every day. I understood what Mark Twain meant when he supposedly said, "the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco!"
We used wheelchair accessible, ramped taxis to get around town. While we managed to get lucky a couple times and got a cab within 10 or 15 minutes of calling for one, we usually had to wait for at least an hour and even up to an hour and a half. A couple times we called to make sure the cab was still coming and the dispatcher had no record of our original call. Therefore, it is important to call every half hour to make sure that someone is still on their way.
On our last full day in San Francisco before heading south, we rented a wheelchair accessible van which we used for the last 2 weeks of our trip. The van was excellent. We never had any problems with it. We drove to an Oakland A's game later that night where we had excellent wheelchair seats12 rows behind home plate. The next day we made the 7 hour drive to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles we stayed near Hollywood Blvd. and Mann's Chinese Theater. After checking in to the hotel, we entered our room and discovered that our ADA room had a bathtub, not a roll-in shower as I had specifically requested and been promised. After inquiring at the front desk, they apologized and assigned us to a different ADA room. Unfortunately, we came across the exact same problembathtub, no roll-in shower. Back at the reception desk for the third time, they vowed to figure out exactly which ADA rooms had roll-in showers rather than bathtubs. It turned out there was only one, and fortunately it was still free. There was only one king bed in the room and it did not accommodate a hoyer lift underneath it, which I expected because they told me this when I made the reservation. Thus, I slept in a roll-away bed which had plenty of room under it for the lift.
On our first full day in Los Angeles, we walked around Hollywood Blvd. and took in the Walk of Fame and Mann's Chinese Theater. Wheeling around Los Angeles was quite easy as there were curbcuts generally everywhere. We also went to the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, which was entirely accessible. I must admit, I went there for one reason and one reason only...to see the original set of my all-time favorite show Cheers.It was a good thing that set was there too or else I would have considered the museum to be a complete waste of time. The museum appeared to us to be very unorganized and we really were not sure where we were supposed to go in the museum. It turned out that the museum was divided into two different wings and tour guides came around every so often to give a tour of each wing. After touring the one wing and starting out on the second wing, I found myself incredibly bored and just wanting to get to the Cheers set. First we arrived at the original Star Trek set, one of the museum's two main attractions. Even though I hate Star Trek, I must admit it was pretty cool. Things were starting to look up. Finally, after enduring an incredibly boring couple of hours and wondering if it was worth coming to the museum, we had come to the moment I had waited for. We walked through the door of the Star Trek set and all of a sudden we were in the Cheers bar. It was awesome. Everything was set up in the bar as it was on the showeven the pictures, the jukebox, and good old Tecumseh. We were able to make our way around the bar and anyone could sit at the tables and on the stools, including Normy's stool. We then proceeded into Sam's office where the tour ended. I must say, I would have paid full admission just for the visit to the Cheers set alone without seeing the rest of the museum. (Looking back, I might have even preferred that!)
The next day we decided to drive along Sunset Blvd. from our hotel to Malibu. It was an interesting drive as we drove through West Hollywood and into Beverly Hills, stopping at several points of interest along the way. When we got to Malibu, we decided to go to Malibu beach. Parking was free if you have a disabled parking permit, which we did notmore on that later! Unfortunately, the beach was not accessible at all. I could get to the edge of the sand in my wheelchair, but it was too soft to drive on. Instead, we decided to walk down to the end of the pier to get a good view of the beach before heading back. We then took a little drive into the Malibu mountains, which I do not recommend for anyone who is afraid of cliffs or heights. I don't understand how people can live up there! Beautiful view though. From there it was on to Santa Monica beach, which had a similar set up to Malibu beach. The beach was too soft to drive on with a wheelchair, so we took a stroll down to the end of the pier to check out the view. After a bit of walking around and checking out what the vendors on the pier had to sell, we decided to head over to Anaheim where we had tickets for the Angels game that night.
It took us two hours to drive from Santa Monica to Anaheim. The wheelchair seating at Edison Field reminded me of the seating at PacBell Park. They had wheelchair seating around the stadium from third base to the rocks in center field, but to me the outfield seats were the best because it was the only wheelchair seating where you could see the sky above you instead of the overhang from the next deck. The only other baseball game that we went to in Los Angeles was a Dodger game the following week. Wheelchair seating at Dodger Stadium was much the same as at the two I just mentioned (nothing seems to compare to the great wheelchair seating at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and even the Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, but that is a topic for another discussion).
We began another day by driving in to Beverly Hills and parking by the Will Rogers Memorial Park, which was right across from the Beverly Hills Hotel. We got out and decided to walk all the way down to Rodeo Drive, which was an interesting little stroll past some very expensive housing and shops. From there, it was over to the Hard Rock Cafe and the Beverly Center where we were told there are always celebrities out shopping, although we did not see any that day.
After a mid-afternoon lunch, we headed out to Venice Beach. Although we did not have a disabled parking permit (I forgot to bring mine along from home), we continued to park in disabled parking spaces. Our van had a big wheelchair emblem on the side so I hoped we would be okay. The parking attendant at Venice Beach even directed us to a wheelchair space even though we told him we did not have a permit. Anyway, we got out and did a lot of strolling around, going to the end of the pier and checking out all of the vendors. The beach was not very accessible due to the soft sand, although there was a nicely paved bicycle path all along the beach which we went on (not sure if wheelchairs are supposed to be on there though). We returned to the van to find the thing I had feared the most for the past weeka US$300 parking ticket on our windshield for parking in a disabled parking space without a permit. Luckily, the ticket lady was still there writing out a ticket for some Porsche. We went over to her and innocently pleaded our case, and she immediately called her supervisor and got permission to take the ticket back. Meanwhile, while she was dealing with our ticket, the owner of the Porsche, actor Owen Wilson, showed up. Our first celebrity close-up! He had been out surfing at the beach. He too tried to get out of his parking ticket (which was only $40), but he did not have the same luck. It was hilarious. The ticket lady and Owen Wilson were great. In fact, we got her to take 2 picturesone of me with Owen Wilson, and another of my friend and Owen holding up their parking tickets! In any event, the point of the story is that if you plan to rent a van on vacation, do not forget to bring your disabled parking permit from home!!
We managed to catch six live tapings of television shows while we were in Los Angeles. We ordered free tickets for The Drew Carey Show and According to Jim a month earlier off of Audiences Unlimited. They were not specifically designated as "wheelchair" tickets. We were told to just call a day or two in advance to notify them that I was coming in a wheelchair. Wheelchair seating for The Drew Carey Show was excellent. Since the bleachers where the audience sits were not accessible, we sat on the floor in front of the bleachers by the tv cameras. During the show a member of the crew came over and gave me a Duff beer and one of the writer's scripts for that episode. Unfortunately, for According to Jim, the area in front of the cameras was too cluttered, so we were forced to sit beside the bleachers with the writers of the show. It was kind of a bummer because we could not see any of the taping except for one scene, although it was definitely cool to sit with the 6 or 7 writers of the show during a live taping and see them in action. They were really nice to us too, offering us food and allowing us to go backstage to get coffee or snacks. The security guard never even gave my friend a second look, although security for all these shows is probably much tighter now in light of the events of September 11.
Tickets for game shows are typically much easier to get. Every day there are guys giving away free tickets for tv shows in front of the Chinese Theater. This is where we got tickets for Hollywood Squares, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Wheelchair seating for these shows was very goodin the last row for Hollywood Squares and on the floor in front of the bleachers for the other two shows. For Wheel of Fortune we were actually only about 10 or 15 feet from the board and Vanna White. It was not necessary to specify that we were coming with a wheelchair.
The highlight of the tv show tapings, however, was by far The Price is Right. We got tickets for the show a week before the taping from the CBS box office. The only down side to going to a live taping of The Price is Right was that they gave out more tickets per show than the studio audience capacity, so no ticket guaranteed admission and it was first come, first served. This included wheelchairs. Furthermore, they started numbering the tickets at 7:30 a.m., which meant that if we wanted to be sure to get in (the studio sat around 325 people), it was a good idea to be there by 6 a.m. We were there at 5:40 a.m. and were numbers 100 and 101. The good news is that it was all worth it because the show was a blast! Each member of the studio audience got interviewed by the producers as possible contestants, even us disabled folk. Therefore, it was possible that we could get called to "come on down," although I have never seen a contestant in a wheelchair in my twenty years of watching the show. (NOTE: In November 2003, I saw for the first time a wheelchair-bound contestant on the show. They had a hand-held mic for him in contestant's row, and an usher pushed him on stage where there was a specially built ramp leading up to a platform where he played the "Switcheroo" game. One of Barker's Beauties helped him play the game, and Bob Barker spun the big wheel for him. It was the coolest thing ever! So, don't sit too comfortably in you're seat, you could get called down afterall.)
Since the main entrance to the Price is Right studio was not wheelchair accessible, we were taken in through the V.I.P. entrance. While waiting in the lounge for them to come and take us in to the studio, Lionel Richie and his 7 or 8 man entourage suddenly walked right beside me and continued down the hall. A few minutes later, a few stars from The Young and the Restless also passed through. Kristoff St. John actually came over to me, introduced himself, and talked to us for a few minutes, which was really cool even though I had never seen the show. To get to our seats in The Price is Right studio, the usher actually brought us in through the backstage area, which was really cool because we walked right by a few of the games and the big wheel. No sign of Bob Barker or any of his Beauties though, unfortunately. Wheelchair seating in the studio was really goodback row center. We were actually shown on tv many times.
The only disappointment out of all of these shows was that we never got to meet any of the stars. While we sat only about ten feet away from people like Drew Carey, Vanna White, and even Bob Barker at one point, they did not interact with the audience very much at all, except maybe for Alex Trebek and Bob Barker who took questions from the audience during commercial breaks.
We also managed to take in four studio tours during our time in Los Angeles. While Universal Studios is by far the best one and very accessible, we did not go there this time since we had both been there on past vacations. The first tour we did was the NBC studio tour. It was a completely accessible 70 minute walking tour which was very interesting as it brought us on the sets of the Tonight Show and Days of our Lives, among others.
The next tour we did was the Warner Brothers tour, which was the best of the four studio tours we did this time around. For this tour, we needed advance reservations and it was important to notify them that I was in a wheelchair so they could make arrangements for an accessible tram. However, the tram with the accessible lift was the worst excuse for an accessible tram I have seen. It could not accommodate my long chair, so they gave us our own specialized walking tour of the lot with a private tour guide. She took us to all the places the tram went, and probably a few more. It was very worthwhile, although I was disappointed that we could not get in to see the thing I wanted to see most that daythe set of Friends. It was closed that one day we were there.
The other two studios, Paramount and Sony Picture Studios, were both walking tours and were not quite as good. Sony Picture Studios was probably the least worthwhile, although Tony Danza did walk right past our tour group on the back lot tour. The Sony Picture Studios Tour included visits to the sets of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, while the Paramount tour included a visit to the set of Entertainment Tonight. All in all, after doing four studio tours you get the feeling that if you have done one studio tour, you have done them all.
The final leg of our trip took us to San Diego. We stayed at a beautiful hotel for a great price... I wish we had it the whole trip! The room was great2 queen beds with lots of space underneath them and a roll-in shower.
The next day was our only full day in San Diego. Since we had both been to San Diego before, we did not need to go to Seaworld or the San Diego Zoo. (Incidently, I liked Seaworld better, although the San Diego Zoo is world famous). Instead, we decided to take a city tour/harbor cruise. We made reservations a few days earlier to ensure that the wheelchair accessible bus would be available. It turned out to be a minibus, and when the driver showed up to pick us up, we discovered that we were the only ones on that tour. We were getting our own private tour of San Diego. Unfortunately, I did not find the tour to be very interesting. To be fair, it was a chilly, overcast day and I was freezing, so I was not in a good mood to start. The worst part, however, was the bus ride. It was the bumpiest ride I have ever been on. I felt like I was on the back of a hay wagon. I could literally feel my spine shaking with every bump and I could hardly wait until the tour was over because I was getting quite sore. The cruise was fairly nice though, and it was completely accessible. It is unfortunate that the city tour did not go as well. In addition to the cold weather and awful bus ride, I felt that the tour really did not show off the beauty of San Diego. Having been to San Diego once before, I know it is one of the most beautiful cities I've been to, but I did not see it that day.
Later that night we caught a baseball game at Qualcomm Stadium. Our wheelchair seats were in a good location, although it was unfortunate that like many other stadiums, the upper deck takes away a lot of the view and does not allow you to see how high a ball is hit in the air. It was a great game though, as we witnessed St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bud Smith throw a no-hitter.
The next day we drove back to San Francisco where we spent one last day before flying home. While we could have flown home from San Diego, we preferred to make the 10 hour drive back to San Francisco to avoid the hassle of having to rent a hoyer lift in each of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. We simply rented one lift in San Francisco and brought it with us in the van to Los Angeles and San Diego. Returning to San Francisco also saved us a substantial return fee that we would have been charged had we wanted to leave the van in San Diego rather than returning it to the original location.
In the end, our California trip turned out to be a fun three week adventure. I always find that the key to a smooth, non-stressful, wheelchair accessible vacation is to plan well ahead and make reservations early. Most of the reservations for things we did on our trip were made well before we arrived. The baseball tickets and football tickets were ordered over the phone months earlier as soon as tickets went on sale. The rental of the van and the hoyer lift were also done well in advance. Even the San Francisco and the San Diego city tours were booked a number of days in advance, which is especially important because most tour companies only have one bus (if any) with a wheelchair lift, so they require advance notice in order to reserve that bus.
As far as getting TV tickets goes, it all depends. I found that getting tickets for game shows was quite easy. Simply order them in advance off the internet at www.freetvtickets.com. If they are sold out, there are usually people walking around every day in front of Mann's Chinese Theater giving away free tickets to all sorts of shows. This is where we got tickets for Hollywood Squares, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, each time getting the tickets one day prior to taping. The Price is Right was different in that you had to get tickets either by mailing in a request directly to the show, or by picking tickets up at the CBS Studio box office at least five days before taping, which is what we did. While these tickets were easy to get, you had to show up early on the day of taping to guarantee your seat. Getting tickets for sitcoms was more uncertain, as it depends on the popularity of the show. Tickets for popular shows like Friends and The Drew Carey Show were very hard to get. The best thing to do for both game shows and sitcoms is to keep a close eye well in advance on www.audiencesunlimited.com and www.freetvtickets.com to see when tickets become available. You do not need specifically designated "wheelchair" tickets for most shows, although you should notify them a day or 2 in advance that you will be coming in a wheelchair.
For additional information on Los Angeles accessibility, see "HAWAII/LOS ANGELES 2002"
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