Image: National World War II Museum
National World War II Museum
Race & War Artifacts, posters, videos and interactive touch screens help audiences learn about race issues and warfare in the Pacific Theater of World War II. On November 6, the museum will unveil three new venues in the first phase of a $300-million expansion.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/22/2009 11:15:32 AM ET 2009-09-22T15:15:32

It’s official: With the sun now crossing the celestial equator, fall has arrived. It’s time to say goodbye to trashy beach reads and monsters at the multiplex and say hello again to, shall we say, more cultured travel activities.

Like museums, including those below, which are either brand new, newly improved or about to debut.

Walt Disney Family Museum
The mouse may reign from Orlando to Anaheim, but it’s the man behind the mouse who gets top billing at the Walt Disney Family Museum, set to open in San Francisco on October 1.

Filling three historic buildings in the Presidio, the museum will feature a theater, education center and 10 galleries tracing Disney’s life from his birth in Chicago in 1901 to his death in 1966.

Along the way, exhibits will highlight Disney’s unparalleled contributions to animation via early drawings, his first primitive films and the two-story multiplane camera he used to add more depth to films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Also on display: that film’s special Academy Award, which featured a full-sized Oscar and seven miniatures.

Moving beyond film, the museum will also feature a Model T ambulance like the one Disney drove during World War I, the narrow-gauge “Lilly Belle” train he built for his Hollywood home (and which presaged his plans for Disneyland) and his utopian vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, better known as EPCOT.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is open Wednesday­–Monday. Admission is by timed entry; tickets are $20 for adults, $12.50 for children ages 6–17.

National World War II Museum
Originally opened as the National D-Day Museum in 2000, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is about to embark on the largest campaign in its nine-year history. On November 6, the museum will unveil three new venues in the first phase of a $300-million expansion.

The heart of the new facility will be the Solomon Victory Theater, which will feature a 120-foot screen, 250 seats and hourly showings of “Beyond All Boundaries,” a 4-D immersive experience that tells the war’s story from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day. Combining historic footage and Hollywood effects, the film will have guests feeling the rumble of tanks, flinching from concussive artillery and even wiping simulated snow from their cheeks.

Next door to the theater, the new Stage Door Canteen will recall the USO clubs of the era with a signature live production with period music and dance numbers Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Shows include a dinner (or Sunday brunch) option, served from The American Sector restaurant, the soon-to-open eatery run by local chef John Besh.

Image: Disney Family Museum
Eric Risberg  /  AP
Founding executive director, Richard Benefield looks over the entryway that features many of the awards bestowed upon Walt Disney at the Walt Disney Family Museum. With an opening date of Oct. 1, 2009, the museum will feature 10 galleries, starting with Disney's beginnings on a Missouri farm and tracing the ups and downs of his career.
The museum is open seven days a week. Adult tickets are $16 for general museum admission, $9 for Victory Theater shows and $20 for museum/theater combo passes. Stage Door Canteen shows are $30, $65 with brunch and $75 with dinner.

Elsewhere around the country, several smaller museums have either recently reopened or are about to do so after significant expansions or renovations. Among the options:

University of Virginia Art Museum
Closed last spring, the UVa Art Museum in Charlottesville reopened September 12 after a $2-million renovation. Inaugural exhibitions include “Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village,” which uses drawings, prints and letters to explore Jefferson’s original plans for what would become the university, and “The Expanding Eye,” which explores the influence Edgar Allan Poe (an early UVa student) has had on generations of visual artists. Open Tuesday–Sunday; admission is free.

El Museo del Barrio
Forty years ago, El Museo del Barrio opened in a storefront in New York’s East Harlem neighborhood as a showcase for Caribbean and Latin American art. After a one-year closure, it will reopen on October 17 with its first permanent galleries and a special exhibition (“Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis”) that explores the interactions of artists who worked in the city in the early 20th century. Open Wednesday–Sunday; suggested adult admission is $9.

The Big House
No, it’s not a prison; it’s the three-story house in Macon, Ga., where members of the Allman Brothers Band lived, practiced and wrote some of their biggest hits during the early 1970s. Expected to open as the Allman Brothers Band Museum in December, it’ll feature guitars, gold records and enough vintage memorabilia that you could almost forget that, as Gregg wrote way back when, “Time goes by like hurricanes and faster things.”

Finally, if none of the above fit your travel plans, be aware that September 26 is Museum Day, an annual event in which museums across the country will offer free general admission. Sponsored by Smithsonian magazine, this year’s roster lists 1,200 museums, including the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

To participate, visit the magazine’s Web site download an admission card and present it at the cultural institution of your choice.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.

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