Clear Lake offers visitors more than just water fun

Beautiful view of Clear Lake in Clear Lake, IA

Think Clear Lake, Iowa, is just for water enthusiasts? Think again.

The city of 7,000 in North Iowa is home to more than just boating, swimming and fishing. It has history, shopping and excellent dining for visitors.

Neither Lisa nor I are anywhere close to water people. I haven’t fished since my eldest daughter was preschool. I don’t dislike it, I just moved on from it. I know plenty of people who fish and enjoy it. I don’t swim. Period. Boating? I don’t get near a lake enough to go boating. I don’t mind it. I just don’t really encounter the opportunity to go very often.

So, wouldn’t spending a weekend in Clear Lake be a waste of our time? Nope. There are plenty of attractions to keep non-water people busy and provide lake goers a break from the water.

A lot of older people know the story about the Surf Ballroom and the three 1950s Rock-n-Roll stars who died after a concert there.
Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the “Big Bopper” (JP Richardson Jr.) died, along with pilot Roger Peterson, when the small plane they were flying in crashed a few minutes after take-off from the Clear Lake Airport Feb. 3, 1959. Holly was the best-known of the stars to perish. He and his band “The Crickets” had a lot of hit songs, including “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll be the Day.”

Memorabilia hanging on the walls at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA

Valens was a teenage success story. He was famous for his version of “La Bamba” and “Donna.”

Picture of Buddy Holly at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA

The Big Bopper was a former radio personality, known best for his song “Chantilly Lace.”

The Surf Ballroom has several pieces of memorabilia from that era, as well as more modern pieces.

Musicians visiting the Surf leave their mark with autographs in the Green Room (which is actually painted white).

Signatures in the Green Room at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA

Visitors can learn about the early days of Clear Lake fire fighting with a weekend tour of the fire department’s museum. A horse-drawn water hose cart is on display, next to a 1925 water pumper truck.

Firefighers museum in Clear Lake, IA

Kids of all ages can check out a couple of neat attractions. Think you’re too old to walk through a maze? Nope. Fort Custer Maze gives guests that opportunity.

Fort Custer Maze in Clear Lake, IA

Check out some railroad history at the Trolley Park. Visitors can try their luck at a hand car.

If shopping is more your speed, check out the downtown area for unique items and excellent souvenirs. We found pens with all of our names. It’s not common to find a pen with our daughter Mallory’s name on it. When you see something like this, you have to grab it.

Pens with our names on them at Larsen Mercantile in Clear Lake, IA

In addition, Larsen Mercantile has a wide range of Clear Lake souvenir T-shirts, sandals and beach towels. It’s an excellent store to check out, and it’s just a couple of blocks from the city beach.

Grab some souvenirs at Larsen Mercantile in Clear Lake, IA

If adult beverages intrigue you, check out J Avenue for some wine bottle holders. We found a few metal ones that we think our eldest daughter may like. The store has a variety of house décor items.

J. Avenue shop in downtown Clear Lake, IA

If you’re in the need for a break, order a latte, cider or regular coffee and grab a delicious cinnamon roll at Cabin Coffee. We spent a couple of hours there one day. The décor is a fun western theme.

Grab a lattee at Cabin Coffee in Clear Lake, IA

After your break, head along a few blocks to the Central Gardens of North Iowa. The botanical garden may be small, but it has several beautiful flowers in bloom. You can take a nice stroll through it. The garden is perfect for outdoor weddings, as we noticed.

Central Gardens in Clear Lake, IA

If you’re interested in taking a walk along the lakeside, stop at Cookies Etc., and grab a freshly baked cookie. We enjoyed one while sitting on a bench along the lake. It was a great way to relax.

Soft cookies from Cookies, etc in downtown Clear Lake, IA

We wanted to check out a lake cruise. Lady of the Lake has launched its 2015 summer cruise schedule. We lucked out in getting to take the first cruise of the season. Choppy waters prevented a couple of cruises during the weekend.

Cruising on the lake with Lady of the Lake in Clear Lake, IA

The cruise takes you around the lake on a 90-minute tour. You learn some interesting history of the area. A casino once operated off the lake during prohibition. When government inspectors visited to see if the casino was selling liquor, the owner had the drinks slid down to the river. They would be gathered and returned following the inspection.

90 minute tour around Clear Lake on Lady of the Lake cruise

We also took a drive around the lake, checking out a lodge at Clear Lake State Park. The lodge was built in the 1930s, as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. The WPA helped create jobs to stimulate the economy.

Lodge at Clear Lake State Park in Clear Lake, IA

Near the lodge is the state park beach.

Another state park along the lake is McIntosh Woods. This park has a small beach area. It has a beautiful view of Clear Lake.

View of Clear Lake at McIntosh Woods State Park in Clear Lake, IA

In addition, trails will take you around both lakes. At McIntosh, we checked out a marsh area.

Trails take you around to both lakes at McIntosh Woods State Park in Clear Lake, IA

Camping, boating, swimming, fishing and picnicking are allowed at both state parks.

Camping, boating, fishing, and more available in Clear Lake, IA

We saw an interesting house during our drive. “The Pyramid House” is available for people to rent during their visits.

The Pyramid House in Clear Lake, IA

Clear Lake has an impressive list of dining establishments.

We had lunch one day at the Anchor Inn. It’s a short walk from the lake. It has a nice menu selection at reasonable prices. Lisa had a chicken sandwich with pesto on it. I tried their steak sandwich, which I ended up eating as a steak. It was THAT good.

Lunch at the Anchor Inn in Clear Lake, IA

Following our Saturday evening cruise, we grabbed dinner at The Landing at the South Shore Inn. We each had a burger combo. Lisa had the Bourbon Burger, which has a special sauce. Impressive. The onion rings (as an appetizer) were well-made. They had a soft texture.

Burgers for dinner at The Landing in Clear Lake, IA

We had breakfast on two days at PM Park. The breakfast options are excellent. Lisa tried a pancake/French toast combination – pancakes with French toast coating and cooked like French toast.

Breakfast at PM Park in Clear Lake

We also grabbed lunch at Backyard Deli downtown. We split a French dip sandwich combo. Very tasty. And nice service.

Lunch at Backyard Deli in Clear Lake, IA

We stayed at a condo at the Harbourage, near the lake. The condo is owned by Clear Lake Vacation Rentals. We had a marina view, with a partial lake view. The condo can sleep up to eight people, so it would be a great idea for a family weekend.

Condo at the Harbourage in Clear Lake, IA

So, if you are a “lake” person, Clear Lake has a lot of options available. Boating, fishing, swimming and camping are available. We saw plenty of people boating and fishing deep in the lake. We even saw people wade into the lake for some fishing.

Boating at Clear Lake, IA

Nothing beats fishing from the docks for some people.

Fishing from the dock at Clear Lake, IA

We even caught some folks parasailing.

In the end, Clear Lake has something for everyone. It’s a great place to visit anytime of the year. In addition to the spring-fall lake activities, the city also home to the Winter Party at the Surf in early February and the annual ice kite flying contests in late February. Other activities occur throughout the year, as well.

We had a great time in Clear Lake. I can see coming back for the winter activities. I also think the area would make for some beautiful views during the fall season. We recommend visiting Clear Lake.

For more information on Clear Lake and its attractions, please visit

Disclaimer: Thank you to the Clear Lake Visitors Bureau and the Lady of the Lake Cruise for our complimentary lake tour. Thank you to the visitors bureau and Clear Lake Vacation Rentals for the complimentary stay at Harbourage. However, all opinions and views are ours.