A Visit to The Walt Disney Family Museum & Legion of Honor Museum

When I headed to San Francisco last month I had one goal in mind – visit The Walt Disney Family Museum. I had been there once before and absolutely loved it but I particularly wanted to visit to see the exhibition Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World. Steamboat Willie is one of my very favorite Disney characters and I just had to see the exhibit before it closed. Luckily, they provided me a media pass and I squeaked in just before it ended its run. Then I decided to make it a museum day and headed to another San Francisco favorite, the Legion of Honor (courtesy of another media pass).

The Walt Disney Family Museum, located within San Francisco’s historic Presidio, was founded by Walt’s daughter Diana Disney Miller in 2012. It may seem unusual that it’s not located in Los Angeles but the simple truth is it has no connection to The Walt Disney Company and the Bay Area is home to the Disney family.

It was a beautiful day when I visited and I headed straight to the Mickey Mouse exhibition. Bringing together over 400 pieces, including several never-before-seen in public, it was a comprehensive look at everyone’s favorite mouse. There were original sketches, animation cels, concept art and more detailing the history of Mickey from his very first incarnation as Mortimer Mouse.

Then there were the color posters, the cartoons (which consistently had a crowd of rapt children watching), the comics and my, favorite, the merchandise.

it was a colorful, comprehensive exhibit that certainly pleased this Mickey fan and was well worth a trip up the coast. Although I’d previously visited the permanent collection I decided to check it out again and was immediately reminded of how much I love it.

Although the museum is not connected with the Disney company it certainly employs the same innovation in its execution. The galleries begin on the second floor and from the first time you step into the elevator you’ll realize you’re not in any old museum. For the elevator is really a train car and on your journey you’ll hear Walt tell of his journey by train to California.

The galleries then continue in chronological order with interactive exhibitions on Walt’s life and career from the early Alice shorts to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Snow White, Disneyland and more.

In addition to learning all there is to know of the cultural behemoth that is Disney there are several wonderful insight’s into Walt’s personal life and the museum contains items that can be found nowhere else. My favorites include an original work by Diego Rivera made as a gift to Diane and a special Oscars themed charm bracelet made for Walt’s wife, Lillian.

Wandering through the museum could take hours because there is just so much to see and do. There are surprises around every corner and as you work your way through you can expect to find just about anything including a glorious panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

My very favorite part of the museum comes near the end when the focus turns to Disneyland. As you walk down to the exhibition space you wander around a large, working model of the park. It’s absolutely fascinating and I could spend hours just staring at it in wonder.

On my first visit it took my breath away and on my second I was equally enthralled. As someone who grew up going to Disneyland it’s like they took a part of my memory, recreated in three dimension and left it there for me to marvel over. It alone is worth the price of admission but, luckily, the entire museum is pretty special and my second visited cemented its status as one of my favorite places.

After visiting The Walt Disney Family Museum I decided it was time to revisit another special place, the Legion of Honor Museum. Again, this would be my second time visiting a San Francisco institution although over 20 years had past since my last visit.

The Legion of Honor was built in 1924 to commemorate the California soldiers who died in World War I. Primarily an art museum it holds an impressive collection of works that date from the Antiquities to the present. It’s particularly known for its Rodin collection and contains several pieces from the famous sculptor including his masterwork, The Thinker.

But I didn’t visit the Legion of Honor for Rodin. Instead I was there to catch the tale end of the exhibition James Tissot: Fashion & Faith.

James Tissot was one of the most acclaimed French painters of the 19th century. He often painted portraits of French society and his large, colorful works offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Belle Epoque.

I adore his work and was so happy to catch such an extensive exhibition of his pieces. I had to battle the crowds to see them but it was certainly worth it to come face to face with such exquisite beauty.

Before I knew it it was nearly time for the museum to close so I took a quick tour around the permanent collection. The Legion of Honor’s collection of European art is impressive and I hurriedly passed a number of “greatest hits.”

Surprisingly, much of it was just as I remembered and before I knew it I was face to face with a painting I fell in love with all those years ago.

Georges Seurat’s The Eiffel Tower. I’ve loved Seurat since I was a teenager and to see one of his pieces in person is a rare treat as he died young and his method of painting, pointillism, was time consuming. I remember being filled with glee the first time I saw this piece and upon second viewing I was equally enamored. Though quite small it’s truly a masterpiece and is a highlight of the museum’s collection.

In one day, I re-visited two wonderful institutions, The Walt Disney Family Museum and the Legion of Honor, and found I enjoyed each as much as I had on my first visit. San Francisco is home to so many marvelous places and these two rank among the best. Both are filled with extensive collections that are beautifully presented offering the public a rare chance to have a brush with greatness. Neither should be missed when traveling to the city by the bay.

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