Home » 5 Key Landmarks Outside Disney Parks Every Disney Fan Should Visit

5 Key Landmarks Outside Disney Parks Every Disney Fan Should Visit

jschauma, Flickr (license)

One of the great pleasures of visiting the Disneyland Resort is its obvious and ever-present history. For a Disney fan, it’s impossible to walk down Main Street USA or through New Orleans Square without feeling the presence of Walt Disney himself emanating from the very sidewalks themselves.

History is an attraction unto itself when you’re a Disney fan, and the appreciation of that history is as much a part of the fandom as riding rides and seeing shows. And so, it can be tempting to assume that the history of Disney begins and ends with places like Club 33 at Disneyland or the Dream Suite in the Magic Kingdom.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there are tons of places that have tremendous Disney history that are nowhere near the parks. 

Here are a few places that have a strong connection to Disney, most of which you can still visit today.

Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, NY

 jschauma, Flickr (license)

Image: jschauma, Flickr (license)

If you take the 7 train out of Manhattan toward Queens, you’ll eventually arrive at a stop called “Mets – Willets Point.” On your left, you’ll see the massive Citi Field — home of the New York Mets. On your right, you’ll see the equally massive Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — home of the annual U.S. Open.

But while both of those spots have their share of history, the most magical location located at that stop is just a few steps past the tennis center: Flushing Meadows Park. 

You probably know it better as the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.

While most of the structures have since been removed or fallen into disrepair, the iconic Unisphere remains as a reminder of the optimism and ingenuity of that era. But while it certainly is impressive, a small spot of land just next to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is even more important.

On that site, over a half-century ago, Walt Disney debuted “it’s a small world” for the very first time. It proved so popular, Disney would eventually move it to Disneyland year-round — along with his other 1964 World’s Fair attractions like Carousel of Progress and Conversations with Mr. Lincoln. 

None of the Disney structures remain, but the park is beautiful and a wonderful place to visit to feel the ghosts of attractions past. And when you’re done, you can catch a tennis match or baseball game. How great is that? 

Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

 mcflygoes88mph, Flickr (license)

Image: mcflygoes88mph, Flickr (license)

Sometime in the early 20th century, when his kids were still very young, Walt Disney would take his family to Griffith Park to spend a carefree afternoon. While they were there, they’d often ride the 1926 Spillman Entertainment Company carousel — passing the time and enjoying the weather.

On one of those days at the park, staring at the carousel turning ‘round and ‘round, Disney was struck with an idea. What if there were a place where parents and kids could go that could provide this kind of joy and entertainment to all? What if this place had rides and shows and stories that captured the imagination of everyone, young and old? What if it were filled with pirates and ghosts and safaris and spacemen and all the fantastic stories Walt was so enamored by?

And thus, while watching the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, Disneyland was born. If you’re a Disney fan, paying homage at least once in your life is a must-do.

The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA

 Kent Slade, Flickr (license)

Image: Kent Slade, Flickr (license)

The Walt Disney Company’s archives are considered the holy grail for most Disney fans. Everything from attraction concept art to original audio recordings are stored away somewhere only Disney’s archivists and big wigs can access — and until such time as Disney opens its own museum, it will likely stay that way for a long time.

Filling the void, however, is the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco — a small museum dedicated to honoring Disney’s legacy and educating the public about what made him special. And while its collection pales in comparison to what the Disney Company itself could offer up, it is still utterly remarkable how many amazing things you can find in this historic place.

Everything from pieces of the famed Carolwood Pacific Railroad — Walt’s rideable miniature railroad he built in his own backyard — to many of his Oscars and personal effects. 

The museum is totally independent of the Walt Disney Company, but it was established by members of Disney’s immediate family, so you can enjoy the personal and familial memory of the great man. 

The Broadway Theatre, New York, NY

 broadwaytour, Flickr (license)

Image: broadwaytour, Flickr (license)

Ironically, this theater, located on Broadway at 53rd St. in Manhattan, hosted King Kong — a musical inspired by the famous film of the same name and Universal-owned intellectual property in 2018. In the past, it was even known as Universal’s Colony Theater So, what’s a Universal theater doing on a list about Disney history?

Well, on November 18, 1928, at this very theater, the world met Mickey Mouse.

Steamboat Willie — Walt Disney’s first animation film that used synchronized sound — debuted at the Broadway Theatre and changed the future of animation as we knew it. And, more importantly, it introduced us all to the lovable and mischievous rodent who would come to be the Disney Company’s mascot and icon.

Mickey would later return to the Broadway Theatre in 1940, when Fantasia premiered in New York City at the very same place.

And, the theater is still there if you want to see it — you’ll just have to watch a musical about King Kong if you want to get inside. 

Park East Theater, Winter Park, Fla.

 aloha75, Flickr (license)

Image: aloha75, Flickr (license)

If you go to 501 Orlando Ave, in Winter Park, Fla., you’ll find a strip mall with your usual assortment of big box stores and chains. One spot in that strip mall, an L.A. Fitness, seems no more remarkable than any other.

And yet, it was at this L.A. Fitness that the fate of Central Florida changed forever.

On February 2, 1967, Roy O. Disney invited a group of Florida legislators into what was then the Park East Theater for a presentation titled “Project Florida.” In the presentation, Disney pitched the local government on granting the company special governmental permissions in exchange for building a theme park, research center, and planned community — potentially causing Central Florida’s economy to boom.

At the end of the meeting, Roy Disney played a film is brother Walt made just before his death describing the project. This film has come to be known for Walt’s description of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — aka, Epcot.

And so, at that L.A. Fitness over 50 years ago, Walt Disney World was officially presented to Florida for the first time. 

Not a bad place to get a workout in.