Home > MN > Owatonna > Where to Live Now > 12 Reasons Owatonna, Minnesota, Is a Great Place To Live

12 Reasons Owatonna, Minnesota, Is a Great Place To Live

Owatonna, MN, is consistently ranked among the most livable small towns in the country. Here are 12 reasons why.

By Brittany Anas on November 9, 2021

Two little girls playing in Owotonna, MN
Owatonna, MN / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

Consistently ranked among the most livable small towns in the country, Owatonna, Minnesota, has expanded beyond its agricultural heritage and today boasts a diverse economy, a historic downtown core and top-notch recreation to enjoy all year long. Just an hour or so from the Twin Cities, Owatonna, though, remains a bit of a hidden gem (for now at least). Here are 12 reasons why this southern Minnesota city is such a great place to call home.

Abundant and Diverse Career Opportunities

As a powerful economic engine for southern Minnesota, Owatonna has grown from its agricultural heritage and now is a place with a diverse economy that includes a strong industrial, financial and service base. The area is home to more than 50 industrial firms, with more than 500 retail, wholesale and professional firms supporting a large industrial base. Owatonna’s 3.1 percent unemployment rate is lower than state and national averages. Those who choose to launch or grow their careers in Owatonna will find a network of support, with business bootcamps and an active young professionals group. Also, Grow Minnesota! conducts annual visits to 30 businesses to learn the hurdles they’re facing and help them find solutions. 

Affordable Cost of Living

Your dollars will stretch much farther in Owatonna, which offers an affordable cost of living. The median home value in the area is $232,000, according to Zillow, which is far below the median value throughout the United States ($308,000) — and nearly 30% less than the median value in Minneapolis ($326,000). While inventory is tight when it comes to single-family homes under the $200,000 mark throughout the country, there’s an ample supply of homes that fit the bill here. But the affordable cost of living goes beyond real estate. Owatonna offers plenty of free ways to have fun, from playing disc golf at Mineral Springs Park to ice skating on the Straight River that meanders through town or lounging at Lake Kohlmier.

id-102026
Owatonna, MN / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

Easy Access to Big Cities

With a small-town feel and unique amenities, Owatonna has much to offer its residents without the bustle of a big city. But its close proximity to major metros — with big-city amenities like airports, professional sports teams and museums — is a bonus, too. Minneapolis/Saint Paul are just an hour’s drive from Owatonna. Or, for weekend getaways, you can be to Madison, Wisconsin, or Omaha, Nebraska, in about 4 hours. Kansas City and Chicago are about 6 hours by car or a quick flight.

A Thriving Arts and Culture Scene 

Residents and visitors can experience Owatonna’s arts and culture scene by enjoying live outdoor music, catching a theater performance, or checking out art exhibits showcasing local and regional artists at the Owatonna Arts Center. There’s also outdoor murals painted by local artists that depict the community’s history and heritage. In addition to the five murals around town, keep your eyes peeled for “mini murals” of owls that are hidden throughout historic buildings in downtown. Owatonna is also home to a rare state orphanage that has been turned into a museum and visitors can go on an audio tour to learn about what life was like for the children who called the “state school” their home between 1886 and 1945.

id-101999
Owatonna, MN / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

History + Architecture

The historic but increasingly dynamic downtown is home to unique boutiques and interesting architecture. A farmers market takes place on Saturdays from May through October, with vendors selling farm-fresh produce, seasonal goodies, crafts, houseplants and fresh-cut flowers. Historic Downtown Owatonna officially became a National Register Historic District in 2015. The Historic Walking Tour Brochure gives a great overview of the 12-block district that includes Central Park. While you’re strolling downtown, there’s plenty of architecture to marvel at, including the National Farmer’s Bank, designed by Louis Sullivan, who is considered the father of the skyscraper and a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. The “jewel box” bank is a gem with gold leaf arches, stained glass windows and ornate terra cotta.

id-102028
National Farmers Bank, Owatonna, MN / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

New Developments Downtown 

Downtown Owatonna is in the midst of a revitalization, with a trio of major projects taking place simultaneously that will revamp several city blocks.

Hamilton Real Estate group is constructing  a new 106-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel that will redevelop the 200 block of North Cedar Avenue. Several buildings will be demolished while others will be renovated. Local favorite Old Town Bagel and Cafe moved into a new space and expanded its operation as part of the project, and the former home of Jerry’s Supper Club will be renovated into a modern restaurant space. In tandem with the hotel, Hamilton is developing a 43-unit apartment complex on East Pearl Street. Both are expected to be completed in June 2022.

The city’s North Cedar Avenue Streetscape project, Phase One of a larger master planning effort, will bring improvements between Central Park and Rose Street, including improved parking and traffic flow, as well as pedestrian-friendly upgrades such as sidewalk expansion, landscaping, bench seating and street lights. 

id-102096
North Cedar Avenue Streetscape project in Owatonna, MN / ISG

Plenty of Outdoor Adventures

Owatonna is a park lover’s paradise with more than 800 acres of parkland and walkways sprawled out over 35 city parks. On top of that, Owatonna has 17.5 miles of multi-use trails and is home to Kaplan’s Woods Parkway, which is one of the best spots to see fall foliage and has 6 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, and a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail. On summer days, residents can cool off in the lazy river at River Springs Water Park or go paddleboarding on Lake Kohlmier. 

To put it another way? There’s lots of exploring to do here. To help, you can find outdoor gear at Cabela’s World’s Foremost Outfitter and Straight River Sports & Fitness.

id-102060
Owatonna, MN / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

Year-Round Events

There’s always fun to be had in Owatonna, which holds year-round events to bring the community together. One of the popular festivals is Gem Days, a three-day summer event that includes a parade, petting zoo, sidewalk sales, free tours of the National Farmer’s Bank and more. Central Park holds 11@7 Concert Series on Thursday nights during the summer and the farmers market is a staple on Saturdays in downtown. Held in June, The Harry Wenger Marching Band Festival draws about 5,000 people each year. But perhaps the most anticipated event is the Steele County Free Fair, Minnesota’s largest county fair, which draws about 350,000 attendees. The fair brings more than 100 food stands, carnival games, amusement rides, live music, a livestock show, a classic car show, a demolition derby, nightly concerts and a beer garden.

id-102067
Steele County Free Fair, Owatonna, Minnesota / Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

A Safe Place To Live 

You’ll feel welcomed in Owatonna, a city focused on community spirit and public safety. Each year, the Police and Fire Departments, along with the Sheriff’s Office and Parks and Recreation Departments, host a Safety Camp for students in 4th grade and above. The campers learn fishing, boating, bike and camping safety, plus first aid lessons and firearms safety. That’s just one example of how Owatonna first responders go above and beyond to protect and give back to their community.

Top-Notch Educational Opportunities

Owatonna has a mix of top-notch public and private schools. With a commitment to lifelong learning, the public school district includes Owatonna Community Education, which offers adult, community and early childhood classes and activities. Also, a new high school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 and it will include a 2,400 square-foot meeting space to bring the community together.

Health Care Options To Fit Your Needs

Residents have access to premier healthcare within Owatonna. The Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna provides primary and specialty care, and has a relationship with the renowned Mayo Clinic so is able to connect patients to trusted specialty care in the United States. Also, the Owatonna Hospital is a nonprofit regional medical center that provides comprehensive care to patients in and around Steele County.

A Local Approach to Dining and Shopping

Owatonna is home to dozens of restaurants, many of them local from fresh-baked bagels and espresso at Old Town Bagels to handmade pupusas from Pupuseria La Paz and the Paul Bunyan Onion Burger at Timber Lodge Steakhouse. From Mexican to Asian to pizza, there’s restaurants to suit just about any taste. Once you’ve tried the dining scene, it’s time to shop. Downtown Owatonna is lined with fun shops and boutiques, like Urban Loft which sells stylish clothes, home decor and accessories and Little Professor Book Center, which has an out-of-this-world collection of comic books. You can also find beautiful jewelry at Kottke Jewelers, musical instruments at Tone Music, and your next favorite pair of boots at Owatonna Shoe.

This article was sponsored by the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.

Newsletter Sign Up

Keep up to date with our latest rankings and articles!
Enter your email to be added to our mailing list.