Mason City, Iowa, has an array of award-winning attractions, from puppets to prairie school architecture, museums to malls, and an assortment of free festivals that add up to an affordable family vacation destination.
Mason City is located in North Central Iowa, in Cerro Gordo County, near Clear Lake. It’s the hometown of Meredith Willson, composer of “The Music Man,” the site of the last concert of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and home to several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the only remaining hotel in the world designed by Wright. The largest collection of Bil Baird’s puppets can also be found in Mason City.
1. 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. Mason City is also home to the only remaining electric freight-hauling railroad in the entire United States. Visitors can see this one of kind train in operation on almost any day – especially 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.
2. Charles H. MacNider Art Museum. This is a North Iowa cultural treasure that includes a permanent collection of American art, the famous Bil Baird puppets, and an impressive range of ceramics. Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wed., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 1-5 p.m.
3. Lime Creek Nature Center: A public conservation facility nestled atop the limestone bluffs of the Winnebago River. The center features displays about the wildlife and natural resources of North Iowa. An outdoor amphitheater, hands-on nature displays and more than nine miles of trails through prairie, forest and wetland habitat. Virtual geocaching available; for landmark coordinates call or visit the website. Hours: Mon- Fri. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m.; winter weekends close at 4 p.m.; closed holidays.
4. Prairie School Architectural Tour/Historical Walking Tour. The Prairie School tour encompasses 14 blocks and Historical tour additional 13 blocks beginning at 303 2nd St. SE. This is a self-guided tour of the largest group of Prairie School designed homes on a unified site, Rock Crest & Rock Glen area, including a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
5. The Music Man Square Featuring a 1912 streetscape with an ice cream parlor / soda fountain and gift shop, all in set designs recreated from the Warner Brother motion picture of The Music Man. There’s also an interactive museum highlighting Meredith Willson’s memorabilia and music related exhibits.Hours: Tues.-Sun. 1-5 p.m., other times by appointment, closed holidays
6. North Iowa Band Festival This annual Memorial Day Weekend music festival includes free music and entertainment, as well as a carnival, craft show and car show.
7. MacNider Museum Arts Festival at the Charles H. MacNider Museum. The second weekend in June, this festival offers two days of entertainment including musicians, actors, magicians, balloon artists, and art activities for kids on the lawn of the Museum and Public Library.
8. 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.
9. Civil War Battle & Encampment. Learn about the life of a soldier and visit live encampments during the third weekend in August. Featuring live entertainment, re-enactments of battles in which Iowa troops participated, cannon/mounted cavalry demonstrations and more.
10. Home for the Holidays. This downtown Mason City 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.