While the six Disney Resorts around the world – Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and Shanghai Disney Resort – have become dream destinations for Disney fans, they are not the only places major fans should be traveling.
These are six of the most important Disney sites fans need to visit outside the parks.
Walt Disney’s Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Where else could we start than the literal beginning? This modest home in Chicago, Illinois, located at the intersection of Tripp Avenue and Palmer Street, was built by Flora and Elias Disney in the late 1800s. Two of their children, the later founders of the Disney Studios Roy Disney and Walt Disney himself, were born there.
The Disney family ended up leaving Chicago when Walt was four years old, but the house he was born in still stands to this day and can easily be visited by those inclined to make the pilgrimage. Notably, the house has been renovated numerous times in the past 100+ years, though the Walt Disney Birthplace Restoration Project is currently working on returning the building to its original state in the hopes of securing Historic Landmark status.
2. Marceline, Missouri:
Much like the Disney family in real life, we’re moving on from Chicago to Marceline, Missouri. Now, this town is known by name to scores of Disney fans, as it partially inspired Main Street, U.S.A., at Disneyland. However, there are plenty of Disney-related things to see in Marceline.
The hub of Disney sites in Marceline is the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Located in a restored and renovated Santa Fe Railroad Depot building (which clearly would have made it a dream destination for Walt himself) the museum features numerous Disney archive pieces including family documents and letters as well as a school desk. In addition, the museum features artifacts from the Disney Brothers’ triumphant return to Marceline in 1946.
The crown jewels of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum are numerous parts and an original car from Midget Autotopia, the only Walt Disney Imagineering ride ever to operate outside a Disney park. The attraction, which earned its now politically incorrect name from a term used at the time to describe young children’s rides, had operated in Disneyland from 1957 to 1966.
After Midget Autotopia was closed – to make room for It’s a Small World – the ride was transferred to Marceline, where it operated in Walt Disney Municipal Park until 1977. Unfortunately, rising costs and a lack of available replacement parts led to the ride being dismantled, with the aforementioned parts moving to the museum.
3. The Griffith Park Carousel: Los Angeles, California
Even the most casual of Disney theme park fans have likely heard the tale of the Griffith Park Carousel. Allegedly, Walt Disney first conceived the concept of Disneyland while watching his young daughters ride the merry-go-round. Years later, the man himself would explain:
As I’d sit there and watch them go on the merry-go-round, I’d sit on a bench eating peanuts, and I felt that there should be… some kind of amusement enterprise built where the parents and the children could have fun together.
While there’s some debate as to whether Walt’s inspiration for Disneyland truly came from the carousel, its important place in Disney mythology — if not fact — makes it a must-visit for aficionados. Plus, the fact that it’s still operating at near 100 years old makes the Griffith Park Observatory worth experiencing no matter what.
4. Flushing Meadows Park: Queens, New York
Moving across America from the West Coast to the East, Disney fans should absolutely make a point to visit Flushing Meadows. The lush public park in Queens is built on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, which was a watershed event for the Walt Disney Company.
The Fair featured the debut of four Disney attractions that would change the theme park world forever: It’s a Small World, the Carousel of Progress, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the Ford Magic Skyway. These breakthrough experiences pioneered audio-animatronic and ride system technology that’s still in use today.
While none of the Disney attractions are left at Flushing Meadows today (three of the four were moved lock, stock, and barrel to Disneyland, while the Ford Magic Skyway was cannibalized and integrated into the Disneyland Railroad), the site does feature numerous other pieces of architecture from the event, including the Unisphere.
In addition, the site is home to the Queens Museum, which features a large exhibit dedicated to the ’64 Fair, including Disney’s attractions.
5. The Walt Disney Family Museum: San Francisco, California
Our final must-visit location takes us back across the country to Northern California. Unlike the other places on our list, the location of the Walt Disney Family Museum has no literal connection to Walt Disney. That said, the 44,000 square foot museum on the ground’s of San Francisco’s Presidio embodies the man like few other locations.
Owned, operated, and funded by the Walt Disney Family Foundation (with no official association with the Walt Disney Company), the museum tells the comprehensive story of Walt Disney’s life from his childhood through the formation of the Studios, film success, and culminating in a massive physical model of Disneyland.
In addition, the museum often features lectures and other programs with current and former Disney Imagineers and other important figures in company history.
Have you visited any of these Disney sites? Are you interested in historic Disney locations beyond the theme parks? Let us know in the comments below.
Dig into Disney history at the links below!
- How to Get an Exclusive Preview of the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit!
- Five Places Disney’s Biggest Fans NEED to Visit
- NEWS: New Disney+ Series Will Take You Behind-the-Scenes of Your Favorite Rides!
- Five Franchises You Had No Idea Were Once Part of Disney Parks
- Walt Disney World Rides That REALLY Need an Overhaul