Accessibility Grade: B-
At about 100 years old, Sunken Gardens is an historical landmark in Downtown St. Petersburg . It's the area's oldest, living museum, boasting a collection of plant species that range into the thousands, as well as a number of different animals species. Let's meander our way through this lush landscape, and give you the lowdown on the accessibility of this iconic, roadside attraction.
As we usually do, I'll start things off by briefly mentioning the accessible parking situation. Sunken Gardens shares a parking lot with Carrabba's Italian Grill. In front of the restaurant, there is a small section of accessible parking spaces, which include a total of four spaces and three unloading zones. There are two more spaces, sharing one unloading zone, that are located to the left of the spots that are shown in the picture above. Since there aren't a ton of accessible parking spots, and since they are shared with the restaurant, I'd recommend arriving early to find accessible parking.
When we were approaching the entrance to the Sunken Gardens gift shop, where you purchase tickets and actually make your way into the park, we happened upon this sign. Sadly, since Sunken Gardens is considered an historical landmark, there are areas within it that aren't very accessible. For example, as you'll see in other pictures that we've taken, there are some paths that aren't wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. There are also some stairs and places that are either uneven or steep. We did our best to show these areas as accurately as possible but, due to my own safety, had to be careful while doing so. It's not that I want to start this Review off on a negative note, but I thought it was really important to note. Personally, this was pretty disheartening, because the entire park is really pretty. I digress.
After making our way through the park's entrance, we were greeted by a nice, open courtyard. In the center of this outdoor lobby, the ground is made of artificial turf. Along the outskirts is a concrete path, which was widened by adding a walk space made out of a different, patterned material. Though the artificial turf may be more difficult for some manual wheelchair users to maneuver, the concrete/stone paths also may be a bit bumpy. Choose the area that's easiest for you to navigate and be as safe as possible, but make sure to look around as much as possible! There are a lot of magnificent flowers, bushes, and trees that frame the area.
After making our way through the first section, we came across a variety of themed gardens. There are a lot of exhibits, such as the mini-desert garden pictured on the right. Here, there is a gravel path that leads into a rocky garden that's full of cacti, as well as more desert-dwelling vegetation. While I'm usually wary of taking my power wheelchair through gravel, this path was packed enough so that I didn't have a problem. Of course, it may not be very accessible for manual wheelchair users. It could also be difficult for people who use canes or other walking aids.
Continuing forward, we made our way further into an area that seemed like a tropical paradise. To the left of this wide pathway were some enclosures, which home to a few species of birds and other animals. Looking up, I noticed an intricate tangle of vines and tree limbs. They offered some nice coverage from the hot, Florida sun, and were really beautiful.
Through out the park, there are a number of great viewing areas. These spaces are usually overlooking a particular exhibit. While I was able to see over the fence, as well as the vines growing all over it, I need to mention that I sit fairly tall in my wheelchair. In order to see into some exhibits, manual wheelchair users and kiddos may need to get as close to these fences as possible. In these kinds of situations, power wheelchair users may find it helpful to use their seat elevators and raise themselves to an appropriate viewing height.
While some walkways are plenty wide, there are a number of them barely has enough room to accommodate my wheelchair. Whenever I came across another person, the narrow path didn't leave much room for them to pass by me and continue on their way. Since many of the walkways are lined with trees, bushes, etc., it made it even more difficult for me to accommodate people passing by. They also had a tough time leaving enough room for me to move passed them.
What would a jungle be without a waterfall? Surrounded by a variety of ferns and other plants, this exhibit was pretty easy to get around. I could drive my wheelchair right up to the waterfall, which actually felt cooler than the rest of the area. With the afternoon heat blaring down on me, this ended up being one of my favorite spots in the park.
Though not completely out of the sun, we came upon a semi-shaded and paved area that resembled a large pavilion. There were two, wide sidewalk, that led visitors along this garden. Here, there were a number of beautiful, potted plants, trees, ferns, and even some vines. Though the roof of this pavilion was vented, meaning that it didn't offer complete coverage from the sun, it still gave us a bit of shade.
As mentioned above, Sunken Gardens displays a number of exhibits featuring a variety of fish, birds, and reptiles. The koi pons was surrounded by beautiful vegetation some of which displayed flowers during the time of our visit. As I've noted in other Accessibility Reviews, I have always been an animal person. There was a good number of koi, all of which were as large as they were beautiful. The pond itself was also made in an interesting shape, including an outer wall that wound to the left and right, giving the appearance of waves. What was great about this wave-like design, is that I could get a bit closer to the water than usual. Pulling up, I noticed that it made me feel as if I was in the pond.
Anybody, who knows me, is well aware that I absolutely love turtles and tortoises. When I saw this red foot tortoise exhibit, I felt like a kid again. All of the animals seemed to be well taken care of, whether it was one of these tortoises or any of the other critters.
The flamingo enclosure was absolutely beautiful, and seemed pretty accessible. In the picture on the right, I'm using the seat elevator on my wheelchair, which is raising me well above the fence that surrounds the flamingo exhibit. If you are on the shorter side, and have a seat elevator, this could be a good place to use it. Though the exhibit can be seen through the fence, the pattern of it may prove to be too distracting for some park goers. Otherwise, manual wheelchair users should try to get as close to the fence as possible; however, in front of the fence, there is a section of mulch that spans the entire width of the exhibit. Though this seemed to be packed pretty hard, and was easy enough for me to deal with in my power chair, the front casters of manual wheelchairs may get stuck here. Additionally, people that use walkers, canes, and other mobility aids, should be careful.
Continuing passed the flamingo exhibit, you'll find yourself at an information center. This building is a great place to hide from the sun, and to give yourself a few minutes to cool off.
Once inside, you'll find a treasure trove of information that'll take you through the history of Sunken Gardens. There is a panel in the back of the room, which has a series of buttons on it. Pressing each of these buttons will start a different video. Unfortunately, brail is not provided for these buttons, meaning that people with visual impairment won't be able to tell which button they're pressing. I also didn't notice a brail version of the information that was written all over the walls.
Sunken Gardens is an historical, outdoor museum that displays a beautiful assortment of plants and animals. Though I did have a good time, and though staff were accommodating, it pains me to say that the accessibility of this park was... lacking in a lot of ways. Some areas were completely inaccessible. I recognize that adding accessibility features can alter the integrity of an historical landmark; however, as a wheelchair user, that doesn't feel like it should also excuse a place from being accessible. This is my personal opinion, though. Depending on your disability and your limitations, your experiences at Sunken Gardens will differ. While I did enjoy my time, this reality loomed over my head during my entire visit.