By Jeanine Schmitz
Jenny lives in Seattle because of its unique offering of mountains, water, culture, and cool weather. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors. Her passion is travel, which has become a multi-adventure experience since her MS required a transition into a wheelchair.
Many many years ago, in college, I spent a memorable summer in Monterey, CA, studying Russian at the language institute. Classes all morning and homework in the evenings left several hours each afternoon where I was free to explore the peninsula and watch the otters. In the years after graduation, I made several trips back to the Monterey Peninsula – usually to go kayaking - and it was always wonderful.
Years later, living in Seattle, I began to wonder if these idyllic memories rang true (rather than hyperbole implanted by the tourist bureau and aging memory). I finally got the chance to go back this summer, and the short answer is “yes.” Monterey is as fantastic as I remember. I was even more thrilled to discover that the peninsula was wheelchair-friendly. In fact, after the challenges of wheelchair hiking in the Washington mountains, it was downright magical to find easily-accessible trails. We spent three days in Monterey, enjoying tourist attractions, recreating memories, and searching for otters.
In the old town section, many of the buildings are preserved from the first half of the 19th century when the Spanish and then the Mexican governments ruled this part of California. The wheelchair accessibility in this area is not bad, and the neighborhood is slated to upgrade its accessibility, starting in September 2016.
Immortalized in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, these areas evoke the heyday of the fishing and canning industries in the first half of the 20th century. They are now a hotbed of tourist activity, including hotels, restaurants, and shops. These areas are mainly wheelchair-accessible.
We avoided the crowded, tourist-filled seafood restaurants and chose higher-rated restaurants on Yelp. Most of them were in the quaint, pretty, homogeneous town of Pacific Grove. Because the town has preserved its Victorian architecture, wheelchair accessibility is mixed, but staff was willing to help us find accessible restrooms nearby, if needed.
As a recovering vegetarian, I think that one of the many best things about Monterey is its location next to the Salinas valley, dubbed the “Salad Bowl of the World.” For all but the dedicated carnivore, no visit is complete without a trip to one of the local produce markets, farmers markets, or farm stands. We went to all three and happily availed ourselves of fresh local strawberries and artichokes.
Perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in Monterey is the Monterey Aquarium. Rightly so. The exhibition on the jellies alone is worth the insanely expensive price of admission (hint – many hotels offer a discounted ticket valid for two days). The aquarium and its restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Although we did not have time to go this trip, some of our fondest memories are from kayaking and sailing on Monterey Bay, surrounded by otters and seals.
Monterey Bay is well-known for kelp beds, marine research, marine reserves, scuba diving, and marine mammals, including otters, seals, and whales. Otters can be spotted playing in the water or floating in the kelp beds. Seals can be found lazing on the beach, soaking up sun on the rocks or buoys, or swimming in the water. Whales are best seen on one of several whale-watching boatrides.
One of my favorite parts of Monterey is the coastal trail. It is a 29-mile paved, two-lane, multi-use trail that goes along the coast from Pacific Grove to Castroville. There are continuous views of the ocean, cypress trees, beaches, rock formations, marine animals, the sun or moon, and breath-taking vistas – sometimes visible from the trail, sometimes accompanied by a bench or picnic table off of the trail, and sometimes down a short, hard-packed sand path leading off of the trail. This is a wonderful trail for the GRIT Freedom Chair, taking advantage of its levers to cover the lengthy miles.
The biggest surprise awaited me at Asilomar Beach. My expectations of beauty were well met. The beach is covered with soft white sand, which was interspersed with dunes of wild gardens of coastal plants and flowers. Looking out to the ocean afforded amazing views-- otters playing in the water as the waves crashed against the rock formations, under a sky blazing with the colors of the setting sun. What I did not expect, however, was the incredible accessibility provided. There were numerous disabled parking spaces designated. These spaces were located next to entrances to wide, level, accessible trails of hard-packed sand mixed with boardwalks. The surfaces of the trails were usually hard enough for any type of wheelchair; in the few sketchy spots, the GRIT Freedom Chair was a perfect match. There was even a boardwalk from the road down to the state beach (of course the boardwalk ended at the start of the beach, leaving a large swathe of deep, dry, soft sand between the boardwalk and the ocean. It would have been a perfect opportunity to try the GRIT Freedom Chair’s beach tires.
The downside of such an amazing place is no surprise – insanely expensive lodging. One cheaper option that comes to mind is the Asilomar Conference Center attached to the state beach. Of course, availability is limited for non-conference-attendees, and even more so for guests needing ADA accessible rooms. So, plan ahead and happy trails!
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The GRIT Freedom Chair is the most versatile chair on the market, designed from the ground up to handle any terrain. From trails to grass to snow, the Freedom Chair is built for you to push yourself. Born out of research at MIT, the Freedom Chair's patented easy-push levers reduce shoulder strain and put you in control of your mobility. Ready to hit the trails. Learn more about the GRIT Freedom Chair at www.gogrit.us