Grant Gustafson and Sarah Diver sit on a couch to look at  Edison Cloud  at Jen Lewin’s It’s Electric art exhibit  on May 31, at the University
Grant Gustafson and Sarah Diver sit on a couch to look at Edison Cloud at Jen Lewin's It's Electric art exhibit on May 31, at the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder. ( Jeremy Papasso )

As a town with two universities, Boulder is teeming with learning opportunities. But not all learning happens in the classroom -- Boulder is also home to a number of museums, with topics ranging from art to science and history.

Most of Boulder's museums are free or offer student discounts, making them a great option for an afternoon outing or an early-evening date night.


The CU Art Museum, or CUAM, features rotating pieces from professors and professional artists, as well as bits from the university's extensive permanent collection. As part of the Visual Arts Complex (VAC), the CUAM also exhibits student work as part of the BFA program's senior courses.

Recent studio art and art history graduate Eric Deland had some of his work shown in the "Pay No Mind to the Ceiling" exhibit last spring.

"I learned what it means to put on a show with others in a gallery space," he said. "I learned how galleries are laid out and just how much prep goes into each exhibition. With that knowledge, I truly appreciate gallery openings far more than I did previous to the exhibition I was a part of."


Even if they aren't technically museums themselves, areas around campus that display student work often function as museums or galleries. Around finals, the ATLAS building becomes home to the capstone projects from the Technology, Arts & Media program. These projects range from videos to sound pieces to installations and contain fascinating commentary on the changing technology and media landscapes. Norlin Library routinely features student work, and art students typically display their pieces in the VAC hallways -- both places make for an excellent artsy detour in between classes.

CU's Museum of Natural History is one of the university's unintentionally best-kept secrets. Dinosaur fans of all ages will certainly enjoy the museum's Paleontology Hall, with dozens of fossils and explanations of paleontology. Current special exhibitions include an investigation into Colorado's pine beetle epidemic and a collection of artifacts from the American Southwest. Visitors can enjoy free tea and coffee in the museum's basement, which boasts a large collection of preserved animals and insects, as well as a lounge atmosphere for people to gather or study.


The Boulder History Museum allows visitors to take a trip back in time and learn about various events from Boulder's past. Until late October, the museum's special exhibit takes a look at the history of beer in Boulder, including the homebrew culture that has developed in the city.

The museum's permanent exhibit examines the story of people who settled the Boulder Valley and features artifacts from the city's past. While it's currently located in a beautiful old building on the Hill, the Boulder History Museum will be relocating downtown within the next few years.

Curator Julie Schumaker installs beer taps at the beer history exhibit at the Boulder History Museum in Boulder on Feb. 25.
Curator Julie Schumaker installs beer taps at the beer history exhibit at the Boulder History Museum in Boulder on Feb. 25. (Jeremy Papasso)

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, or BMoCA, has a more recent take on Boulder culture. "Cut and Paste," a contemporary collage art exhibit, will be on display at BMoCA through Sept. 15, and "Women, Art and Technology" begins Oct. 3. It's $4 for students, and it's right next to another work of art in Boulder -- the Dushanbe Tea House.

Boulder's National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, is part-lab, part-museum. It's open for self-guided tours, where visitors can learn about climate and weather science. NCAR is home to some amazing hiking and biking trails, so stopping for a science with an outdoors break isn't a half-bad idea. The center's building itself is a museum of sorts, too -- it was designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei, who also designed the pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris.


A short jaunt to Gunbarrel ends at the Leanin' Tree Museum, which showcases Western art. Visitors are treated to works about the old West as well as contemporary pieces. The museum also has a free outdoor sculpture park.

Leanin' Tree uses pieces from their collection to print on greeting cards that are sold around the world that often become definitive images of the region.

Jessica Ryan is a community manager and recent CU grad. She writes about nerdy things once a week for the Colorado Daily. On Twitter: @JessicaLRyan.