Discovering Cleveland through museums

Where to go and what to see


Shreyas Banerjee/The Observer

Experience the cultural richness of University Circle through the CMA’s contemporary and historic art exhibits.

Elie Stenson, Staff Writer

As a resident of Cleveland’s University Circle, dubbed “the most culturally dense square mile in America,” you are never more than a post-lecture stroll or a quick RTA ride away from a world-class museum. Whether you are looking to expand upon a subject of interest or are simply interested in learning, there are plenty of opportunities to explore Cleveland’s rich museum scene, where science, history, art and identity merge into the here-and-now heartbeat of the city. Ready to go but not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions to help inspire your next trip. Happy visiting!

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Consistently regarded as one of the finest art museums in America, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is located mere steps away from the Tinkham Veale University Center and first-year residence halls. The CMA boasts an impressive collection of over 45,000 diverse objects spanning 6,000 years of human history, and offers a dynamic roster of temporary exhibits. As the CMA’s permanent galleries are completely free to all members of the public, it’s perfect for quick study-breaks and “let’s make a day of it” visits alike; CWRU students also receive free access to all temporary exhibits with the presentation of their student IDs. 

Noteworthy exhibits: Gallery 222 “Impressionism & Post-Impressionism” contains two van Goghs and four Monets, Gallery 211 “Fabergé” is a spectacle of brilliant gems and delicate creations and Galleries 235-244 are havens of incredible contemporary and historic Asian Art.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Though currently undergoing a “reinvention” scheduled to be completed by December 2024, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) is still open to visitors interested in exploring the wonders of the scientific world. From prehistoric Ohio wildlife to interstellar travel, priceless stones and moonrocks to current ecological research, the CMNH creates an interactive environment where learning comes to life for scientists of all ages. CWRU students receive one free ticket to the Museum per week—simply call customer service ahead of your visit and ask about reserving admission.

Noteworthy exhibits: A true-to-life fossil cast of “Lucy,” an Australopithecus afarensis skeleton discovered in Ethiopia by then-CWRU professor Dr. Donald Johanson and a ferocious ensemble of dinosaurs from around the world—also, keep an eye out for a series of lunch-themed easter eggs hidden throughout the Museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art

With its eccentric manifestation in the middle of Uptown, the Museum of Contemporary Art (moCa) is a fascinating tribute to the artists who are actively defining our creative history. With no permanent collection of its own, moCa’s exhibits are a revolving display of the cultural fabrics that comprise today’s world, highlighting extraordinary artists and the messages of personal expression, community and reflection that they express through their work. All visitors are welcome to visit moCa free of charge, and the Museum frequently hosts public events such as movie screenings, art markets and hands-on activities; further information about their schedule can be found on their website.  

Cleveland History Center/Western Reserve Historical Society

What better way is there to appreciate the city of Cleveland than to bring its story to life? At the Cleveland History Center, visitors are invited into a comprehensive narrative detailing the region’s early history through to its modern place in American politics, business and civic organization. Using art, primary research, personal stories and preserved fragments of daily life, the History Center addresses the influences that have molded Cleveland into what it is today and the drive that keeps it going. Similar to the CMNH, CWRU students receive one free visit to the History Center per week with the presentation of their student IDs. 

Noteworthy exhibits: The History Center’s impressive Costumes and Textiles collection includes over 40,000 individual pieces which they use to create beautiful displays of historic dress, and the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum presents over a century of automotive evolution.  

Great Lakes Science Center

Honored as one of the nation’s top three science centers by USA Today readers, the Great Lakes Science Center is a one-stop-shop for hands-on scientific fun. Visitors can explore a restored Great Lakes freighter, take part in live science demonstrations, learn how engineering is paving the way for the medicine of tomorrow and jam out while learning about the technology behind the production of Rock and Roll’s biggest hits. CWRU students receive a student discount on ticket purchases. 

Noteworthy exhibits: The Science Center’s NASA Glenn Visitor Center is dedicated to bringing life in space down to earth; visitors can replicate an astronaut’s daily activities in the “Living in Space” Gallery and take a look inside the preserved Apollo Command Module.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 

No trip to Cleveland is complete without a visit to the renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the epicenter of rock music’s history and the gold standard for its future. Learn about the names who made the genre great, listen to the songs that have defined generations and see for yourself the iconic costumes, instruments, sets and more that have influenced decades of pop culture. CWRU students may purchase discounted student tickets online ahead of their visit, and they can return to Rock Hall throughout the year to attend concerts and public events.

Noteworthy Exhibits: After walking through the complete story of Rock and Roll on Level 0, recreate your favorite bass lines and drums solos in “The Garage,” then check out the signatures of your favorite musical inductees.