San Francisco

We visited San Francisco to see some of the real-life places depicted in Big Hero 6, Inside Out, Antman, and Disney’s California Adventure. It may seem like a stretch to visit “real-life” movie locations for animated films, but we know Disney and Pixar always take inspiration from the magic that already exists in the world around us. So, in reality, there are plenty of places to visit to see the influences for fictional worlds.

Big Hero 6 – San Fransokyo!

Locations – Here are some of the locations you can visit that inspired scenes from Big Hero 6:

  • Japantown Peace Plaza – 1610 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
  • Japanese Tea Garden – 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco – in Golden Gate Park
  • “Lucky Cat Cafe” on corner of Haight and Masonic
  • Golden Gate Bridge – as seen from Crissy Field East Beach in the photo below and on YouTube
  • “Akuma” Island – or Angel Island in reality – as seen from Chrissy Field East Beach in our YouTube video.

San Francisco has one of the largest Japantowns in the United States, and one of San Francisco’s sister city’s is Osaka, Japan. So, it is easy to see how the artists behind Big Hero 6 were inspired to create San Fransokyo. When you learn the Disney film was based on a Marvel comic series of the same name that was based in Japan, it all comes together.

Wandering the city of San Francisco, it is easy to see how the ornate styles of both Japanese and Victorian American architecture work really well together. There are so many elegant architectural details around the city that blend with the more modern buildings. It is reminiscent of Japanese architecture and the way that it often presents clean lines and ornate details within the same structure.

There are a few more unmistakable examples of real-life locations used in the animated film. The grand Victorian home on the corner of Haight and Masonic is a clear reference for the Lucky Cat Cafe, the Hamada home and business in the movie.

And the Golden Gate Bridge was another icon they couldn’t leave out. The film makers turned it into the Torii Gate Bridge, but it maintained its recognizable qualities.

They also used Angel Island and the inspiration for “Akuma” Island. Akuma means “devil” in Japanese, so you can see the play on words they did there to make it home to the secret testing facility of the film’s villain. It was probably primarily used based on its proximity to the city. But, in early discussion, they had considered using Alcatraz as the location of the lair. So, we like to pretend the word play was the deciding factor in choosing Angel Island.

Inside Out

Locations – here are some San Francisco places you can visit that were interpreted in the film Inside Out:

  • Driving across The Golden Gate Bridge – pictured in YouTube video only
  • Ferry Building/Embarcadero
  • Lombard Street
  • Riley’s Neighborhood – Russian Hill – Hyde Street & Green Street
  • Powell and Hyde Cable Car
  • George Sterling Park Stairs – 2299 Hyde Street, San Francisco
  • James Lick Middle School – pictured in YouTube video
  • The Walt Disney Family Museum – location of Riley’s Hockey Rink in the film
  • Arizmendi Bakery – pictured in YouTube video only

Although most of the film takes place inside Riley’s head, the driving plot point is a family move from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Most of the scenes from the city are in the opening credit sequence. The family drives across the Golden Gate Bridge, past the Ferry Building, Lombard Street, and into the Russian Hill Neighborhood at Hyde & Green street.

We could pretty much pin-point the neighborhood since the Powell & Hyde cable car passes by the families car as they drive down a street lined with ficus trees.

The cable cars were not running when we visited, but we were lucky enough to find the exact car from the movie to take photos with down at the Friedel Klussmann Memorial Turnaround.

San Francisco is a steep city, and therefore, a city full of staircases. While we are not sure exactly which “monster railing” Riley took a ride down, we found plenty. We settled on one at George Sterling Park since it is really close to Riley’s neighborhood, had low traffic, and a great view of the Bay.

A “monster railing” at George Sterling Park

The exterior of Riley’s school is only shown for a few seconds, but it is clearly based on James Lick Middle School on Noe Street. It seems unlikely that a real-life Riley would go to school here, as it is pretty far away from her neighborhood, but we can’t blame them for using it. It’s the prettiest school we’ve seen!

The Walt Disney legacy is given a cryptic tribute in the film in the form of Riley’s hockey rink. Using the magic of animation, they placed the rink in the exact geographical location that the Walt Disney Family Museum stands in the Presidio.

The Walt Disney Family Museum from the Presidio where they situate Riley’s hockey rink in the film

Cheeky payment was given to Arizmendi Bakery – a city institution that serves only one type of pizza a day. And, yes, sometimes it is broccoli. Try not to get angry.


Locations – here are some of the filming locations you can visit from Antman:

  • Riviera Hotel at Ellis & Jones – Scott Lang’s first apartment out of prison
  • The Haight – Dr. Pym’s House
  • Pier 43
  • 298 Missouri Street – Scott Lang’s apartment in Antman & Wasp
  • Chinatown

Alex lived in San Francisco for about four years, and after visiting, I can attest that his apartment, while pretty nice, was not in the safest of neighborhoods. If you have seen the film Antman, you will know what we mean. The place where Scott Lang lives and eats many waffles right after getting out of prison… well it is a block away from Alex’s old place! It is called the Riviera Hotel, but in the movie it is called “The Milgrom” after Marvel artist Al Milgrom.

We were most excited to see Dr. Pym’s house. It is a gorgeously renovated Victorian in the Haight. But, we knew it is privately owned and in a residential neighborhood, so we were happy to find it is situated nicely across from Buena Vista Park. It provided us a place to admire the house from afar and not disturb anyone in the neighborhood. A good rule of thumb for touristing in San Francisco is to remember people live there. The residents are used to tourists taking photos of their houses and some even encourage it, but don’t be that person shouting from the bottom of Lombard Street to someone at the top of the street. (Yes, we saw that person and gently shhh-ed them).

I have to admit that I am not the biggest Marvel fan, but I am a big Paul Rudd fan, so it makes this movie watchable to me. However, Alex is a fanatic about Marvel. So, I let him take over this video and highly suggest you watch it to learn even more with much more enthusiasm than I could ever bring to the table.

Disney’s California Adventure

Locations – visit one of the inspirations for Pacific Pier in Disney’s California Adventure:

  • Boudin Bakery
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Ghirardelli Square

Pacific Wharf in Disney’s California Adventure was inspired by two places – Cannery Row in Monterrey, California, and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Visiting Fisherman’s Wharf feels a lot like this little section of DCA. What’s more is that this area of San Francisco is also home to the original Boudin Bakery and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop.

These locations are relatively close given that Boudin is on one end of the Wharf, and Ghirardelli is on the other. It is about a half a mile walk from one to the other. Now, we can’t eat bread or ice cream (allergies), so it was torture. But it smelled so good. Boudin even has the window wall like at DCA, so you can see them baking and preparing the bread. During regular operations you can even go on a tour.

While Boudin does have some dairy free (vegan) breads, Ghirardelli does not have any dairy free options (I asked while there).

But, if you can enjoy some milk products it would be the dreamiest place to get a float and some of those little chocolate squares while you look at this:

A touch of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Oakland, California?

It makes sense that most buildings that inspired the facades of Disney’s Hollywood Studios are from Southern California. So, I was surprised in my research when I found that one most definitely takes influence from a building across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland, California.

Sunset Club Couture is a dead ringer for The Oakland Floral Depot building. I don’t know if there was some similar sister building in Hollywood at one time, or if the Oakland building was just too beautiful to resits despite its location. I’m not really sure of the why, but I am really sure this isn’t a coincidence.

The Oakland building started as a Florist, became a popular restaurant, and is now a rented restaurant space housing a soul food place named Jusla.

Thank you for discovering the “theme places” in San Francisco with us!

If you want to plan your own trip, we recommend The Donatello. You can read about it and watch a video walk through .

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