Places to Play: The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA

A recreated vintage drawing desk with multiple sketches at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco

The first thing to know about the Walt Disney Family Museum, which occupies a prime spot in the Presidio of San Francisco, is that it’s not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company. The museum was founded by Diane Disney Miller, the late daughter of Walt Disney, with the mission to chronicle the life and life’s work of her father. As such, the space does not envelop visitors with that signature Disney corporate magic. Don’t go there expecting costumed characters and Disneyland-esque magical moments. Instead, this museum offers a different version of Disney charm as it invites you into the world of the man behind Mickey Mouse.

Sketches and an information display about the creation of "Steamboat Willy" on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum
An exhibit detailing the creation of “Steamboat Willy,” an early Disney animation

Stroll through the museum and learn about Walt’s remarkable life from his Midwest childhood to his move to Hollywood, his countless innovations in animation, and his indelible legacy. Of course, there are beloved Disney characters aplenty from sketch to screen. Disney fans of all ages and anyone with an interest in popular culture, animation and movie-making will find a lot to love at this engrossing San Francisco attraction. The gift store is pretty special too.

A young visitor admires vintage Mickey Mouse paraphernalia at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco
A young visitor examines vintage Mickey Mouse paraphernalia

What to See at the Walt Disney Family Museum

The museum’s 10 galleries follow Walt Disney’s life chronologically, starting with “Gallery 1: Early Beginnings.” Learn about Walt’s childhood in rural Missouri through to his service in France during World War I. Throughout is evidence of his budding artistic and storytelling talents. “Gallery 2: The Move to Hollywood” explores Walt’s first major contract, his new studio launched with brother Roy, and the stories behind Mortimer – soon renamed Mickey – Mouse.

Artwork of crying Disney characters mourning the death of Walt Disney, on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco
Artwork created by Disney animators to mourn the 1966 passing of Walt Disney

Ensuing galleries present Walt Disney’s family life as well as his innovations in animation, the transition to features, and the creation of Disneyland. Through intimate details, documents, paraphernalia and multimedia exhibits, visitors gain a deeper understanding of the enormous role Walt Disney’s characters and stories have secured in popular culture. Many exhibits are interactive and fun for children. In the especially affecting “Gallery 10: Remembering Walt Disney,” see how the world mourned Walt Disney upon his passing in 1966, then transitioned to embracing his legacy for generations to come.

The Virtual Experience

The Walt Disney Family Museum is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, it does offer virtual experiences to rival an in-person visit. Take a virtual tour of the museum’s highlights via its mobile app, explore digital media content in depth, and watch high-resolution videos of the galleries plus archived film and audio clips. The audio guide is available in 12 languages, and can be streamed from all over the world.

A scale model of Disneyworld on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum attraction in San Francisco
A scale model of Disneyland on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum


The Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery Street in the Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129

(415) 345-6800

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