It is no secret that I love traveling to the Midwest. Iowa is one of my favorite midwestern states and a place that never ceases to amaze me with interesting attractions and wonderful people. A trip to Mason City, Iowa introduced me to a historical legend, world-famous hotel, and one of the best steaks I’ve ever tasted. Here are five fun things to do in Mason City, Iowa, that you are going to love!
1. Visit the Historic Park Inn
Known as the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel in the world, the Historic Park Inn is a destination in itself. Stay in the corner suite (room 300), which overlooks downtown Mason City and has a bathroom to die for. It is the most excellent room in the hotel and one worth the splurge.
Spacious rooms, interesting architecture, great dining choices, and typical Frank Lloyd Wright details are some of the things that make staying in this 27-room boutique hotel room special. Be sure to check out the Historic Park Inn’s beautiful mezzanine, fun 1910 Lounge (for cocktails, wine, and craft beer), and 1910 Grille (for an upscale breakfast, lunch, and dinner). It should come as no surprise that this is the place where VIPs (such as celebrities and politicians) stay.
Anyone can tour the property through Wright on the Park, the nonprofit company that restored the hotel, for $10 per person.
2. Tour Music Man Square
Touring Music Man Square is one of the things to do in Mason City that you cannot miss. Music Man Square is an indoor museum that captures the 1912 streetscape from The Music Man and many of its creator, Meredith Willson’s, memorabilia and awards.
You can tour his boyhood home on the property, too, which is one of the best childhood home tours I’ve seen. I love that the boyhood home has preserved so much amazing history, including the piano that Meredith learned to play on. Before visiting, I had no idea who Meredith Willson was.
Meredith Willson is an award-winning conductor, playwright, and author from Mason City, Iowa. He went on to write the book, music, and lyrics to The Music Man, first a Broadway musical, then a Warner Brothers motion picture starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. The Music Man was so famous that in 2003, it was re-released. It is currently re-filming with Hugh Jackman as the leading man.
Willson also wrote a second musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and several songs, one being a favorite Christmas carol,” It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Meredith Willson was the first person to win a Grammy award for Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV).
Be sure to see the footbridge from the movie across the street in downtown Mason City, and the 76 trombone statues and references around town.
Fun fact: In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan posthumously presented Meredith Willson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is on display at the museum.
3. Admire the Sculptures on Parade Displays
Downtown Mason City has several impressive sculptures to see. You can even purchase a few of them if you’d like. River City Sculptures on Parade is the name of Mason City’s darling art pieces. Using the map (found at several locations or online), take the 1.7-mile self-guided tour to see them all. The map denotes the name of the sculpture, its physical location, plus the name and location of the artist.
Mason City residents vote for their favorite sculpture, and the one with the most votes wins the “People’s Choice Award.” That sculpture is then purchased by the city to be part of its permanent collection. A few pieces I loved were the Resplendent Fervor (a dancer), Bucky (the beaver), and Ralph Moose. Mr. Eggwards (an egg man sitting on a wall) seems to be the town favorite.
4. Explore the Stockman House
The Stockman House is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first homes of its nature built in Mason City, Iowa. This square-shaped style of middle-class Prairie School Houses started a building trend that continued around the country. It helped make Frank Lloyd Wright (arguably the world’s most famous) a highly-sought-after architect.
The tour of the Stockman House allows you to see the spacious floor plan, cantilevered roofs, and black band trim that we’ve come to know and love from the architect’s work. It is preserved beautifully and a real masterpiece.
Why the Stockman House? There was much wealth in Mason City in the late 1800s. Four railroads connected the prairie to the city and was a national leader in tile, cement, and limestone production. FLW was contracted to build the Historic Park Inn Hotel first and later commissioned to build this family home.
The Stockman House was part of Wright’s design for a “Fireproof House for $5000,” but he finished the house with stucco over the wood-frame construction. The Stockman House was opened as a museum in 1990, but unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside.
Fun fact: Conde Nast Traveler named Mason City #8 of the world’s 20 Best Cities for Architecture Lovers in 2017.
5. Eat at Northwestern Steakhouse
You’ve never tasted anything like this in your life! Open since 1920; the Northwestern Steakhouse is one of the best places for a steak in Iowa–maybe even the whole United States.
Northwestern Steakhouse steaks are prepared in a Greek fashion by being broiled. The result is a super juicy, tender, and incredibly flavorful piece of beef. There are no fancy plate presentations in this casual eatery; just really good food.
Pair your steak with a side dish, preferably the Greek spaghetti. I realize this is an odd side dish choice for a classic steakhouse, but it is too good to describe. The Northwestern Steakhouse is small, and seating is limited, so get there early to ensure a seat. Reservations are not accepted. It is a do-not-miss restaurant in Mason City.
To read my full review of Northwestern Steakhouse and other tasty places to eat in Mason City, check out Where to Eat in Mason City.
One More Town to Love in Iowa
The list of things to do in Mason City, Iowa extend way beyond the ones I’ve given you, but these are the best places to start. With my Mason City visit, I have found another reason to love exploring Iowa and a city with cool offerings to share with anyone who will listen.
Thanks to Mason City CVB for hosting my accommodations and trip. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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