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A visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum

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Ed note: welcome back long time blog author Whit Honea.

The Walt Disney Family Museum has been lambasted over the fact that it is located in San Francisco rather than in a town with a more direct link to the legacy of its namesake. I get that. However, having now been fortunate enough to visit the museum within the beautiful confines of San Francisco’s famous Presidio, I concede that they found a pretty nice spot. Breathtaking, really.

In fact, one of the best exhibits in the museum isn’t an exhibit at all. It’s a window. As you are walking from one of the many rooms to the next there is a hallway with nothing but a bench and a view. The Golden Gate Bridge sits on the other side. That experience alone may be worth the price of admission.

So what else do you get for your ticket? Quite a bit. There are family movies, personal letters, awards (including the famous Snow White Oscar), behind the scenes footage and a level of detail that some may find overwhelming and others will recognize as the way Walt would have wanted it.

I was traveling alone in San Francisco and having a family of Disney fans at home I was reluctant to visit the museum by myself. I’m glad that I did. While there are plenty of interactive activities throughout the winding maze of the museum, few of them are designed to hold the attention of young children — especially those that can’t accept the fact that this Disney attraction doesn’t twirl, fly or hug them for pictures. There are no churros. I’m sure that my boys would have had fun, but it would have come at a price, that being my chance to stroll leisurely through years of Disney history.

And that is what the museum does best, it provides a timeline of Walt Disney’s life and invites you to walk along it. You can stop at points of your choosing and dive deeper into the moments that interest you most, or you can stand back and marvel at the blending of history and the modern technology with which it is presented. But you can’t take photos. Snapshots may only be of the mental variety.

The purpose of the Walt Disney Family Museum, at least my impression of it, is not only to reflect upon the accomplishments that have been made, but also to teach and to marvel, and hopefully, inspire. It starts, as it should, with the birth of a man, and it ends accordingly, with words of his passing. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, which I know for a fact. I was standing there alone.

If I had any problem with the experience it was the gift shop, which, in my opinion, is too heavy on non-Disney items and lacking significantly in kid-friendly souvenirs. That isn’t to say I wanted it to be a Disney Store. I was actually quite pleased that it was as subtle and understated as it was. It felt fitting that it wasn’t an obnoxious mountain of plush surrounded by t-shirts and walls of plastic, but it would have been nice to find an original Disney-related item that would go well within the reach of little boys that missed their father. I had to settle for magnets and pencils, which they loved, but it certainly lacked the magic I would have been happy to pay for.

For those visiting the San Francisco area, the public transportation options are many, but getting to the Presidio is a bit difficult. If you are traveling without a car (as I was) there are busses that will get you fairly close to the museum, but you are at the mercy of schedules and bus drivers that don’t announce each stop location, which led to me missing mine by a few miles. It was sunny out, I walked the rest of the way. However, the next time I visit the museum it will be by cab.

Be sure to check the Walt Disney Family Museum website prior to your visit for hours and special events.