The Walt Disney Family Museum | San Francisco, CA

Did you know that there’s a museum dedicated to the life and family of Walt Disney in San Francisco? The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-do for any die-hard Disney fan! And even if you’re not a die-hard fan (yet!), it’s still an interesting way to spend a day in the city.

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exterior of the Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the heart of the Presidio, formerly the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast. The museum is a must-do for any Disney fan, and while we already knew a great deal of Disney history, we learned A LOT more during our visit!

walt disney ambulance driver

The kids were surprised to discover that Walt Disney tried to enlist in the Army during WWI but was too young. After altering his birthdate on his passport, he joined the American Ambulance Corps and was sent to France but arrived just as the war ended. He spent almost a year overseas, and rather than taking care of the injured and ill; he spent most of his time working as a tour guide for visiting officials.

steamboat willie still frames

They were also amazed at how many individual drawings were required to animate a 15-second scene of Steamboat Willie. While Steamboat Willie was not Disney’s first Mickey Mouse short (it was the third), it was the first successful one and the first one with sound. On November 18, 1928, Steamboat Willie premiered at the Colony Theather in New York City to rave reviews and launched the career of Mickey Mouse (and Walt Disney).

kids at walt disney family museum

The WDFM has great interactive exhibits, and the kids enjoyed trying their hand at creating Silly Symphonies. There are listening stations, movies, drums, and displays with lots of buttons all through the galleries, which help to keep the little ones engaged and entertained.

walt disney wwii propaganda

During WWII, the Disney company produced training films for the military as well as public service and morale-boosting shorts, and they did it all at cost (not for a huge profit like other companies).

kids on Disney bench from Griffith Park

Ben and Lexie thought it was pretty cool to sit on the actual bench from Griffith Park that Walt sat on many times while coming up with the idea for Disneyland. He watched his daughters play and laugh and imagined a place where families could go and have fun together.

kids looking at Disneyland model

The 13-foot model of the “Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” was easily the highlight of the museum. We all enjoyed looking for our favorite attractions and seeing which ones changed or were added as well as the ones that never came to be.

model of Disneyland at Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francsico

We’ve been to Disneyland many times over the years, and it was so interesting to look at our usual routes through the park.

Disneyland of Walt's Imagination model

You can see the concept for the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train that became the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland and eventually Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

model of Disneyland Walt Disney Family Museum

The Main Street Train Station and Main Street USA.

Disneyland of Walt's Imagination

Nick especially loved the original Space Mountain concept that was both an indoor and outdoor coaster.

Walt Disney political cartoon

At the end of the exhibits, the mood is a bit heavier. Cartoons cover the walls, praising Disney for the impact he had on the children of the world, but also cover the news of his death.

Walter Elias Disney 1901-1966

“You can dream, create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” — Walt Disney

Walt Disney His Legacy

Even though the museum ends on a somewhat somber note with the death of Walt Disney, you are constantly reminded of the impact that he made. The legacy that he left behind is immeasurable; he changed the lives of so many people, as well as changed the industry. “I hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” — Walt Disney

We had a phenomenal time at the WDFM and would definitely recommend it if you’re in the San Francisco area- or even if you’re doing a Disneyland trip and can spare a weekend to go north. Strollers are now allowed in the galleries (although you may be asked to store double or jogging strollers at the coat check in the lower lobby depending on crowds), making it easier to explore with the kids. Most people recommend at least two hours to go through all of the exhibits though hardcore Disney fans and those traveling without small children will likely need to allow more time.

Things to Remember if You’re Visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum

  • The museum is open Thursday – Sunday from 10am – 5:30pm, but the last entrance is at 4:30pm– go early to beat the crowds.
  • It’s closed every Monday – Wednesday, so plan accordingly (also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day)
  • Active duty and retired military (and spouses and dependents!) are free with a valid ID.
  • Everyone is free on December 5 in observation of Walt’s birthday– tickets are only available in person, on the 5th.
  • Flash photography and professional camera equipment are not allowed in the museum.

If you’re looking for more things to do in San Francisco, check out these posts:

What’s on your Disney Bucket List??  If it’s not already on it, definitely add the Walt Disney Family Museum!

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  1. August 12, 2018 / 9:49 am

    It’s so funny. I grew up in the Bay Area and lived there for years off and on as an adult and never knew this museum was there until either right before I last moved away or on one of my visits back. Thanks for the reminder and will have to make this a priority whenever I go back!

    • Jennifer
      August 12, 2018 / 2:51 pm

      It’s funny how we can miss things that are in our own backyard sometimes. But yes, definitely check it out next time you’re back in the Bay Area!

  2. August 12, 2018 / 10:48 am

    Definitely adding this to our list. We frequent WDW in Florida, but we really need to get out to CA. Great post!

    • Jennifer
      August 12, 2018 / 2:52 pm

      It’s a great stop to combine with a trip to Disneyland!!

  3. August 12, 2018 / 11:23 am

    This is absolutely on my Disney bucket list! I can’t believe I have lived in California my whole Disney-loving life and haven’t been!

    • Jennifer
      August 12, 2018 / 2:53 pm

      Yes! You’ll love it!!

  4. August 12, 2018 / 12:58 pm

    The museum is on my Disney Bucket List now. I enjoy learning about how things came to be. This looks like a great place to learn.

    • Jennifer
      August 12, 2018 / 2:53 pm

      I love when learning is fun- and it definitely is at the Walt Disney Family Museum!

  5. Vanessa
    August 12, 2018 / 3:04 pm

    This is awesome. If I ever make a trip to CA, I will definitely be visiting

    • Jennifer
      August 12, 2018 / 3:32 pm

      Yes!! It’s such a great spot to check out!!

  6. August 12, 2018 / 11:15 pm

    Oh my goodness, I have a new bucket list item now. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jennifer
      August 13, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      I hope you get to go check it out soon!

  7. August 13, 2018 / 9:07 am

    What a great spot! Do you know why it’s in the building that it’s in? Is there a specific reason? It’s on our list!

    • Jennifer
      August 13, 2018 / 12:08 pm

      I’m not 100% sure why it’s at the Presidio though I know that the museum is in San Francisco because Walt’s daughter, Diane, lives there and was very involved in founding the museum.

  8. August 13, 2018 / 10:25 am

    I had no idea this even existed! How cool! If we ever make it out there this will be on our list of places to visit for sure.

    • Jennifer
      August 13, 2018 / 12:09 pm

      Yay!! I hope you’re able to get out there!! 🙂

  9. February 28, 2019 / 5:05 am

    We are planning our first trip to Disneyland with a stop in San Francisco. I think this has to be on our must do list

    • Jennifer
      March 2, 2019 / 1:55 pm

      Yes, for sure!! Please let me know what you think of the museum– and Disneyland!!

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