You never know what unexpected gem you’ll stumble upon when visiting Mason City, Iowa. From thriving public art and world-class Prairie style architecture to iconic eateries and sensational sweets, there truly is something for everyone.
The next time you’re passing through, you won’t want to miss the 14 best things to do in Mason City, Iowa.
Cue The Seventy-Six Trombones
Did you know that Mason City, Iowa was the inspiration for the iconic River City in the Broadway hit The Music Man? Learn all about how the musical came to be as well as its ties to Mason City with a visit to Music Man Square. The 1912 streetscape that mimics the movie set design is truly something to see.
The reason for Mason City’s connection to the Music Man ties back to the musical’s creator himself. Born in Mason City on May 18, 1902, Meredith Willson spent his formative years in the community that he would use as inspiration for River City. Today you can tour his boyhood home and learn even more about this local legend.
1. Music Man Square, 308 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Mason City
2. Meredith Willson’s Boyhood Home, 314 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Mason City
Experience Prairie Style Architecture
One of the other things that Mason City is most well known for is its impressive collection of Prairie style buildings. The most notable is Frank Lloyd Wright’s beautiful Historic Park Inn Hotel, which is the last remaining hotel designed by the architect. Take a tour of this gorgeous space to learn about its rich history or spend the night in a room that Frank Lloyd Wright designed.
Next, head to the Stockman House Museum, which Wright designed in 1908. The home was a variation on the architect’s Fireproof House design, which was published in the April 1907 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal.
Fun fact: The home was actually moved to its current location just north of the Rock Glen Historic District in 1989. Today it is open to the public for tours thanks to the River City Society for Historic Preservation.
If you still haven’t gotten enough of this architectural style, sign up for a walking tour of Mason City’s Rock Crest – Rock Glen Historic District. This area is home to the largest collection of Prairie School architecture in a natural setting in the world. Get your steps in while you learn about how this collection of homes came to be with a tour through Wright on the Park.
3. Historic Park Inn Hotel, 15 W. State St., Mason City
4. Stockman House Museum, 530 First St. NE, Mason City
5. Rock Crest – Rock Glen Historic District, 15 W. State St., Mason City
Embrace The Arts Scene
In addition to its love for architecture, Mason City is a community that embraces the arts in all forms. Head to the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum to experience an impressive collection of American art in a beautiful historic home. The museum has a variety of rotating and permanent exhibitions.
Possibly the most unexpected is the puppets of Bil Baird, who was responsible for creating all of the goatherd marionettes featured in the film “The Sound of Music.” Today you can see them, along with his other creations, at the MacNider Art Museum.
Next, get your fill of folk art at Rancho Deluxe, which bills itself as “Mason City’s hub for outsider art.” This outdoor installation brings together bicycles and other repurposed junk to create something new and whimsical. If you have the time, a wander through this offbeat spot is well worth it.
Finish your quest for artistic inspiration with a walk along the River City Sculptures on Parade. This 1.7 mile walking tour leads visitors throughout downtown to experience a rotating selection of sculptures.
6. Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, 303 Second St. SE, Mason City
7. Rancho Deluxe, 500 Second St. NE, Mason City
8. River City Sculptures on Parade, 9 N. Federal Ave., Mason City
Eat All The Ice Cream
Treat yourself to something sweet with a strip to Birdsall’s, a Mason City icon since 1931. This old fashioned ice cream shop is an institution with homemade flavors that change seasonally.
If it’s available when you visit, you won’t want to miss the Peach ice cream!
9. Birdsall’s, 518 N. Federal Ave., Mason City
Nearby city: Explore nearby towns, like Clear Lake and its beaches!
Drink Local Beer
Belly up to the bar at a Mason City brewery and sip something local. Head to Fat Hill Brewing for a wide variety of craft beers served in a spacious taproom. Plus, this brewery hosts live music every Saturday night. Or, pop around the corner to Mason City Brewing to grab a pint of small-batch beer and participate in one of their many trivia nights.
10. Fat Hill Brewing, 17 N. Federal Ave., Mason City
11. Mason City Brewing, 28 E. State St., Mason City
Eat At An Iconic Restaurant
Mason City has no shortage of iconic — and delicious — places to eat. Experience the cozy interior of a 10-stool Valentine Diner when you grab a bite to eat at the Suzie Q Cafe.
Then experience a 100-year-old tradition with dinner at Northwestern Steakhouse where you’ll enjoy Greek-style broiled steak in a supper club atmosphere. Or dine in a room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright himself at Markley & Blythe, a sophisticated American tavern located inside the Historical Park Inn Hotel.
12. Suzie Q Cafe, 14 Second St. NW, Mason City
13. Northwestern Steakhouse, 304 16th St. NW, Mason City
14. Markley & Blythe, 15 W. State St., Mason City
About the Guest Blogger
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond. Her book, Iowa Supper Clubs, highlights classic eateries past and present from around the state.