17 Best Things to Do When You Visit Mason City in North Iowa

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17 Best Things to Do When You Visit Mason City in North Iowa

When you find yourself on a road trip driving through North Central Iowa, you must take a ride through Mason City.  Located in Cerro Gordo County, Mason City, Iowa, is a small town with an extensive history and only a couple of hours North of Des Moines!  Plan on exploring all the treasures here for a day or two.

Enjoy the Arts

The first thing you’ll notice in Mason City is the heavy focus on the arts.  From the beautiful architecture to the sculptures that pepper the sidewalks throughout town

River City Sculptures on Parade

Open your eyes, and you can’t miss seeing the unique artwork and sculptures all around town in Mason City.  Take your time wandering through town and enjoying the many sculptures on display year-round.  If you fall in love with one or two, you even have the option to purchase them!

The walking tour follows a 1.7-mile route around the city.  What I love the most about this sculpture tour is that the public votes on their favorite work of art each year.  The city purchases that piece and keeps it as a permanent display piece in town.  There were so many beautiful sculptures I couldn’t pick a favorite!

A large sculpture of an egg with arms and legs and a face sitting perched on the side of a brick stoop
A baby fawn sculpture on a rock

Rancho Deluxe – the Original Bicycle Garden

Mason City’s outdoor art garden, Rancho Deluxe, is on 2nd Street.  You never know what you’re going to find when you visit.  Owner Max Weaver has created a unique display using old bikes and road signs in his artwork.  The first words that come to mind when visiting this little garden are “kitschy” or “eclectic.”  Whatever you call it, you’ll want to see it!

Charles H. MacNider Art Museum

The Charles H. MacNider Art Museum is at the top of a cliff that overlooks Willow Creek.  But that’s not the most exciting thing about it.  This museum was initially built as a private residence but eventually evolved into a public arts center open for walk-in visitors.  Don’t miss the Imagination Playground for hands-on kid-friendly fun.

One of my favorite things inside the museum was the exhibit of puppetry provided by Bil Baird.  In my world, Bil Baird is most known for his marionettes used in the filming of the 1965 film “The Sound of Music.”  You know, “high on a hill was a lonely goatherd!”  How can you not sing along?

The exterior of the Charles MacNider Museum in Mason City, Iowa
A display of Bil Baird marionettes in the Charles MacNider Museum

Experience Nature in Mason City

East Park

East Park is a great place to hop out, spend a few minutes stretching your legs, and take in some fresh, clean air along the walkways and over the bridges through the great outdoors.  You can’t miss the restored Minneapolis &St. Louis steam engine on display in the park.  This beauty has been there since 1959 and is open for public viewing spring through fall.

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Lime Creek Nature Center

This nature center is sure to please.  Child-friendly, this is a perfect place to let the kids or grandkids run off some energy.  There are plenty of nature trails to enjoy and an indoor nature center area where you can even find an indoor beehive!

Take a walk down the Music Man Footbridge

While enjoying the walking architectural tour, I was delighted to stumble across the Music Man Footbridge.  This bridge connects River Heights Drive and South Connecticut Avenue and has been part of Mason City’s history for over 100 years.  As we walked across the bridge, we enjoyed the beautiful view of Willow Creek and even captured our shadows on the water’s surface!

The Music Man Footbridge in Mason City Iowa
shadows of 2 people on the top of the water taken from the Music Man Footbridge

Shopping in Mason City

Shop Downtown Mason City

Downtown Mason City is delightful.  I loved wandering through the many little shops and looking for the Frank Lloyd Wright-style murals throughout the town.  Stop into a few of the many sweet little shops that offer clothing, artwork, home décor, or gifts.  If you need a rest between shops, there’s no lack of coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants.  You will find something to fill your heart and belly while you’re here!

Learn About the History of Mason City

Architectural Tour through Rock Glen Historical District

If you love architecture and want to stretch your legs, you’ll love this tour!  Begin at the Historic Park Inn hotel, where you can get a free Mason City Historical Architectural Tour map and begin your tour.  Along the tour, you’ll find homes and buildings from William Drummond, Curtis Besigner, Walter Burley Griffin, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Be sure to have your camera handy.  You’ll want to take a few photos of your favorites!  Several of these homes are on the National Register of Historic places list.

a large white home with pillars along the Mason City architectural tour
a Blue home with a gate out front - from the architectural tour in Mason City Iowa

Stockman House Museum

The Stockman House is one of two structures in Mason City that renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed.  Designed in the Architectural Prairie Style, the home is now a museum open daily.  Plan on spending an hour or two wandering through and learning the history of Mr. Wright’s architecture and his impact on Mason City.  Tours are available and filled on a first-come, first-serve basis or arranged in advance.  Check out the website HERE for more information on touring.

The Stockman house in Mason City Iowa

Tour the Historic Park Inn

No visit to Mason City is complete without a visit to the Historic Park Inn.  This gorgeous hotel is the last remaining hotel still standing.  Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed six hotels in his career.  Five were built, and only this one remains.  The building fell into disrepair over the years, and when the time came to decide its future, the town rallied, rebuilt, and made this unique Inn and Restaurant.

It’s hard not to be dazzled just by looking at it, but if you want the details, head on in and arrange for a tour.  You will be amazed at the story behind the building!

a room in the Historic Park Inn hotel overlooking the park in Mason City Iowa

Spend a Night at the Park Inn

While visiting, don’t miss your opportunity to stay in one of the 27 unique rooms.  Be sure and ask for a Park View room for the best window view!

a room in the Historic Park Inn hotel overlooking the park in Mason City Iowa

Explore Music Man Square

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know much about the Music Man or the original author, Meredith Willson.  I’m so glad I had a chance to fix that little hole in my history knowledge.  The Music Man Square will show you everything you need to know about the original Broadway show and the 1962 film starring Robert Preston.

Get a selfie with Meredith Willson’s sculpture outside the museum, then step inside to walk down the recreation of River City’s 1912 main street.  Meander through the museum for all the pop culture history you can imagine, and even pick up a copy of the movie in Mrs. Paroo’s Gift Shop.  Don’t miss your moment to enjoy an ice cream treat while you’re there! 

A statue of Meredith Willson in the Music Man Square
The 1912 Streetscape in the Music Man Square Museum
Two goofy women pose in a poster with faces cutout in the Musicman Square Museum

Tour Meredith Willson’s Boyhood home

While you are at the Music Man Square, you’ll want to be sure to get a look into Meredith Willson’s Boyhood home. Take note that this is no rags-to-riches story.  Mr. Willson had a privileged upbringing, and it’s a real treat to see how the high class lived in his era.  Hint – no air conditioning even for the wealthy! 

The very old kitchen in the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home

Visit the Kinney Pioneer Museum

The Kinney Pioneer Museum is a great place to explore and get a feel for life on the Iowa frontier.  Mrs. George Ludeman began collecting interesting historical items in 1957 and the music space opened in 1968.   You’ll find a one-room schoolhouse, a log cabin, a blacksmith shop, and an old jail—plan on spending longer than you expect to explore this treasure trove of historical artifacts and displays.  If you love deep diving into how people lived and not just political history, this is the museum for you.

Look for Iowa’s most extensive doll collection, military items from various wars, an antique switchboard, and so many other treasures!

Best Places to Eat in Mason City Iowa

Blue Heron Bar and Grill

I loved the Blue Heron – this great little restaurant has a super fun history and serves a mighty delicious meal.  Be sure and ask for a “wish I was in Vegas” Bloody Mary or some deep-fried green pepper rings!  Small and privately owned, everything they serve is hand-cut and hand-battered.

The author poses in front of the sign for the Blue Heron Bar & Grill

Historic Park Inn Restaurant Markley & Blythe

Plan a fine dinner while visiting the Historic Park Inn by making a reservation at Markley & Blythe, located right inside the Inn.  This classy dining establishment is new to Mason City and does not disappoint!

Northwestern Steak House

If you need to finish off your day with a good piece of steak, look no further than Northwestern Steak House.  Their steaks are broiled to perfection and served with a side of spaghetti.  The spaghetti side was a first for me, and I’m ready to have it again!

a side plate of spaghetti in a buttery sauce

Wrapping It All Up

For a small town in North Iowa, Mason City has everything you need to have a day full of culture and beauty.  From the gorgeous natural offerings to the stunning architecture to the plethora of art around town, this little city is a feast for the eyes and the soul!  Plan to spend the night, because you’ll need more than one day to experience it all!

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PIN image of the Stockman house with the title for Mason City Iowa post

2 thoughts on “17 Best Things to Do When You Visit Mason City in North Iowa”

    • Thank you, Ryan! I promise it’s worth a stop! The Historic Park Inn is amazing. Be sure and spend a night there. That was awesome!

      Reply

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