“To all who come to this happy place, welcome,” Walt Disney announced on July 17, 1955, Disneyland’s opening day. Perhaps if The Walt Disney Family Museum, celebrating its fourth year in San Francisco’s Presidio, should have an associated quote, it should be, “to all who come to this happy place, (you’re) welcome.” This place is truly dedicated to Walt’s admirers. The museum that honors the man responsible for Mickey Mouse and countless other creations embodies a “must-see” attraction for any true Disney enthusiast.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting The Walt Disney Family Museum, though even an entire day did not warrant enough time to explore each fascinating facet.
Check out 12 reasons to visit The Walt Disney Family Museum in this video I developed after my visit.
12. Incredible idealized Disneyland model: The Golden Gate Bridge, right near the museum, is considered one of the wonders of the world. I would argue, though, that in the Disney world, this marvelous model of Disneyland comes rather close. Merging together attractions that never coexisted, such as Space Mountain and the short-lived Flying Saucers, this vision of what Disneyland represents truly requires a good hour of intense observation to appreciate.
11. Interactive features: They exist all over the museum. One game allows visitors to provide the sound effects for a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon. Other spaces let individuals listen to audio interviews with Disney luminaries. One room contains stations, where using touch screens, visitors can sort through hundreds of images and video clips. Interactivity always has value – even more so in this digital realm we often spend hours in each day – and The Walt Disney Family Museum values that element.
10. Amazing artifacts: They characterize the endless galleries, and each piece in the collection showcases something special. Some of my favorites include the original multi-plane camera, first used in The Old Mill short, a model depicting the Carousel of Progress attraction, and the dozens of ink and paint containers. Each bit of space supplies unique treasures, many donated from Walt Disney’s family.
9. Disney merchandise galore: Take your pick. Books. Collectibles. DVDs. Postcards. Apparel. The gift shop is stocked with goodies that any Disney fan will adore, and will have to resist purchasing. My recommendation: buy at least one item that possesses the museum logo, such as a magnet. Sometimes the smallest trinkets possess the most worth in one’s collection. But for everyone else, if you forget to purchase that must-have item, there’s always Amazon or eBay.
8. Early Epcot plans: For many Disney theme park guests, Epcot defines the most idealistic space under the Disney name. The park, now three decades strong, is my favorite. I appreciate how The Walt Disney Family Museum dedicates a good portion of an exhibit to Walt Disney’s early vision for this “community of tomorrow.” Though Walt never lived to see this dream become a reality, the museum masterfully presents this information in an interesting, non-overwhelming manner.
7. Tributes to Walt after his passing: Have tissues handy here. You’ll need them. Tons of images line the walls of the final main exhibit, centered on how the world responded to Walt’s untimely death. These political cartoons and magazine cover images will likely cause you to shed more than a few tears. The poignant space offers a chance for retrospection of the man who presented us with the most gifted, albeit amorphous, prize: pure happiness in his kingdom.
6. Videos all over: Stare at the screens and you will be transported into different decades of Disney. While I did not make an official count of the quantity of video screens populating the space, I would argue that each of them is worth watching for at least a few minutes. They show songs, cartoons, movie clips, interviews and other pieces of enthralling content that make us reminisce of Disney yonder.
5. Special exhibitions: Featured exhibits pay tribute to different components of entertainment, often connected to Disney in some capacity. The most recent one, which chronicles 103-year-old animator Tyrus Wong (still alive and strong, as of the release of this article), deepens our understanding of the influential artist most known for his work on Bambi. The additional admission to explore this space is entirely worth it. You could easily spend a few hours gazing at his artistry, including the kites that hang from the ceiling.
4. Controversial topics uncovered: Undoubtedly the museum focuses on many of Walt’s accomplishments, but the galleries are not always self-flattering. In fact they present a most well-rounded picture of the man, sometimes scathed with scandals and problems. The 1940s especially frustrated Walt, as he was hindered by animators who went on strike, false allegations of being a Communist, and producing criticized pieces of animation. Der Fuehrer’s Face, the 1943 Donald Duck propaganda short, could have been easily excluded, but instead its poster hangs on the wall of the hall.
3. Walt’s hundreds of awards: The entrance to the museum features literally hundreds of prizes that Walt garnered during his life, from numerous Academy Awards (displayed for all to see in person) to more specialized awards presented to him by various niche industries. Prepare to be spellbound by the seemingly-endless areas that Walt was recognized for in a matter of three to four decades.
2. Fun finds everywhere: Take a few steps through the museum and likely something neat will catch your eye within an instant. I can make the argument that you could spend an entire day in each gallery, mainly because of the amount of details and treasures pulled into the exhibits.
1. Honors Walt: This place is called The Walt Disney Family Museum for a reason, as you will discover no other place in the world that pays such close attention to Walt the man. From his childhood in middle America to his everlasting success in the entertainment atmosphere, Walt’s miraculous existence took him to places he could have never imagined – and likewise, to magical spaces we could not have otherwise pictured ourselves.
Thanks, Walt. And thank you, designers and dreamers behind this museum, for giving the world a place to pay tribute to Walt. The Walt Disney Family Museum may very well be the highlight of your time in San Francisco.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.