There are various San Francisco activities and landmarks that make a trip to the City by the Bay complete such as a tour of Alcatraz, dinner at the legendary Tonga Room, family fun at Pier 39, photo ops at the Golden Gate Bridge, riding a cable car or navigating Lombard Street. For families, fans of film and old Hollywood, and those who celebrate the work of Walt Disney, there’s also the Walt Disney Family Museum located at the Presidio.
Established in 2009 at the Presidio, a park and former military base at on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, the Walt Disney Family Museum is a super high-tech and interactive learning experience that details the life of Walter Elias Disney and his legacy.
After a quick detour to the Yoda Fountain outside LucasFilms / Industrial Light and Magic around the corner, our group of Canadian journalists arrived in time for the Presidio’s annual Family Kite Day Festival along the main parade grounds that overlook the bay. Beautiful streams of colour danced in the wind, which seemed to never cease. It was a peaceful and playful welcome.
Ducking into the Walt Disney Family Museum space one of our group’s first questions was: “Why is the museum in San Francisco?” A helpful tour guide told us that the family had ties in town and today, it’s such a hub for animation studios (Pixar is nearby and we had even just come from ILM) that it also serves as inspiration for the animators of tomorrow.
We spent the next hour weaving through the galleries that told the tale of Walt’s life, from childhood to how he earned his 248 awards, which are all on display — including the special Academy Award for Snow White that featured seven mini statuettes.
While there are no rides, cast members, characters, or candy apples, the museum was still very interesting for children. The use of framed high-definition screens, animations and projections make each gallery come to life to tell its story. Meanwhile the artifacts, history, documentation and sketches on display are a dream for history or animation buffs.
From inventions that boosted film technology like the multiplane camera, to jars of paint that included colours specifically for Donald Duck‘s bill or Cinderella‘s dress. Everything was detailed and showcased including the animators’ strike in 1941 and also how the Disney studio supported the World War II effort by creating American posters and advertisements for the army. Then of course there was Disneyland and eventually Epcot.
The museum is laid out in chronological order with one of the last exhibits featuring something I never previously knew about Walt E. Disney: One of his very last family vacations was to British Columbia where they took a boat up the coast of Vancouver Island during the summer of 1966. Walt passed away in December of that year.
Once we had made the rounds in the main museum area (at 104 Montgomery Street) we made our way to the Tyrus Wong exhibition in a neighbouring Presidio building. Wong is a painter, muralist, and designer who worked with Disney as a lead artist on Bambi in 1942.
Aside from his paintings, sketches and animations, Wong loves kites and it just so happens that we spotted him on the Presidio lawn participating in the kite festival. It was pretty remarkable to experience such a moving exhibition only to then to see the legendary artist right there in front of us, at 102 years old!
Full of wonder from a healthy dose of history and art, my niece and I picked up some strawberry lemonades from the museum’s cafe (next to the store) and sat on the lawn. We looked out at sailboats in the bay and a few remaining kites in the wind as we waited to rejoin the rest of our group. It was great to find a slice of Disney in San Francisco and to learn more about the man behind the film and television empire… just a few days before we made our way to his Magic Kingdom.
At the time this post was published admission to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco was $20 (adults), $15 (seniors and students with ID), $12 (youth 6-17), and free for children 6 years and younger. Your museum admission gets you into the special exhibition buildings as well.