If I thought I felt close to Walt Disney when visiting Disneyland, touring the Walt Disney Family museum in San Francisco made me feel almost as if I could touch him. My eyes are welling up with emotion as I type and recall the cool, cloudy day I visited this wonderful homage to “Uncle Walt” on the gorgeous grounds of the Presidio with my husband, daughter and my Dad (who along with my Mom, had big dreams of visiting this place before she passed). We were first in line as I insisted arriving an hour before opening, to be first in line! You see, Walt Disney is my Elvis, my teenage heartthrob, my idol. Never in my life have I admired someone so much, that I never knew. I understand he’s high upon the pedestal that I’ve placed him, but there and in my heart he will remain.
This museum is the labor of love and breathtaking tribute to the life and contributions of Walter Elias Disney, by his oldest daughter Diane Disney Miller and her husband (former CEO of the Walt Disney Company) Ron Miller. The Millers ultimately settled in northern California and so that is how the museum found its home in San Francisco when it opened in 2009. The fact that it sits on a former Army base is quite poetic in that Walt’s patriotism and love of the United States of America was so blatant throughout his life and work. There are countless words to describe the grandeur of the museum, I can’t decide which to use. You might think of it as (the exhibit in Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park), “One Man’s Dream”, on steroids! If you’ve never had the pleasure of walking through the One Man’s Dream exhibit, well then, I guess I’ll need to go into further detail.
Much like the attractions in the Disney theme parks, this museum tells a grand story. Beginning with his birth and childhood, you are taken on an exquisite tour through the life and times of this remarkable, talented, unstoppable visionary of a man. Through artifacts, pictures, videos, animated displays, interactive exhibits and even recordings by Walt himself, you get an intimate look into the unequivocal life of this very complex family and business man. The presentation is so captivating, oftentimes I felt as if I were a fly on the wall at a place and time in history I couldn’t possibly be. The experience is rich and feels that tangible, I only wish I had more time to spend soaking it all in. Our time in San Francisco was short, but I was not leaving without walking through these doors.
From his humble beginnings, through his epic failures and wild successes, then onto his far too early death, the journey through the Walt Disney Family museum leaves you both absolutely fulfilled, yet pining for more. Showcasing such private mementos like a handwritten list of foods he liked written for the housekeeper, family videos of him playing with his girls in the pool, his personal miniature collection and the first known drawing of Mickey Mouse to name a modest few, the museum is a big lovely box of Walt Disney secrets we all really want to know.
Even more perhaps than the man, the museum celebrates Walt’s accomplishments thoroughly and flawlessly. The movies, the technology, contribution to the Armed Forces, the innovation and of course Disneyland, are showcased so beautifully and wholly, one might think Walt himself had a hand in “plussing” the storytelling here. Everything is so well done, the museum certainly has captured his spirit and essence. I have no doubt he would have declared to Diane Disney Miller “that’ll work”, an emotionless phrase he often used which indicated his approval of the most amazing concepts, designs and innovative ideas. If it “worked”, it was golden.
While the entire gallery experience is virtually indescribable in words, the crown jewel of the Walt Disney Family Museum (for most, myself included) is the 14-foot diameter handcrafted model of the “Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination”. An outrageously detailed, magnificent display featuring existing attractions and some unrealized concepts forged during Walt Disney’s lifetime. Perhaps this model depicts the way Disneyland would have looked had Walt had the space and resources back in the early 1950’s. You can spend hours drinking in this brilliantly meticulous work of art alone. Each section is more impressive than the next and your heart will just melt at the Walt and Diane figures holding hands as they emerge through Sleeping Beauty Castle into Fantasyland. As a girl who grew up loving dollhouses, miniature everything and diorama homework projects, it was a borderline religious experience. It really must be seen.
I implore any fan of Walt Disney to pay a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum and plan to spend hours and hours. I wish we had the time to go back a second day, but that just means I’ll have to return! In the meantime, browse through the photo gallery above for some more of the photos I took during my visit. More information on the museum can be found at https://www.waltdisney.org/
Thanks for reading! If you’ve been or plan to visit, tell us about it below. Or feel free to ask a question, we’d love to hear from you!