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- Swing by the Music Man Square
- Tour the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home
- See the Stockman House Museum
- Enjoy Art at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
- Explore Lime Creek Nature Center
- Scope out Architectural and Historical Walking Tours
- See Cannonball 457
- Play at East Park
- See a Civil War Battle and Encampment
- Visit the Surf Ballroom and Museum
- Go Fishing in Macintosh Woods State Park
- Admire the Historic Park Inn Hotel
- Enjoy Free Festivals & Holiday Celebrations
Located in North Central Iowa, Mason City has many award-winning attractions. From puppets to prairie school architecture, museums to malls, and an array of free festivals, families will find fun things to do in Mason City, Iowa
Located in North Central Iowa, Mason City is in Cerro Gordo County near Clear Lake. The city, a super stop for a Midwest road trip, is the hometown of Meredith Willson, composer of the classic musical The Music Man. In fact, Mason City served as the inspiration for the musical’s fictional town of River City.
Mason City is also home to several historic sites and events. For example, Mason City is the site of the last concert of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. In addition, it’s home to several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the only remaining hotel in the world designed by Wright. Historic sites include the Northwestern Steakhouse, established in 1920.
From golf courses to historic sites and parks, families will find plenty of fun things to do in Mason City, Iowa. Check out Visit Mason City for more information and travel guides.
Swing by the Music Man Square
Featuring three attractions, the Music Man Square tells the story of The Music Man and composer Meredith Willson. For example, you can see the recreated Warner Brothers set of The Music Man. This showcases the 1912 streetscape with an ice cream parlor/soda fountain; there’s also a gift shop. Next, visit the interactive museum highlighting Meredith Willson’s memorabilia and music related exhibits. Tours of the Meredith Willson home are also available. However, tours are limited to ages 8 and older. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 1-5 p.m., other times by appointment, closed holidays. $10 adults, $5 under age 18. Admission includes all three attractions.
Tour the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home
Situated adjacent to the Music Man Square, this restored 1895 modified Queen Ann house was the birthplace and boyhood home of songwriter and composer of The Music Man, Meredith Willson. It’s a fun place to visit. However, tours are restricted to ages 8 and older. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 1 PM-5 PM.
See the Stockman House Museum
Take a tour of the Stockman House to see a first-hand view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and the impact he made on Mason City. Built for the Stockman family, the Stockman House is now a museum. It was restored to its 1908 presentation and furnished with period pieces. $10. Hours vary. Closed Tue. Located at 530 1st St NE.
Free Things to Do in Mason City, Iowa
Enjoy Art at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
A North Iowa cultural treasure, the museum exhibits and interprets a permanent collection of American art and temporary exhibitions of art. In addition, it houses the famous Bil Baird puppets, an impressive range of ceramics and an art library. The facility also offers art classes and programs for all ages. Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wed., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.
On the second weekend in June, the MacNider Museum Arts Festival offers two days of entertainment. This includes musicians, actors, magicians, balloon artists and art activities for kids on the lawn of the Museum and Public Library.
Explore Lime Creek Nature Center
Nestled atop the limestone bluffs of the Winnebago River, the conservation center features displays about North Iowa’s wildlife and natural resources. It features an outdoor amphitheater, hands-on nature displays and over nine miles of trails through prairie, forest and wetland habitat. Virtual geocaching available; for landmark coordinates call or visit the website. Center hours: Mon- Fri. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 1-5 p.m.; winter weekends close at 4 p.m.; closed holidays. Lime Creek Conservation Area and trails are open daily, 6 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Scope out Architectural and Historical Walking Tours
Featuring architectural treasures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other famous architects, two walking tours showcase Prairie-style homes surrounding a natural setting. Situated in the Rock Crest & Rock Glen Historic area, the Prairie School Architectural Tour encompasses 14 blocks. Next, the Historical Walking Tour is an additional 13 blocks beginning at 303 2nd St. SE. Self-guided tours are free. Guided tours: $10.
See Cannonball 457
Built in 1912, this last remaining Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway steam locomotive – No. 457, the “Cannonball” – has been restored to its original appearance. In addition, Mason City is home to the only remaining electric freight-hauling railroad in the entire United States. In fact, visitors can see this one-of-a- kind train in operation on almost any day. Especially on weekends, while traveling on 19th St. SW / County Rd B 35, which runs parallel to the Iowa Terminal electric railroad. Hours: May- Oct.: Sat. & Sun., 1-5 p.m.
Related: Got train-loving kids? Check out the Mt. Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire!
Play at East Park
Located on the east side of Mason City, East Park spans 57.6 acres of developed parkland. Two rivers – Winnebago River and Willow Creek – flow through the park and are great spots for fishing. In addition, the park is home to a two-mile paved trail featuring two scenic pedestrian bridge crossings. More activities include disc golf, tennis, volleyball and basketball. In addition, there are playgrounds and picnic areas.
See a Civil War Battle and Encampment
Learn about the life of a soldier. Visit live encampments during the third weekend in August. Taking place in East Park, the event features live entertainment, re-enactments of battles in which Iowa troops participated, cannon/mounted cavalry demonstrations and more.
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Visit the Surf Ballroom and Museum
The Surf Ballroom is a historic rock and roll landmark as well as a popular concert venue. Tragically, this was where Buddy Holly performed before the fatal plane crash that killed him, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The Surf Ballroom & Museum is open year-round. Mon.-Fri. from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. with additional seasonal hours from Memorial Day-Labor Day on Sat. (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Sun. (1-4 p.m.). Self-guided tours are free. $5 donation suggested. Guided tours: $8. 460 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa.
Go Fishing in Macintosh Woods State Park
Just a stone’s throw from Mason City, the state park features day use activities and a campground. Clear Lake is very popular with anglers of all ages. From bluegills and crappies to bass, a variety of fish may be taken in Clear Lake. It’s also one of the major boating access points for Clear Lake. A modern boat ramp is present with an extensive paved area for vehicle and trailer parking
Admire the Historic Park Inn Hotel
It’s free to take a look at the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built hotel. And, for those who choose to stay overnight, know that no two rooms are alike. The Historic Park Inn truly is a one-of-a-kind. Wander throughout the hotel, and enjoy the many quiet and comfortable settings, while absorbing a part of history. Then head to the lower level where you’ll find the 1910 Lounge, a Mason City Gem. Enjoy a beverage, relax or shoot a game of stick on the 100 year old billiards table.
Enjoy Free Festivals & Holiday Celebrations
- North Iowa Band Festival. The annual Memorial Day Weekend music festival includes free music and entertainment, as well as a carnival, craft show and car show.
- North Iowa Free Fair. This traditional Iowa regional fair is the last week in July. It features competitions, grand stand events, carnival, commercial exhibits, educational exhibits, livestock and 4-H shows, headliner entertainment and more.
- Home for the Holidays. Taking place in downtown Mason City, the celebration is the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It kicks off Christmas with sleigh bells, carolers, horse-drawn sleigh rides, Christmas lights, a live nativity and Santa Claus.
Traveling through Iowa? Visit Muscatine, Iowa for more family fun in the Midwest.