Established in 1817, U of M  has long been a leading research institution; over the years, it’s developed extensive collections. Most are housed in the university’s exceptional museums. The University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History (1109 Geddes Ave., 734/764-0480, www.lsa.umich.edu/exhibitmuseum , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun., donation suggested) is one of the best natural science museums in the country, with displays on prehistoric life, dinosaurs, anthropology, Native Americans, Michigan wildlife, and geology. Most of the highlights—especially the dinosaur dioramas—are on the second floor.
Among the top 10 U.S. university art museums, the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S. State St., 734/764-0395, www.umma.umich.edu , 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., free) has a permanent collection of more than 15,000 regularly rotated pieces, including works by big names like Picasso, Miró, Cézanne, and more. Masterpieces include Max Beckmann’s Begin the Beguine, Monet’s The Break-up of the Ice, and the especially strong collection of Whistler prints.
The knowledgeable staff works hard to make art more accessible and relevant to the general public, with a high-caliber museum shop, enthusiastic docents, and a weekly series of gallery talks, art videos, and slide lectures. Since 2006, the museum’s historic home, Alumni Memorial Hall, has undergone extensive renovations, expected to be completed by 2009. During the renovation, a smaller version of the museum is operating in a temporary exhibition space (1301 S. University).
Other intriguing museums include the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library (1000 Beal Ave., 734/205-0555, www.ford.utexas.edu , 8:45 a.m.–4:45 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free), an enormous collection of letters, reports, photographs, televised campaign commercials, audiotapes of speeches, and other archival materials, and the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry (Kellogg Building, 1011 N. University Ave., www.dent.umich.edu/museum , 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free), a rare collection of over 10,000 objects focused on the history of dentistry from the 18th century to the present.
In addition, the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments (1100 Baits Dr., 734/764-0583, www.music.umich.edu , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free) is a fascinatingly quirky repository of over 2,500 musical instruments collected by drug manufacturer Fred Stearns. The collection features permanent and occasional displays throughout the Earl V. Moore Building of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance in the North Campus area.