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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
We’ve been to Disneyland many times over the years, and it was so interesting to look at our usual routes through the park.
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.
The Main Street Train Station and Main Street USA.
Nick especially loved the original Space Mountain concept that was both an indoor and outdoor coaster.
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.
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:
- Things to Do In San Francisco With Kids
- Alcatraz Night Tour | San Francisco, CA
- Muir Woods National Monument | California
What’s on your Disney Bucket List?? If it’s not already on it, definitely add the Walt Disney Family Museum!