The Walt Disney Family Museum

Earlier this month I had a business trip to San Francisco and with a free day I decided to check out the Walt Disney Family Museum. It is a non-profit museum founded by Walt’s family to tell his story separate from that of the company. Anyone who knows his life story (like readers of this website) might find themselves skipping past some of the displays which go into great detail but the real star here is the artifacts. You’ll see original sketches, props, models, equipment, and property that defined Walt’s life.

Welcome to San Francisco! Why is the Walt Disney Family Museum here? Diane Disney Miller’s family lives in Northern California so it was a good location for them. They also wanted to separate their museum from the association the company has with LA. The museum is located in the Presidio, a former US military base and now a National Park located right at the Golden Gate. The museum itself is housed inside a refurbished army barracks originally built in 1897.

The lobby features some of Walt’s Oscars including the famous Seven Dwarfs Oscar!

The museum is the story of Walt’s life and the first room includes his childhood days and his service in World War I. This is a truck similar to the one he drove in France.

The oldest known drawing of Mickey Mouse. Although they are not sure exactly who drew this, it was most likely Ub Iwerks with possible help from Walt.

A Steamboat Willie drawing. Animators only drew the moving parts of the scene which were then overlapped on the unchanging image of the boat’s body.
Steamboat Willie production guide

There are several rooms full of original art as the museum walks us through the story of Walt’s journey from Alice and Oswald to Mickey and Snow White.

The museum was created by his family so of course it goes soft on him in some places but it doesn’t avoid the difficult times. The studio strike has it’s own exhibit and Walt’s involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee is also covered.
The War films are covered too… even the more controversial ones.

Next is a large room with digital displays that cover most of Disney’s movies post-WWII. This display of 20k Leagues artifacts is a included.

The center of the museum is all about Disneyland! And it starts with Walt’s love of trains and the real Lilly Belle!


Lilly Belle ran around and through Walt’s home but eventually he wanted something bigger…

Circlevision Camera

The real star here is the Disneyland model. It is huge and very detailed but it isn’t quite realistic. It isn’t a model of Disneyland at any specific time but more of an idea of Walt’s Disneyland as he wanted it. The major attractions also feature little characters. Probably the most unrealistic attraction featured is Space Mountain which didn’t appear in Disneyland until 1977! And the indoor ones have their roofs missing so you can see inside.

We take a break from Disneyland to showcase Mary Poppins including these original storyboard drawings.

An autographed copy of the book from PL Travers to Walt.

One of the last exhibits showcases the 1964 World’s Fair and some of the developments resulting from Walt’s involvement. Here a Tiki bird (who you are allowed to control) explains audio-animatronics.
Some of Walt’s personal artifacts including his hat, glasses, and travel case.

The next room is a hall filled with newspaper headlines announcing Walt’s death. It is also essentially the end of the museum (in true Disney style you will exit into the gift shop). What of Disney World, EPCOT, and everything else? Well remember this is a museum about Walt’s life. Not one about his Company. The museum’s story ends here with the world’s tributes to the man who brought so much joy to the world.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely! You probably won’t spend a full day here but you can easily spend a few hours to a half day looking at everything. They also have temporary exhibits and an evening film (it was 101 Dalmatians on the day I was there). It also has a great location that makes it easy to get to and plan a day around. After you check out the museum it’s just a quick hike, bike, bus, or Uber to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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