Mason City, Iowa has lots of charm, local color, and even a few places to grab vegan options.
Plan your getaway with this round-up of things to do in the original River City.
Thank you to Visit Mason City for hosting my stay in your fair city!
When it comes to charming small towns, Mason City, Iowa is one of the best.
They’ve got the quintessential town square with unique shops and restaurants all around.
Beautiful murals adorning the sides of buildings.
And colorful statues polka-dotting the town.
But then they take it a step further.
They’ve got the last standing hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
One museum dedicated to their favorite son, Meredith Willson.
And another museum with the works of Andy Warhol, Grant Wood, and the marionettes from The Sound of Music.
That’s a surprising amount of unusual & exciting things to see and do in a town of 27,000.
To help traverse your visit, here’s a handy guide of where to eat vegan in Mason City, sightseeing to do between meals, and even where to rest your weary head when the day is done!
Three on the Tree
Start your morning with a soy latte at Three on the Tree.
This charming, independently owned coffee shop has large, bright windows and a welcoming aesthetic.
It makes you want to grab a cup & linger for a while.
They have three kinds of non-dairy milk for their coffee drinks: soy, oat, and almond.
The non-dairy lattes are beautifully balanced with just the right amount of steamed milk for the espresso.
Grab a Biker Bar from the pastry case.
It’s a vegan and gluten-free bar made with oatmeal, cranberries, and walnuts.
Its crumbly texture and light sweetness pairs perfectly with a cup of joe.
The Olde Creamery
Cool off at The Olde Creamery, an ice cream shop in the Brick & Tile Building.
In addition to non-vegan flavors, they also offer several dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan flavors, which have a coconut milk base.
They are kept behind the main ice cream case in an enclosed freezer. They cost an extra dollar per scoop.
When I was there, they were offering the following vegan flavors: Coconut, Oatmeal Cookie, Just Peachy, and All Nighter.
All Nighter is coffee flavored with chunks of Oreo cookies.
It is deliciously creamy with just the right mix of bitter and sweet.
Pick up snacks, local produce, and specialty products at Simply Nourished.
Located in the open courtyard outside of the mall, this small grocery & kitchen goods store features organic foods, bulk vinegars and oils.
There are also home goods like charcuterie boards, wooden serving trays, platters, and printed dish towels.
Everything in the store is gluten-free.
There are also a number of vegan specialty products like Miyoko’s cheeses, vegan caramel sauce, and dark chocolates.
Check out their grab and go case for pre-made deli items like vegan jackfruit salad.
It’s dotted with celery, red onions, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. It’s tossed in a Vegenaise dressing that’s sweetened with maple syrup.
In addition to the retail area, there have an on-site kitchen, where they offer cooking classes.
The class offerings vary, but they can usually accommodate vegan guests with advanced notice. Or if you’re interested in an entirely vegan cooking class, reach out to them about it.
When you need lunch in a hurry, look no further than Z’Mariks.
This Iowa-based fast food chain is similar to Noodles & Company. There are locations in Iowa City, Clive, and Mason City.
One thing to love about Z’mariks is that they make it easy to order vegan.
There’s a laminated sheet at the register and online with a graph of their menu items. One of the rows explicitly shows how to make dishes vegan with statements like, “remove feta cheese” or “remove croutons.”
I love it when restaurants do the heavy lifting for you, so you can easily get what you want without a lot of back and forth.
The udon noodles come stir-fried with broccoli, mushrooms, and carrots in a chili-garlic sauce. Add tofu for a bump of protein.
It’s finished with a few sprigs of cilantro.
The Thai stir-fry is made with tofu, broccoli, carrots, and snap peas in peanut sauce over cilantro-lime rice.
Leave off the peanuts to make it vegetarian or vegan.
Packed with fresh vegetables and no shortage of flavor, even the smallest size is generously portioned.
Thai Bistro & Sushi Bar
Looking for a good restaurant for date night?
Wander down to Thai Bistro & Sushi Bar.
This dimly-lit restaurant offers a wealth of curries, stir-fries, fried rice, and sushi rolls. They can easily prepare many of their dishes vegan by making them with tofu and/or vegetables.
Fish sauce tends to not be a problem since they use salt instead. But it’s still good to notify your server that you’d like a vegan dish.
Start with an appetizer of crispy spring rolls. They are filled with cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, celery, and onions.
For the main course, my preferred order is pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodles.
It is made with wide rice noodles that are stir fried with onions, green beans, carrots, bell peppers, basil, and tofu.
This generously portioned dish would definitely be big enough to split, or provide leftovers for a couple days.
For a dish with a thinner broth, try pad broccoli. It is made with carrots, onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a brown sauce.
The Historic Park Inn Hotel
At one time, there were six hotels designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some were as far flung as Tokyo and Switzerland.
One by one, they all disappeared…
Now the last one standing is in Mason City.
Designed in 1909 and opened in 1910, the Historic Park Inn Hotel is located in the heart of their quaint downtown square.
It got a major facelift in 2011. With an $18 million dollar renovation, it was returned to its original beauty.
Both inside and out, you’ll be taken with its clean & bold horizontal lines and eye-catching Prairie Style architecture.
Book a night’s stay in one of the 27 rooms in this boutique hotel. Or stop by for a tour.
Grab dinner at Markley & Blythe, or snag a cocktail in their basement bar, the Draftsman.
Markley & Blythe
Located on the first floor of the Historic Park Inn Hotel is Markley & Blythe.
It was named after the gentlemen who had law offices in the building when it first opened in the early 1900’s.
With classic angular lighting and a golden yellow color palette, the design stays true to its roots.
Markley & Blythe has a variety of handcrafted cocktails, beer, and wine.
The French 75 is a gin cocktail with Prosecco and tart lemon.
Update (June 10, 2023): Currently the only veganizable option on the Markley & Blythe menu is a starter salad with spinach, strawberries, shallots toasted pine nuts, and strawberry balsamic vinaigrette. Request that they leave off the feta. (That’s not the salad pictured above.)
Fat Hill Brewing
If local beer is what you crave, hit up Fat Hill Brewing.
This 7 barrel craft brewery is located in the center square, right in the middle of the action.
Grab a beer, cider, root beer, or glass of wine. Then listen to live music, play bingo, or join in their brewery book club. Keep up with their events on their website.
Note that they don’t have food. However, you are welcome to bring food in with you, or even have it delivered to the brewery. (Don’t forget the plates and forks!)
Things to see and do
There’s no shortage of excellent sightseeing in Mason City. Round out your visit with any or all of these fine attractions.
Music Man Square
Meredith Willson is one of Mason City’s most famous native sons.
He is best known for writing the script, lyrics, and music to The Music Man. He also wrote The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Here’s Love.
Now they honor Willson’s legacy at The Music Man Square. It is probably my favorite museum in all of Iowa.
At the museum, there’s a 1912 streetscape that very much puts you to the mind of Disneyland’s Main Street.
The streetscape is a studio replica from the Warner Brothers movie, The Music Man.
You can wander into some of the storefronts to look around, while others are just facades.
At the end of the street stands Mrs. Paroo’s house, where you can get your tickets & buy souvenirs.
And of course, there’s a pool table, if you feel like warning people about the perils of playing…
There is an area to watch a short film about the making of The Music Man, mementos, and pictures.
The small museum is transportive to lovers of the Broadway musical. It’s also available for reunions, meetings, and wedding receptions.
The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, from 1 to 5 pm.
Tours also include a visit to Meredith Willson’s boyhood home, which is adjacent to the square.
After your trip around the museum, fans of The Music Man will want to take a walk to the footbridge.
It is featured heavily in the play and movie, as a spot where lovers meet. So bring your sweetie along and snag a kiss.
Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
Do you remember that scene in the Sound of Music when Maria and the children put on a puppet show?
Well, the puppets from that scene are on display at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum.
They were created by Bil Baird.
He was a puppeteer who was born in Nebraska, grew up in Mason City, and graduated college at the University of Iowa.
The museum has a large collection of his puppets and marionettes on display, including Wizard of Oz puppets from the Bil Baird Marionette Theater of the 60’s and 70’s in Greenwich Village.
At the museum, they also have works by Andy Warhol and Grant Wood that are worth seeking out!
Entrance to the museum is free, but donations are gladly accepted.
Public art abounds in Mason City.
While you are exploring the town, check out the copious amounts of brightly colored murals and eye-catching sculptures.
They are part of their ongoing walking tour, River City Sculptures on Parade.
Located at the dead end of a residential street is Rancho Deluxe: The Original Bicycle Garden.
This quirky, half acre attraction is the brain child of artist, Max Weaver.
It’s made up of re-purposed bicycles, license plates, derelict signs, and spray painted granite slabs.
It’s open from dawn to dusk all year ‘round.
Meander through at your own pace, while stopping for a few arty photos of your own.
More vegan options in Iowa
For more vegan options in Iowa, check out these posts:
Thank you to Visit Mason City for hosting my stay in Mason City with complimentary meals at Markley & Blythe, Three on the Tree, Thai Bistro & Sushi Bar, Olde Creamery, Z’mariks, Fat Hill Brewing, and a night’s stay at the Historic Park Inn.