Are you one of the millions of Americans getting nervous about travel right now? That’s totally understandable. We’re dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, the flu, and all sorts of other nasty winter bugs. However, if you’re like me, you’re finding it hard to stay indoors for long periods of time, and you’re getting bored staring at your walls! Fortunately, staying local and looking to the great outdoors can be a great solution for sneaking in some travel while avoiding crowds and getting sick. Here are some ideas for wheelchair accessible places you can visit to see and experience cool things while avoiding crowds and illness.
1. Botanical gardens. Spring is almost here, which means that botanical Gardens will soon be in full bloom! Many major cities have them, and in the United States they’re required to be wheelchair accessible if they receive any sort of public funding. Smaller or less popular botanical gardens don’t get crowded, and because they’re outdoors, you’re much less likely to come into close contact with other visitors. Some of my favorites include the United States Botanical Gardens in Washington, DC, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida, and the Waimea Valley and Falls Arboretum in Honolulu. To avoid even more visitors, go during the week right when they open.
2. State Parks, National Forests, and National Monuments. We’ve all heard of the massive crowds and the insane traffic at our most popular national parks. But how many of you have made a state park, or even a national forest for monument your destination? So many of these green areas are not crowded at all, and even better, can be enjoyed from your vehicle. One of my favorites is Saguaro State Parks in Tucson, Arizona. You can only see it from your car, and the speed limit is a very leisurely 15 miles an hour. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is also a cool place to drive through with few crowds. I’m also a fan of Wekiva and Myakka State Parks in Central Florida, and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho for avoiding crowds.
3. Art galleries. Many of you already know that I’m a huge art geek, and will hit up an art museum in pretty much every place I visit. However, those tend to be pretty crowded. Want to get your own art geek on without all the people? Find a gallery district in your local or nearby city. They’re required to be accessible in the United States, and in many places you can find several art galleries right next to each other. There’s no admission fee to go inside, and while you may have to fend off a few sales pitches, you can still enjoy some pretty cool art — often from local artists — at your leisure without so many people around you. one of my favorite areas for this is on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You may even find a great piece to take home with you!
4. Self-guided walking/rolling tours. I frequently like to take guided tours because I like hearing about local history and interesting stories. However, most major cities offer self-guided tours, with either printed information or even an audio guide on a cell phone app. In the United States, most of these stores are wheelchair accessible, or can be modified to be so. In September 2019, I did the entire Freedom Trail self-guided tour in Boston, and it was amazing! I’ve also done them in Key West, Florida and in Portland, Maine. You can go at your own leisure, choose to enter or stay outside any of the sites along the way, and stay as far away from people on your route as you like. Just do a Google search for self-guided tours for a particular city to see what they offer.
5. Movies in the park/on the lawn. Don’t want to sit in a crowded movie theater with a bunch of other people for two hours? Find out if there are any outdoor movie screenings available nearby! Most major cities and even several smaller towns offer Movies in the Park or Movies on the Lawn events during the warmer months. You can bring your own food from home, stay in your wheelchair, and sit wherever you like to avoid being close to too many people. It’s also pretty cool to watch a movie outdoors under the stars!
6. Waterfront/beachside boardwalks. There are few things as peaceful as a roll along the water at sunrise or sunset. If you live anywhere near the ocean, a lake, or river, find out through your local Parks and Recreation office if there is some sort of boardwalk or promenade that runs next to it. Some of my favorites are the Fan Pier in Boston, the Riverwalk Promenade in my hometown of Sanford, Florida, and the Hollywood Boardwalk in Hollywood, Florida. To avoid larger crowds of sun worshipers, go early in the morning right after the sun comes up.
7. A state capitol building. Our national capital of Washington, DC is crowded pretty much all year, but have you ever thought to visit your state capitol building? Many of them are beautiful works of architecture, and contain amazing art as well. Most offer guided tours, but many you can visit on your own with historical information available online. When I visited my state capitol in Tallahassee with my children on a road trip last year, I thought they would be bored. However, they had a really cool scavenger hunt that provided both educational value and entertainment for them. Probably the most beautiful capitol building I’ve ever visited is the Massachusetts State Capitol in Boston. If you visit when the legislature is not in session, you likely won’t come across too many people.
8. Aviation museums. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum isn’t the be all-end all of aviation museums in the United States, believe it or not. You can find some really cool aviation museums all over the country, and I have yet to visit one that has been crowded. Because these involve aircraft, the museum spaces tend to be in very large and ventilated hangers where you won’t come into close contact with other visitors. Some of my favorites include the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, the Museum of Aviation next to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii.
9. Sculpture gardens. Here’s another one for my fellow art geeks! Want to avoid museums that are really crowded on the inside? Then visit their sculpture gardens on the outside! They are wheelchair accessible in the United States, and you can usually visit the outdoor spaces for free without having to pay for museum admission. Some of these sculpture gardens are really big, like one of my favorites at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Several museums in Washington, DC also have free outdoor sculpture gardens, like the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Gallery of Art. To avoid crowds, visit these sculpture gardens outside of museum opening hours, like early in the morning or around sunset.