Clear Lake, Iowa, is a charming lakeside town that lies 30 miles south of the Minnesota border along I-35. It is located in the area of Iowa that I call home, and it’s fair to say that Clear Lake has been a part of my life for all of my life. For that I am grateful. The people and experiences that await in Clear Lake are second to none. If you have ever wanted to visit Iowa, this destination in itself is your reason to come and explore.
Visit The Legendary Surf Ballroom And Museum
The fully restored Surf Ballroom, located at 406 North Shore Drive in Clear Lake, holds a special place in the history of music. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their final concert here on February 3, 1959. This date is often referred to as The Day the Music Died, but in Clear Lake, the Surf Ballroom is where the music lives on. Visitors from all around the world flock to the annual Winter Dance Party to celebrate the life of these three musicians.
Guests can visit the museum at the Surf Ballroom all year long, but keep in mind that the days they are open vary by the season. I would suggest calling 641-357-6151 to confirm that their doors are open for visitors when you plan to go. There is no charge for admission, and donations are accepted.
See The Plane Crash Site
Visit the memorial at the site where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson’s plane crashed. To this date, many years later, visitors trek to the 1959 crash site. The hike back to the crash site is an easy walk, but it is through an Iowa field. Depending on the time of year you visit, you will want to dress accordingly. To take this hike, a good pair of boots is recommended all year long. The field can be muddy or snowy, depending on the season. The world-famous crash site is located west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue in Clear Lake.
Eat At Starboard Market
Starboard Market is an award-winning sandwich shop located on Main Street. With 20 signature sandwiches on the menu, you will find one that you will fall in love with. The Rooster Tail has won me over as of late. If a sandwich is not calling your name, I’d highly suggest a bowl of chicken enchilada soup, a salad of your choice, and a nice large mint chocolate brownie. This restaurant is unique in the fact that it is only open from 11 a.m. to 2(ish).
To stay up to date on the days they are open, be sure to follow their Facebook page. A visit to Clear Lake is not complete without a stop at Starboard Market.
Water Sports On Clear Lake
Clear Lake is a lake town, and during the warmer months of the year, water sports are very popular. A 900-foot sandy beach located downtown is inviting to those who like to sink their toes in the sand. Clear Lake State Park and McIntosh Woods State Park also offer beach areas on the lake. Boating enthusiasts will appreciate getting out on the water and exploring. Ski boats, fishing boats, and pontoon boats are all available for rent through businesses around the lake.
There are several boat slips near the downtown area for those wanting to explore downtown while spending a day on the lake. I spent many years of my life waterskiing on Clear Lake and can attest to the fact that it’s a great place to learn how to waterski.
With an average depth of 10 feet, Clear Lake is a fisherman’s paradise 365 days a year. Walleye, yellow bass, channel catfish, muskies, and perch are some of the fish that you will find in Clear Lake. Fishing tournaments are held throughout the year for the competitive fisherman. Ice fishing is also very popular during the colder months, when ice fishing huts pepper the lake. Before you head out on the lake for the day, stop into South Shore Donut Company and grab a dozen donuts to enjoy on the lake.
Central Gardens Of North Iowa
Central Gardens of North Iowa came to fruition in 2000 and is one of the most beautiful gardens in the Midwest. I suggest scheduling your visit during any one of the four seasons, as each brings something new to the gardens. Spring and summer are exceptional times to visit. The lush, green colors are abundant and offer a great place to enjoy lunch from Starboard Market. That’s right, you can order your lunch to go and dine in the gardens.
The walking trail through the gardens is fairly level and easy to navigate. There are also several benches throughout, which make for a great place to stop and reflect on the beauty surrounding you.
Come Fly A Kite
The Color the Wind Kite Festival is held annually on the third Saturday in February. Visitors can expect to see kites of all shapes and sizes as they fly high above the frozen lake. This experience is truly one of the best winter events you will find in America. Bundle up with your winter coat, sweater, and boots with spikes on them to help you walk across the frozen lake. There is no fee to attend, and if you are not wanting to walk out on the lake, you can park your car near the seawall. Wait patiently for a parking place and watch the beauty in the sky.
Hop On A Bicycle
Clear Lake is not only known for being a lake town; it is also known for bicycling. The annual Bicycle, Blues, and BBQ Festival draws in hundreds as bikes race around the lake. Bicycles and beach cruisers are available to rent if you choose not to bring your own. Take the 14-mile route around the lake at your own pace or explore the country landscape by taking one of the trails that juts off here and there.
During the summer months, the southwest side of the bicycle trail is home to a blooming prairie that you will not want to miss. Most importantly, enjoy the views of the lake as you pedal your way around. Pack a water bottle, as part of the ride around the lake is out in the countryside, which can make for a long, hot ride on a summer day.
Cruise The Lake In Your Classic Car
The first weekend in August brings hundreds of classic cars to town. Friday evening kicks off with these cars and trucks cruising around the lake. Participants come from numerous states to make their way around one of Iowa’s most popular lakes. Cars and trucks from the early 1900s to the present make the drive. Find a parking spot around the lake and park your folding chair near the curb. Most importantly, make a stop at the Viking Drive-In to indulge in an ice cream cone before you head home for the night. Saturday brings an award-winning car show downtown, and visitors can get a close up look of the classic cars.
Before you head out of town, be sure to swing into Lake Time Brewery. Craft beer enthusiasts will appreciate the offerings. A fun place to pick up some new decor for your home is at the Red Geranium, located on Main Street. And last, but not least, you must pick up a cookie at Cookies, Etc. They offer the best cookies; you may even find yourself ordering a dozen once you return home.
I hope to see you in our little town of Clear Lake, Iowa, sometime soon!