Five Suggestions
for Your Visit to

The Walt Disney
Family Museum

Around six months ago, I wrote about my first visit to The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. The gist of that article was that it’s a wonderful museum, and you really should go there.

Today I’ll explain how, with a little extra planning, you can make the most of your visit.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, August 10, 2012

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

The tranquil setting of the Museum in the Presidio of San Francisco

Suggestion 1: Allow enough time.

“When guests ask how long it takes to see the Walt Disney Family Museum, I tell them that most folks spend two hours, but I’ve seen at least one person spend four days.”

— Urso Chappell*, The Walt Disney Family Museum

In the quote above, I’m the guest who spent four days.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Museum hours

The museum’s exhibit galleries are designed so that they can be taken in quickly or slowly, at a high level or a detailed level, depending on how deep a visitor wants to go. There’s a lot of content, and I really don’t see how someone can experience enough of it in just two hours. A three-hour visit would be better. You can’t see everything, even during a full-day visit. Multiple three-hour visits are ideal.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Sam Gennawey signing Walt and the Promise of Progress City

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Jeff Kurtti signing Disneyland—From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After

In truth, I didn’t spend four full days touring the exhibit galleries. I went four consecutive days, spending a few hours in the exhibits each day. I also participated in a book signing, attended a presentation, watched a movie, ate several times at the Museum Café, and shopped at the Museum Store.

Suggestion 2: Don’t be afraid to bring guests who are not diehard Disney fans.

Of course, The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-visit destination for those of us who admire Walt Disney (1901-1966) and his life’s work. But how is it for visitors who don’t consider themselves to be Disney fans and for whom Walt Disney is little more than a brand name?

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Front of The Walt Disney Family Museum

The museum offers a compelling story to a general audience, not just to Disney fans. In fact, the museum might be particularly interesting to people who have never read a biography of Walt Disney. His life was a fascinating American success story, with failures and triumphs; with constant reinvention instead of stagnation; with real characters who worked with him to create memorable animated characters. The story is set against the backdrop of the evolving 20th century, with new technology enabling new creative opportunities through every decade of Walt’s life.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Jim Smith, courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum

Gallery 7: Animation and the Move to Live-Action Films

It’s a history museum, an art museum (although not a traditional one), and a biographical museum. The exhibit design work is first-rate, with terrific artifacts, well-written text (often using Walt’s own words or those of his colleagues and family), and excellent use of video displays and audio stations.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Cesar Rubio Photography, Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation

“The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination”

The subject matter is great for children too. The chronological galleries begin with Walt Disney’s own childhood in Chicago and Marceline. Video displays show examples ranging from Walt’s earliest cartoons up to his television programs and features of the 1960s. Older children should enjoy Walt’s creative work in the context of his life. The model of “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” is a highlight for all ages.

Suggestion 3: Catch a movie.

Every month, the Walt Disney Family Museum presents a film of the month—usually a Disney feature from Walt Disney’s lifetime. The film is shown several times daily, unless the Theater is being used for a special presentation. It’s a rare opportunity to see an older Disney film in a theater with an audience.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum

The Theater

The Fantasia-themed Theater has 114 seats, digital projection, and a lobby decorated with old movie posters from Walt Disney Productions. The Theater is used every day that the Museum is open.

In July 2012, the movie was The Sword in the Stone (1963). In August 2012, it’s Fantasia (1940). In September 2012, it will be Old Yeller (1957). Movies are now free with museum admission. It’s also possible to buy just movie tickets on a day when you’re not buying a museum admission.

If you’re trying to see all the highlights of San Francisco in one weekend, such a movie might not be the best use of your time. But for a relaxed visit, it’s a great way to get off your feet during a long museum visit and to see a Walt Disney movie while you’re focused on his amazing lifetime career.

Suggestion 4: Check for presentations, events, and special exhibits.

Before you visit The Walt Disney Family Museum, visit its website, waltdisney.org, to read about presentations and special exhibits. Click on the Calendar tab. If your dates are flexible, you might want to plan around the museum’s calendar.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Frank Teurlay, courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum

San Gennawey, Ron Miller, and David Price

I timed my first trip to The Walt Disney Family Museum to be there for “Mineral King: Walt’s Lost Last Project,” presented by urban planner Sam Gennawey (who also writes for MiceAge/MiceChat), former Disney CEO Ron Miller (Walt Disney’s son-in-law), and architect David Price (son of Disney Legend Harrison “Buzz” Price).

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Joseph Titizan, 2012, courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum

Presentation: “Mineral King: Walt’s Lost Last Project”

The presentation was entertaining and full of new information. Sam Gennawey did extensive research, made a first-rate PowerPoint file, and showed that he’s a terrific speaker. As good as Sam was, the highlights were when Ron Miller and David Price, accompanied by family photos projected on the screen, described their first-hand experiences at Mineral King when the project was active.

Ron spoke about a helicopter ski trip at Mineral King with his wife Diane Disney Miller and ski champion Willie Schaelffler. They found 18 feet of snow at the summit. Diane, who was in the audience, kidded Ron that he fell down a lot while skiing there. Ron, an imposing former NFL player, playfully reminded Diane that he tended to sink into the crust, while she avoided falling by skiing in Willie Schaelffler’s tracks.

The Mineral King presentation was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But I’m sure the museum will have once-in-a-lifetime presentations about other subjects in the future.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Building 122: Special Exhibitions, Offices

A special exhibition is coming to The Walt Disney Family Museum. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic will be on view from November 15, 2012 to April 14, 2013. Walt Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937. The exhibition, celebrating the film’s 75th anniversary, will feature more than 200 works of art. A press release about the exhibition even promises things we’ve never seen:

The exhibition is organized by sequence through the progression of the movie, featuring some never-before-seen works of art with behind-the-scenes stories about the film’s production. The exhibition also features artwork from deleted scenes from the film, some of which were only partially animated. One is the Bed Building Scene, in which the dwarfs build and carve a lovely bed for Snow White. Filled with numerous gags, these sequences were great fun, but Walt felt that they took the focus away from Snow White’s story. Other, less-developed scenes included a fantasy scene of Snow White dancing in the stars, and the lodge meeting in which the dwarfs decide to make a bed for Snow White.

Suggestion 5: Consider membership, even if you don’t live in the Bay Area.

Even though I live near Chicago, I purchased an Individual Membership (unlimited free admission for one member and free admission for one guest) when I arrived at the museum.

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Ticket lobby

Buying an Individual Membership was a mistake—even though my membership paid for itself in a few days because I visited multiple days, brought a guest one day, used my discount in the shop, and watched a movie.

I should have bought the Dual Membership (unlimited free admission for two members and free admission for one guest). One reason is that I’m now planning a San Francisco trip with my wife and daughter. But that’s not the big reason. All memberships costing more than $100 not only provide admission and a museum store discount at The Walt Disney Family Museum, but also at hundreds of other museums through the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) program. (I was allowed to pay the difference to upgrade.)

Walt Disney Family Museum photo

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Awards bestowed upon Walt Disney during his lifetime

A membership to The Walt Disney Family Museum at a level that also includes the NARM program can be a tremendous value if you visit just a few museums on the list. Of course, if you enjoy the museum at which you get the free reciprocal admission, a donation is appreciated but optional.

Sam Gennawey is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City (with foreword by Werner Weiss). The book is available from Amazon.

Book from

Kindle from

Walt’s Disneyland
Walt Disney Family Museum

© 2012-2020 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated July 17, 2020.

* In addition to working at The Walt Disney Family Museum, Urso Chappell is the designer, writer, and World’s Fair historian behind www.ExpoMuseum.com.
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: Werner Weiss received a printed copy of the book Walt and the Promise of Progress City and a guest ticket to “Mineral King: Walt’s Lost Last Project” at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Mr. Weiss paid for his own Museum membership to The Walt Disney Family Museum and for all travel expenses.