You go to Clear Lake, Iowa, for the lake. For the views of the lake. For the boating on the lake. For the dinner at a restaurant overlooking the lake. You see, you go to Clear Lake for a lot of reasons. Whatever the reason, you’ll also need to eat while you’re there. Lucky for you, I love finding great restaurants wherever I travel. Read on for some of my recommendations of great restaurants in Clear Lake.
Disclosure: My visit to Clear Lake was hosted by the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
An overview dining in Clear Lake
Clear Lake is a Midwestern small town that benefits from tourism, particularly summer tourism. In downtown Clear Lake, you’ll find locally-owned restaurants and bars. There’s a microbrewery and a distillery in town, as well as a charming soda fountain and gourmet popcorn store.
Scattered around the lake, eateries pop up here and there. Some offer dining with a view of the lake. The further from the lake you get, the more likely you are to encounter familiar chain restaurants.
I’ve been to Clear Lake in two different seasons, summer and winter. If there’s one thing a first-time visitor should know about Clear Lake restaurants, it’s that many adjust their hours to the ebbs and flow of the tourist season.
Or more succinctly: Many Clear Lake restaurants have very limited hours outside of the summer season. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, your options for dining are great in Clear Lake. You’re not out of luck the rest of the year, but you’ll just need to plan a little ahead of time.
Clear Lake restaurants you should definitely check out
If you only eat at one restaurant in Clear Lake, make it Starboard Market. I know, I know. You’re thinking: A sandwich shop cannot be the must-try restaurant of a town. It is. When we visited one summer, my whole family had delicious sandwiches, the meal rounded out with chips and house-made cookies. My only gripe is that their hours are quite seasonal and they were not open when we were in town this past February.
Ask anyone who lives in Clear Lake or vacations in Clear Lake regularly and they will point you toward GeJo’s by the Lake. It’s a cozy Italian restaurant known for their pizzas and Old World-style pasta. While it’s nothing fancy, you’ll want to make a reservation.
You’ll smell the gyros from Gyro Place long before you see the restaurant’s entrance. And it will smell so good to you. I can vouch that the food tastes as good as it smells. This is even less of a fancy dining spot than GeJo’s, but you will not be disappointed.
Is it even vacation if you don’t have a donut? South Shore Donut Co. is the town’s go-to donut (or is it doughnut?) shop. And for good reason: It’s won several awards. Get there bright and early to have your pick of fresh donuts. Better yet, order online the day before so they’ll be ready for you when you arrive.
- Starboard Market, 310 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- GeJo’s by the Lake, 12 N. Third St., Clear Lake, Iowa
- Gyro Place, 300 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- South Shore Donut Co., 1205 S. Shore Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa
Where to eat with kids in Clear Lake
Since Clear Lake is definitely a family-friendly vacation destination, it’s naturally going to have a couple of great dining options for families. A lot of traveling families want restaurants that are budget-friendly, so I’ve included those as well as the places with treats that kids love.
Cabin Coffee Co. in downtown Clear Lake will be a crowd-pleaser for both parents and kids. The small, regional chain coffee shop is the place to go for fancy, caffeinated drinks. Kids can get hot cocoa — just ask for it to be cooled down for kids’ palates.
Cookies, Etc. doesn’t just serve freshly-baked cookies (though that’s probably why you’re there). You can also get scooped ice cream. But, I’m going to have to recommend you just get one of their still-warm cookies. Any flavor will do.
And a little tip: Cookies, Etc. has a cookie ATM outside. It’s a cool concept, and would be good in a pinch if, say, the interior was closed. But, if you have a choice between the cookie ATM and going inside to order, go inside. The cookies will be far fresher. I did my research and tried both.
Want a different kind of snack? Charlie’s Soda Fountain is just two blocks away from Cookies, Etc. For more ice cream options, two are housed in pretty unique buildings. You can’t miss South Shore Sweet Spot since it’s shaped like an ice cream cone. And Holy Apples Orchard & Ice Cream Shoppe is found in a refurbished church.
The next two restaurants are nothing fancy, just good mom & pop-type diners: Sevens Restaurant and Steakhouse and 7 Stars Family Restaurant. We tried breakfast at both places. Both felt like they were popular with the locals, for sure. I’d save Sevens has a look and feel of a bar, but it’s totally fine to be in there with the kids.
- Cabin Coffee Co., 303 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- Cookies, Etc., 217 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- Chris’ Kettle Corn, 407 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- Charlie’s Soda Fountain, 2 N. Fourth St., Clear Lake, Iowa
- South Shore Sweet Spot, 5269 S. Shore Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa
- Holy Apples Orchard & Ice Cream Shoppe, 10 N. Sixth St., Clear Lake, Iowa
- Sevens Restaurant and Steakhouse, 305 Main Ave., Clear Lake, Iowa
- 7 Stars Family Restaurant, 2309 Third Ave. S, Clear Lake, Iowa
Restaurants in Clear Lake on the waterfront
PM Park is a restaurant with a bit of a split personality (in the best possible way). Some go there for the tiki bar; others go for the food. I particularly like PM Park’s breakfast options. If you want a recommendation, try the French Cakes. They’re essentially French-friend pancakes.
PM Park is situated along the South Shore of the lake, along with several lodging options nearby. It’s the kind of place to go if you want twinkle lights strung above your picnic table while you enjoy a drink at night. It is open seasonally.
Lakeside Landing Kitchen + Bar is closer to downtown Clear Lake, offering a lovely view of the expansive lake. The dinner we had there during our Great Iowa Road Trip was so satisfying, and the service was super friendly, especially with our kids. Much like PM Park, it’s a seasonal restaurant and located next to a hotel (Lakeside Inn).
- PM Park, 15297 Raney Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa
- Lakeside Landing Kitchen + Bar, 1603 S. Shore Drive, Suite 2720, Clear Lake, Iowa
Wednesday 15th of March 2023
Where is The O.P? You completely missed mentioning them. A great go-to sports bar which caters to families and date night as well. Plus great staff and awesome food.