Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa

My husband and I ran away for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. We chose Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa as our destination.

Top 10 Reasons for a Mason City/Clear Lake, Iowa Trip

  1. The former “Country Mission Camp” I attended as a teen was near it, outside of Swaledale, Iowa.
  2. They took the campers to swim in Clear Lake one year.
  3. The “Surf Ballroom,” where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” held their last concert is in Clear Lake, Iowa.
  4. In Mason City, the puppets from the film, “Sound of Music” are in the Charles H. MacNider Museum.
  5. The Historic Walking Tour that goes by 71 historical buildings of significant architectural styles.
  6. “The Music Man Square” complete with the “River City Streetscape” inspired by the movie set of “The Music Man.”
  7. The boyhood home of Meredith Willson, the well-known composer of “The Music Man.”
  8. The Prairie School Architectural Tour where you can view several homes designed by students of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  9. A completely restored house, “Stockman House,” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
  10. The only Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel, “Park Inn Hotel,” that is not only still standing but also restored, updated, and fully functioning. (There’s a TV in the bathroom mirror!)

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We started our trip down memory lane by taking the highway David went on when traveling to Camp Dodge while he was in the Iowa National Guard. We noticed Highway #117, which merged with Highway #65 were a straight drive to Mason City. (Love our paper map of Iowa!) We turned on to it. Later we learned we were traveling the historic “Jefferson Highway” that went from Canada to Mexico!

We were getting hungry when I saw a sign that said, “Lincoln Highway.” I remembered reading about a café on the Lincoln Highway in “Our Iowa Magazine.” We turned on it and ate lunch at “Niland’s Cafe,” in Colo, Iowa.

Niland's Cafe, "Weekend in Mason City Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

Everything is homemade! The raspberry pie tasted just like my Grandma Marie’s pie. The Formica tables made me feel like I was sitting at Grandma’s again.

Pie just like Grandma's "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

After lunch, we drove through, what I called, “Iowa’s Petrified Forest.” There are miles and miles of wind farms and at least a thousand wind energy turbines.

Wind Energy Farms, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

“Country Mission Camp,” where I attended as a teenager, is now a private residence. I could see from the road the brick dining hall and one corner of the white church. It is completely overgrown by trees.

Country Mission Camp, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

Our first stop in Mason City was the Charles H. MacNider Museum. We walked through and purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright coloring book and the “Walking Tour Guide Book.”

There was a guided walking tour for $10.00 each that had not started, but we decided to buy the book for $5.00 and go at our own pace. After walking a block, it started to sprinkle and we finished the tour from the comfort of our van.

When we reached the footbridge featured in the “Music Man,” we jumped out and took a selfie. The clouds parted and the sun shone long enough for three poses.

The Music Man footbridge, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

There are 40 “River City Sculptures on Parade” on the walking tour. This one was my favorite!

River City Sculpture, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

We finished our architectural tour at 9:54 a.m. and parked at the “Architectural Interpretive Center” which is right next door to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed “Stockman House.” We took the 10 a.m. tour and learned some history about Mason City before viewing the house.

We were not allowed to take pictures of the “Stockman House” but when you go, I challenge you to find the ribbon windows that are not windows, what the wing wall is hiding, the “fumed” wood, the closet with a view, and the working phone! We saw a few ideas we plan to use in our home. The $20.00 was money well spent.

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We drove to the “Park Inn Hotel” for their tour, see restoration hereFrank Lloyd Wright designed it as a hotel on one end and a bank on the other end with lawyer’s offices between them. This tour was also $10.00 each but we resolved an issue with which we have wrestled for years about a dream addition to our home and that made it a good investment.

They allowed pictures for personal use only. When you take this tour, you will hear “The Spirit of Frank,” experience compression and release, learn of clutter-free conference rooms, and see glimpses of gold in the bank. I promise you will not fall, even though some second story walls are barely 30″ high and open to the lobby and dining hall below! Everything is meticulously restored or a reproduction: windows, light fixtures, carpets, walls, doors, built-in cabinets, urns, furniture, and even the bronze statues of Mercury in the bank.

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By the time we reached, “The Music Man Square,” David didn’t want to go on another tour. I asked the attendant if we could buy some ice cream in the Soda Shop. The “Bear Claw” ice cream was delicious, and with permission, we took a picture there.

The Music Man Soda Shop, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" fruglafish.org

We had eaten an extra-large breakfast at the hotel and I figured the ice cream would suffice for lunch because we planned on eating an early dinner. I was wrong. This was my view at 2:42 p.m.

Afternoon View, "Weekend at Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

I learned my man needs his 3 square meals a day! He got a headache from skipping lunch!

We made up for it by being one of the first ones seated at the best restaurant in Iowa. The “Northwestern Steak House,” surrounded by 7 ball fields, is on the north side of Mason City. Its reputation is well deserved.

Me in front of the Northwestern Steak House, "Weekend in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa" frugalfish.org

Next week, I will share our adventures in Clear Lake, Iowa!

My frugalfish tips:

  • Get off of the interstate!
  • Don’t skip meals.
  • Retrace your steps to a place from your youth.
  • You can learn a lot from history.
  • Only take 1 or 2 historic tours a day.
  • Set your own pace and take a nap, if needed!

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