Clear Lake is one of those small towns in Iowa that are so fantastic, you wonder why it’s not a bigger tourist destination. And yet, you’re relieved that it’s not a bigger tourist destination. Here are a few things you can do if you visit Clear Lake:
Hit the beach
The lakeshores of Clear Lake are a big draw for visitors. Clear Lake has three beaches to try out: Clear Lake City Beach is near downtown, Clear Lake State Park has a 900-foot sandy beach on its 55 acres, and McIntosh Woods State Park has an unsupervised beach on a peninsula that juts into the lake.
The easiest to access is Clear Lake City Beach, and it has the added benefit of being near restaurants and other amenities.
- Clear Lake City Beach, First Avenue and South Lakeview Drive, Clear Lake
2. Clear Lake State Park, 6490 S. Shore Court, Clear Lake
3. McIntosh Woods State Park, 1200 E. Lake St., Ventura
FYI: The lake is the place to be in the winter, too! The Color the Wind Kite Festival is held every February. Dress warmly for the free event.
A yurt is that step between tent camping and cabin “camping.” There are yurts at McIntosh State Park near Clear Lake where you can have that rustic, in-between camping experience.
The yurts have beds, though you need to bring your own bedding. There is electricity, as well, but like a tent, there is no plumbing.
4. McIntosh Woods State Park, 1200 E. Lake St., Ventura
Bittersweet music nostalgia
Clear Lake is known for the historic concert venue Surf Ballroom & Museum, known as the last concert hall played by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The musicians died in a plane crash after the show.
It’s free to visit the Surf Ballroom (unless there’s a concert).
There is a crash site memorial about 5 miles north of the concert hall. The memorial is a ¼ mile walk into the field from the trail marker – a huge replica of Holly’s glasses.
5. Surf Ballroom & Museum, 460 N. Shore Drive, Clear Lake
6. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & Big Bopper Crash Site Memorial, 22728 Gull Ave., Clear Lake
Drinks and food with a view
With as a large of a lake as the city has, there are surprisingly few great options for bars or restaurants with a view. For drinks, head to the Tiki Bar at PM Park.
For dining with a view, there’s PM Park, which is great any time of day. If you go for breakfast, try the French Cakes (they’re basically french fried pancakes).
Another great choice is Lakeside Landing + Kitchen for both food and drinks.
7. PM Park & Tiki Bar, 15297 Raney Drive, Clear Lake
8. Lakeside Landing + Kitchen, 1603 S Shore Dr #2720, Clear Lake
Must-try restaurants in Clear Lake (and what to order)
Here are a few great places to dine depending on the time of day. For earlier in the day, head to PM Park and try their famous Everything Hashbrowns and for coffee, go to Cabin Coffee Co.
For later in the day, get a sandwich at Starboard Market and dessert at Viking Drive-Inn. One tasty treat at the Viking is the black raspberry ice cream cone.
9. M Park, 15297 Raney Drive, Clear Lake
10. Cabin Coffee Co., 303 Main Ave., Clear Lake
11. Starboard Market, 310 Main Ave., Clear Lake
12. Viking Drive-Inn, 3 S. Main St., Ventura
There is one spot to rent boats while you’re in Clear Lake – Clear Lake Boats. You may be able to hire someone to give you a guided boat tour, as well.
For a more laid back boat tour, the popular Lady of the Lake steamboat offers tours in Clear Lake.
14. Clear Lake Boats, 15296 Raney Drive, Clear Lake
15. Lady of the Lake, North Lake View Drive, Clear Lake (docked at the Seawall across from Clear Lake’s city park behind the bandshell).
Stroll the gardens
Central Gardens of North Iowa is a free public garden in Clear Lake. while it’s not too large, it is a nice change of scenery from the beach (if you need that kind of change). There’s a children’s garden there, as well.
16. Central Gardens of North Iowa, 800 Second Ave. N, Clear Lake