The Cost of Living Diaries: Mason City, IA
Learn from a local on what it's like to live in Mason City, Iowa.
Welcome to The Cost of Living Diaries. How much does it cost to live in Mason City, IA? What’s it like to own a business here? Keep reading because we asked a Mason City local to tell us all about the cost of living in this charming city!
The inspiration for River City, the fictional town featured in Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway musical “The Music Man,” Mason City remains a thriving community that residents love to call home. Excellent food, quaint shops, beautiful outdoor attractions and historic sites adorn the city, and it offers a friendly, upbeat vibe.
Michelle Skarpness moved to Mason City from her hometown of Charles City, Iowa, in 1998. Today, she runs a photography business – Michelle Skarpness Photography – that she launched in 2010.
Michelle Skarpness Photography
What brought you to Mason City?
Work, the bigger town – Charles City has kind of a small-town atmosphere, but Mason City is small-town, yet bigger. You go downtown, and you still see people that you know, yet there’s a bigger feel, more things to do, more stores, more choices.
How would you describe Mason City?
The people are super friendly. You go into the grocery store, everybody is great, and I love that there are lots of things to do. We have a bike trail or a walking trail from in town out to Lime Creek Nature Center (free admission), so you can get that bit of nature yet still be in town.
What’s it like starting a business in the area?
There are a lot of resources. We have a class here at our community college that is more business oriented – a whole Pappajohn section (John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center). And then, I just started reaching out to other women business owners in Mason City … opening that conversation.
What is the housing market like?
Even though the housing market is increasing, buying a home in Mason City is still way cheaper than anywhere else. (The median home price in Mason City in October 2022 was $149,900, according to Realtor.com.)
What’s your favorite restaurant, and how much would dinner cost for two?
We have a little restaurant called Mulligans Bar & Grill – kind of like a little bar/restaurant. They have a great steak sandwich. I love the hashbrowns with cheese, and they are so welcoming. Dinner for two people would be around $25 or $30.
What’s your favorite coffee shop, and how much is your go-to drink?
Cabin Coffee Co. It’s very cozy, and – I don’t know – it’s personal. If you do a palomino (a white chocolate white coffee frappe) or a whitewater rafter (a frappe with caramel sauce and vanilla), it’s probably about $6.
Get to Know Iowa
Want to learn more about living and working in Mason City and Iowa? Check out the latest edition of Livability This is Iowa.