Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
What do Australian-born actor Hugh Jackman and Mason City, Iowa, have in common?
Here’s a hint – you might otherwise recognize this town as “River City, Iowa.”
You should start planning your trip now because this is the home city of Meredith Wilson, who wrote the hit Broadway show “The Music Man,” which is now having a renaissance on Broadway with Jackman as the leading man.
Wilson was born and raised here and this city inspired “The Music Man” as Wilson wanted to pay homage to his hometown.
Christmas time is amazing here, with a tree in the grand Historic Park Inn Hotel, and one in the park nearby as well.
It’s the sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.
Yes, Wilson also penned “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as well.
While you have plenty of hotel options here, getting into the Historic Park Inn Hotel should be on your bucket list because it’s the last of its kind still operating as a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel.
You can also look at hotels and cabins at nearby Clear Lake, which is 10 miles west.
Clear Lake was also the site of the “day the music died,” when Buddy Holly’s plane went down shortly after a performance there.
The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens also perished in that crash and you can visit the crash site for a moment of silence.
This northern Iowa town is abundant with prairie-style architecture too.
Forget a Mc-anything meal and try some of the unique eateries in this historic district.
Some of the restaurants here have been going non-stop since the early 1900s.
There are also plenty of activities along the Winnebago River, including fishing, boating, and kayaking.
New construction in 2022 has led to more accessible tourist spots along the river.
Rain or shine, there’s a lot to do in Mason City, Iowa, and you’re guaranteed to get “Seventy-Six Trombones” stuck in your head, as I have now.
Warnings & Dangers in Mason City
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's low risk when visiting Mason City. The town of 27,000 people has average or below-average crime rates. You will also find a lot to do here, making a safe trip even more fun with indoor and outdoor amenities.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Mason City Transit is the public bus system. You can call a taxi or rideshare, though they might not be as plentiful as if you were in Des Moines. Having a car here is going to be ideal. You can also bicycle throughout the city, as everywhere in Iowa caters to bicyclists.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
The theft risk is the only category that is much higher than the national average, but that could be anything from shoplifting to car break-ins. Given the one in 51 risks, you should take extra care to hide your wallet or down-size your purse. There's still a low risk if you use basic safety techniques.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Aside from hurricanes and wildfires, Mason City gets a little bit of every kind of severe weather. Tornadoes are the biggest risk starting in spring through fall. Winter can have blizzards or ice storms. You should study the emergency management plan of the city so you are prepared for any kind of severe weather.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
10 robberies in 2021 means there's a low risk it will happen to a tourist. The violent crime risk is one in 246, about an average per 100,000 people. If you are confronted by a robber, don't fight back. Just try to remember as much detail as you can to give the police.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here with a smaller population and no military bases. Des Moines or Minneapolis would be the closest hard targets, and those are both two hours away.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
The top scam of 2022 involves residents getting threatening calls about their water service or power being shut off unless they pay immediately. This isn't going to impact tourists, so there's a low risk of being a scam victim here.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk, but I did want to mention the 14 sexual assaults that happened here. When you figure out that statistic "per 100,000," it's nearly 30% higher than the national average. If female travelers avoid walking around at night alone, don't meet someone online, and then go to a private place, and keep aware of their surroundings, there isn't an inherent safety risk at all.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
There's a low risk of any contaminated water coming through the Mason City pipes. That's according to the 2021 Annual Water Quality Report. No violations were reported and all categories of concern were compliant with environmental regulations.
Safest Places to Visit in Mason City
Mason City has an abundance of activities, so I’m going to try to do them justice in this article.
It will be impossible to get to them all.
If you are with a large group here, you can schedule a tour that will give you easy access to a lot of the top sports.
You can do a “Music Man” tour, a Frank Llyod Wright architectural tour, or a tour of the unique transportation in Mason City.
The Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery is another spot to visit.
Wait, let me explain.
I know it sounds weird to visit a cemetery.
This is the final resting place for Meredith Wilson and tours are hosted to learn more about the history of the residents buried here.
The architecture here is especially noteworthy.
Some of the most popular attractions include:
- Cannonball 457: A restored 1920s “Cannonball” steam locomotive
- Frank Llyod Wright Stockman House & Interpretive Center: A 1908 home, built prairie-style by Wright.
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Historic Park Inn Hotel & City National Bank: Even if you don’t stay here, you should still walk through and see all the history and intricate architectural touches.
- Kinney Pioneer Museum: See how the pioneers of Iowa survived and thrived.
- Meredith Wilson Boyhood Home: Tour the home where “The Music Man” was inspired.
Just adjacent to Wilson’s home is “The Music Man Square,” which is a streetscape designed in 1910s fashion.
It’s also indoors, so it’s open, rain or shine.
Once outside, look for all “The Music Man” sculptures that adorn the downtown area and do your own song and dance on “The Music Man” footbridge.
Outdoor enthusiasts should visit the Lime Creek Nature Center on the banks of the Winnebago River or head a few miles east to visit Shell Rock River Greenbelt.
Both offer fishing, boating, kayaking, and natural trails.
Places to Avoid in Mason City
The southern and eastern sides of Mason City have the lowest property and violent crime rates.
The rest of the crime is spread pretty much throughout the entire city.
When you are in rural areas, you should avoid stopping in corn or soybean fields.
While it looks like a wide-open space, that’s someone’s personal property and income stream growing in that field.
Respect private property and don’t trespass.
This isn’t a place where you should go running your mouth about politics, gun rights, or religion.
This is a very conservative area and no discussion is going to change anyone’s mind.
If you see a fight starting, get out of the area.
In 2021, there was a homicide inside the Happy Donkey Bar, which led to one man being killed and another shot by a police officer after the suspect pulled a gun on the officer.
In May of 2022, two campers got into a fight over a parking spot, and one of them was shot.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Mason City
- The Mason City Police Chief encourages anyone with questions to reach out to the police department at (641)421-3636. You can also follow the department on Twitter to stay up to date on news during your visit. The handle is @MasonCityPD.
- There is an online crime reporting form for non-emergency situations. The police department says this form is ideal for minor theft, lost property, vandalism, information about a crime, or suspicious activity.
- If there is a snowstorm expected, a “snow emergency” will go into effect which really only impacts where you can park on city streets. There are “alternate side parking” rules that take a little getting used to. On even-numbered days, you can park on the even-numbered side of the street. So on January 2, you could park on the same side as 302 Main Street. The same goes for odd-numbered days. However, you do need to move to the other side of the street after 7 pm. You can read more about this confusing rule on the city’s website.
- The police department doesn’t offer crime mapping on its website, but you can review the daily log of arrests and police activity to help you get a better grasp on crime trends before and during your visit. I strongly recommend reading the news releases posted there as well. I read through them all and there is a concerning trend of gun violence, either shooting at a passing car or at a residential home being the most random gun violence concern.
- If you are traveling by camper, that shooting incident has led to some restructuring of the rules at the MacNieder Campground. Police say there have been too many arguments over parking spots and petty thefts from campers, so the campground was closed temporarily to create new guidelines.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources before they head out to their preferred fishing hole. You cannot use your license from home. The Iowa non-resident license can be purchased online.
- Mason City is the sight of a true-crime story from 1995 where a news anchor here disappeared one morning on her way to work. No arrests have been made and the community has been baffled for decades now about what happened to her. These true-crime stories might make for good television, but when you are in the community where it happened, use grace and compassion by not bringing it up unless someone else does.
- Mason City just approved the use of safety technology called “SAFEcity.” This is a high-tech way to track gunshots, all license plates, cameras, and radio waves. Some claim this is a privacy violation, due to limited access to wireless devices in the area. The benefit for the public, aside from safety, is free wireless throughout all of downtown Mason City.
- If you are visiting Mason City in July, there’s a good chance you’ll be affected by the RAGBRAI event. This is a cross-state bicycle gathering that is an annual event that adds 16,000 bicyclists to major roads. To Iowans, this is like Christmas, a birthday, and an anniversary all wrapped up into one, so don’t complain about traffic or slowdowns, okay?
- Mason City has tornado warning sirens that will only go off when a tornado warning has been issued. If you hear the siren, immediately seek shelter. However, you can’t only rely on these sirens. You should also have a reliable weather app with notifications enabled so you are aware of the storm system that could produce tornadoes. You have to take thunderstorms seriously here because they can escalate quickly.
So... How Safe Is Mason City Really?
Mason City is one of those cities I’ve gone back and forth on whether it should be a medium or low overall risk.
Low feels too safe and medium seems too dangerous.
Perspective is important, too.
If you come from a place where it’s not odd to hear gunshots, then you’ll think it’s safe here.
If you come from a very safe city, you might be alarmed.
Here’s the truth.
Mason City is seeing an increase in gun violence in 2022.
However, so are many other cities across the nation.
I haven’t seen one report where the violence was specially targeted at a tourist or completely random and impacting a tourist, but if the convenience store you’re visiting gets robbed, then it does impact you.
I communicated back and forth with the Mason City Police while researching this story.
They are easy to get a hold of and very responsive.
While there isn’t crime data for the first half of 2022, here’s the risk of crimes that are most likely to impact a tourist from 2021:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 246 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 2,733 risk
- Theft: 1 in 51 risk
- Motor Vehicle Theft: 1 in 408 risk
People in Iowa are notoriously friendly, and it can give a false sense of safety in any community.
You should always lock the car & hotel doors and secure the windows before you park the car or go to sleep.
Don’t walk around with a lot of cash and avoid any suspicious behavior until you can get to a safe place and report it to the police.
If you are using a camper, be sure there’s a good way to lock valuables when you aren’t at your campsite.
How Does Mason City Compare?
|Belize City (Belize)
|La Paz (Bolivia)
|Sao Paulo (Brazil)
|Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
You should give yourself four months of leeway to go through the visa process. This is going to require an in-depth investigation into your background and social media presence. You will need your visa at the airport to get through Customs, so don't pack it in checked baggage.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use in Iowa or anywhere in the United States. Ideally, you use one credit card for all purchases so you can track potential fraudulent activity. If you are going to carry cash around, don't put it all in one place.
Dress for cold winters with lots of warm layers. There are some walkways here between businesses, so you don't have to be exposed to the cold, but you'll inevitably have to go outside. Spring and fall can have fluctuating temperatures, so bring some layers of sweatshirts and t-shirts. This is a casual town, so don't feel the need to dress up. Summer is going to be hot and humid.
The Mason City airport is just a few miles west of the city. It's not a big airport and is only served by United Airlines. If you want a bigger airport, you can go two hours south to Des Moines, or two hours north to Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Travel insurance is the best way to add a safety element to your trip before you even go. It's really important to secure the trip in case of weather delays or lost baggage.
Mason City Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month