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Old 08-06-2015, 05:48 PM
Location: Midwest
1,283 posts, read 1,907,430 times
Reputation: 970


Hey guys,

Big trip out to the midwest coming up soon. I lived in Minneapolis for a few years, and this trip was originally supposed to be longer with more time spent in Minneapolis, but things change. Instead we'll be flying into Minneapolis, driving to Iowa pretty much right away, staying there a few days, and headed right back to Philadelphia.

That being the case, my one free day I would actually like to spend finding something enjoyable to do. It's been years since I've been away from the East Coast. And even when I lived in Minneapolis I didn't have a car, so I really never left the cities.

I'm staying about 30 minutes west of Mason City.

Not looking for anything gimicky or touristy (I don't mean to be a jerk....but I'm kind of thinking I wouldn't be able to find something like that even if I wanted to). Just a way to kill some time. A good diner to have lunch in, an interesting town to visit or something of that fashion. Southern Minnesota would work too.

Willing to drive one to two hours for any good suggestions, but the closer the better - I haven't driven regularly in about 10 years, and have really just kept my license as a matter of convenience for times like these.

Looking into it myself Mason City seems to be a substantially sized town, and my default plan was just to drive there and walk around for a while. Seem to be a few nature preserves around as well, which doesn't interest me that much since I'll be by myself, but perhaps if any are highly recommended.

I'm a railroad fan, and the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad Museum caught my eye - but it's also on the far end of distance I'm willing to travel.

Any advice?
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Old 08-07-2015, 07:01 AM
3,613 posts, read 3,271,302 times
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Things To Do

I don't know how old you are, but if you were a Buddy Holly fan, that is an option Clear Lake, IA - Surf Ballroom - Buddy Holly's Last Gig

There is a Frank Lloyd Wight house Frank Lloyd Wright House

The Music Man was filmed there The Music Man Square

I know these are kind of touristy but honestly, Mason City really isn't the vacation mecca of the Midwest. The Twin Cities metro area is only 2 hours from Mason City, easy shot up I-35.

You could drive over to Iowa State and walk around campus, it's lovely.
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Old 08-07-2015, 09:17 AM
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If you want a great steak dinner, try the Northwestern. Probably the best steak I have ever eaten.
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Old 08-07-2015, 09:49 AM
Location: Minneapolis
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Clear Lake (the lake itself) is really pretty. The MacNider Museum in Mason City is a surprisingly fantastic art museum.

Two hours west is Okoboji if you're into the Wisconsin Dells/Branson/Gatlinburg brand of vacationland.

90 minutes east is Decorah, which is a beautiful & colorful little college town in the middle of the Driftless. Definitely better restaurants in Decorah than, I'd say, anywhere else in northern Iowa. Mabe's, T-Bock's, Koreana, Rubaiyat, La Rana, and McCaffrey's Dolce Vita are the most popular.
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Old 08-07-2015, 03:26 PM
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There are plenty of great things to do in Mason City and neighboring Clear Lake!

Mason City boasts a impressive collection of prairie school architecture in a neighborhood just east of Downtown called Rock Glen. There are guided tours of the neighborhood available by stopping in at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Stockman House or self guided tours available by purchasing a guide book at the MacNider Art Museum. The last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel is located in Downtown Mason City and you could rent a room for the evening or simply take a tour of the facility if you won't be staying. Outside of Chicago, there truly is no better place to find prairie school architecture than Mason City.

MacNider Art Museum in Mason City is very good.

Downtown Mason City has a restaurant called the Suzy Q Cafe which is in one of the few remaining 'Valentine' pre-manufactured cafe buildings. its a interesting, impossibly small cafe which is famous for Breaded Tenderloins.

There is a restored steam locomotive on display at East Park in Mason City.

Clear Lake (6 miles west of Mason City) has a fun and bustiling downtown district located right on the lake. Lots of small shops, restaurants, and a lake walk. Boat cruise also available several times throughout the day on the Lady of The Lake.

Clear Lake is also home to the Surf Ballroom (famous as the venue wher Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper played they're last show before boarding the ill fated plane to the next show in North Dakota). Tours offered here as well.
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Old 08-07-2015, 03:50 PM
Location: Midwest
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There are some really good suggestions here, thanks! Exactly the kind of stuff I had in mind, and didn't know Clear Lake was a town. It looked just like a park on google maps till I zoomed in. Good stuff.

The Twin Cities metro area is only 2 hours from Mason City, easy shot up I-35.
I went to the U of M and lived in Minneapolis for a couple years after - was really excited about going to Minneapolis to meet up with some old friends, family, and check out some old spots. Was going to spend a whole week there. But oh well. One day's not enough to do what I had planned, and don't want to make the round trip twice (since we're flying in there), and definitely don't need to go sightseeing there.
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Old 08-07-2015, 10:04 PM
Location: Southern MN
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Ditto on the Northwestern Steakhouse. It's been there forever and is a little unusual for the Midwest as it's owned by a Greek family. Nothing fancy, but excellent food.
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Old 08-16-2015, 03:20 PM
Location: Midwest
1,283 posts, read 1,907,430 times
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Just wanted to thank you for your tips.

Wound up driving to Mason City and walking around for a couple hours, had some fun. Ate at Suzy Q, which was full of friendly people who suggested I just walk into the Park Inn Hotel, which I did, and was an interesting with great breakfast food - ate it around lunch time and filled me up for the day.

It was pretty interesting the way the main street of Mason City turned into a pedestrian mall, which turned into an actual indoor mall.

Also drove to Clear Lake as was suggested, a neat town. I tried to go to the Surf Ballroom, but it was closed for the public to do an event the Democratic presidential candidates were having - it was quite the media circus.

Also, as an aside, the hotel I was staying at was in Forest City. My wife and I had a really good dinner at a Mexican restaurant on its main street. And my biggest concern on the trip - as a coffee addict - was where I was going to get some good non-hotel coffee, and I made a ridiculous number of trips to Cabin Coffee which was great.

We took mostly local roads down from Minneapolis - got off 35 in Faribault, MN, and went through many interesting little towns in Minnesota and Iowa. Having mostly lived on the east coast (except for a brief span in Minneapolis) where even people who are convinced they live in the country actually live in a kind of wasteland of suburban sprawl, I really enjoyed the way you'd pass through these tiny towns of a couple of hundred people and be straight back into farmland. I know I didn't see everything - but the only big box area I went through was US 18 between Mason City and Clear Lake. There seemed to be a lot of local theaters too in the little towns - some still showing movies, some repurposed for other community activities - still fascinating, as most neighborhood theaters here in Philly are either empty, knocked down, or turned into junk stores.

Anway, just wanted to let you know I had a good time, really enjoyed the friendliness of people too - as living in Minneapolis for a few years I wound up with the idea that midwestern hospitality was kind of a passive-aggressive joke. But I seemed to have more genuine conversations with strangers in a few days here than I've had in some time.
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