I’ve made many trips to San Francisco in my lifetime. And with the unlimited number of things to do in the city, of course I’m not going to know them all.
But since I also love all things Disney, I was shocked that one of the places I didn’t know about was The Walt Disney Family Museum.
I first learned about the museum last Fall while searching activities for my sister and I to do while in the city for the two-night RNR tour. We unfortunately never fit it into the schedule.
So when friends from out of town (who love Disney as much as I do) decided to visit for a week and one of them had never been to San Francisco, this seemed like an obvious suggestion. I finally get to tour this hidden gem! And gem it was.
The museum is located in the Presidio area. Parking was $1.50 per hour, and we paid for 3 hours thinking that would be plenty of time.
You can start one of two ways in the museum. You can start with the permanent exhibit which chronicles Walt Disney’s life and career, or you can go downstairs for the rotating special exhibit which currently is Mel Shaw: An Animator On Horseback which you can check out until September. The next will be Wish Upon A Star: The Art of Pinocchio and will display May 18th – January 9th.
Since we were newcomers, we chose to start with the permanent exhibit. Before walking in, you are surrounded by certificates and awards that have been presented to Disney in his lifetime, including the famous Oscar (and mini Oscars) for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Emmys, and multiple keys to the city. He once got a key to the city of Guatemala – who knew!? The entry also displays some of the original furniture from Walt’s Disneyland apartment on Main Street. Yep, the one made famous with the light always on above the fire station. The apartment apparently now holds replicas or similar furniture. This here though is the real deal.
When the exhibit is described as chronicling his life, they really meant it. The first room you walk into is covered in black and white photos of his family and sets the stage for his life as a young boy. Since the museum was the the project “baby” of Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller, you know that you are catching rare glimpses in photographs not previously seen.
With keeping up in the fashion of chronological order, the museum shows his early love of drawing and then becoming a young animator, his early days in the business with Laugh-O-Gram (predecessor to The Walt Disney Company), the Alice Adventures, creation of Oswald the Rabbit, and his separation from the rabbit which lead to the creation of his most famous character – Mickey Mouse.
Fun fact: One of the first names considered for Mickey was Mortimer.
Much of what comes after, many Disney fans already know in varying degrees of detail with Steamboat Willie, the creation of Mickey’s friends, his first animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (and all the movies that follow), the first ever major theme park – Disneyland, and the beginnings of Epcot. But I think there’s something for everyone to learn since there is so much detail to read and displays to see.
Kids were present in the museum, but I genuinely think this museum would be most appreciated by the young at heart. To read everything about his life, creation of his characters and movies, his innovative techniques, etc. I think would bore many kids. They would probably enjoy seeing the displays of old drawings and memorabilia, but wouldn’t fully appreciate why it’s on display in the first place. They did have a couple interactive areas, including playing instruments in conjunction with an old cartoon to show how sounds effects were added. The kid in me was a little bummed that I didn’t get to try it, but it was always occupied with kids of the smaller variety. They also had a big screen with a few chairs that played clips of Fantasia and how it was made. I hadn’t seen the hippo and alligator ballerinas since I was a kid. I definitely stood there a few minutes.
One of my favorite rooms which made me internally say “whoa” was the room on Disneyland. It showed how Disneyland came to be, displayed a miniature 3-D map of the park, and played clips of specials highlighting the park’s opening.
It was around this point that we kept looking at all we could but definitely moved at a faster pace since we realized that we had less than an hour on the parking meter. Who said 3 hours was enough again? Boy, were we wrong.
As with everyone’s life, it comes to an end. I think the vintage television playing news reports of his death and reactions from those who worked with him was touching. I know Disney wasn’t a God and had faults as all humans do, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that he was a great creator and innovator who was far ahead of his time. He has brought joy and magic to millions of people around the world with his empire, and I’m living proof of that. I have memories watching all the classics, and I hold dear to my heart my first Disneyland trip with my dad. Even in my 30s, Disneyland is one of my favorite places to visit. As a kid, a teenager, and now an adult, as soon as I walk into the gates, I’m immediately carefree and happy. And that atmosphere was created by Walt.
As we head back to the car, we realize that we didn’t even step foot into the special exhibit. If you like to absorb all a museum has to offer, you definitely need to tack on more hours than we did to see this one. It’s worth the extra $1.50 per hour. And $20 adult admission.
I’m glad this visit with friends allowed me to experience some sights with them that I hadn’t yet experienced myself. More information on the museum can be found at:
For those who love a great San Francisco view: As you drive out of the Presidio, there’s a small parking lot where you can stop for a quick photo opportunity with a Golden Gate Bridge backdrop. It was a welcomed find since our guests wanted a picture but parking at the end of the bridge was full.
If you’ve been to the Walt Disney Family Museum, share a memory. Or what is a fun fact or something surprising you’ve learned about Walt Disney?
Also, I would love to hear of any other “hidden gems” in San Francisco that you recommend. Let’s get a list started.