As we’ve traveled, we’ve discovered quite a few tips and tricks along the way. One of them is (if you have the flexibility) to travel to popular places in the off season. This fall, at the end of the busy tourist season, we had a chance to visit Clear Lake, Iowa, on a hosted visit. We had a great time there and have put together this list of 10 things to do in Clear Lake in the off season.

1. Grab a bite at Starboard Market

We’ve written about this local gem before, but love it so much we thought it was worth mentioning, again. If you’re anywhere near Clear Lake, plan a stop at this deli for a sandwich piled high with fresh meats and cheeses, hot soups, and great salads all served next to copious quantities of desserts that are made fresh daily. Plus, the folks inside are so nice you’ll feel like you’re visiting old friends when you go there. Pro tip: If it’s hot beef sandwich day, go early — it sells out fast to locals who know just how good it is.

Fall is a great time for lunch at Starboard Market with warm soups and sandwiches and their pumpkin bar.

Fall is a great time for lunch at Starboard Market with warm soups and sandwiches and their pumpkin bar.

Starboard Market always has a cooler full of unique and delicious salads.

Starboard Market always has a cooler full of unique and delicious salads.

2. Get a great deal on a hotel

The Lakeside Inn is a historic hotel located right on the shore of Clear Lake. We truly appreciated the complimentary night there while we visited Clear Lake. The decor of the hotel is just what you’d want in a beach house, and the recently renovated, clean room had all the amenities we wanted as well as a very comfortable bed. The hotel is right on the lake, so we had a gorgeous view out our window as well as direct access to the water. In summer months, guests can rent a pontoon boat and enjoy a meal at the hotel’s restaurant/bar located right on the water.

Newly renovated rooms at Lakeside Inn in Clear Lake now have fresh and modern designs.

Newly renovated rooms at Lakeside Inn in Clear Lake now have fresh and modern designs.

Lakeside Inn is open year-round with discounted rates in the off season.

Lakeside Inn is open year-round with discounted rates in the off season.

3. Take in the Surf Ballroom

No list of things to do in Clear Lake would be complete without a stop at The Surf Ballroom. This venue is among the most famous landmarks in Clear Lake. It’s the last place where Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens performed before boarding an airplane that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Clear Lake airport.

At the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

At the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

It’s also a living museum full of music memorabilia. It’s fun to walk out on the stage and stand in the same place as countless musicians.

The last stage on which Buddy Holly performed was this one at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

The last stage on which Buddy Holly performed was this one at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

At the end of January and into the first part of February, Clear Lake hosts the Winter Dance Party, an annual tribute to the lives and legacies of the three performers who perished in the fateful plane crash, the “day the music died.” Pro tip: be sure to check out the green room there and see the walls signed by the thousands of performers who have crossed the stage. You’ll be amazed at how many you recognize.


PIN THIS FOR LATERClear Lake pin-2


4. Eat like a local

Trust us, there are no shortage of good places in Clear Lake. We loved our dinner at the Half Moon Inn. This little joint is a classic steakhouse right out of the 1970’s. From the outside it doesn’t really look like a restaurant, but on the inside the locals enjoying great steaks, well-prepared monkfish, and delicious cocktails let you know that you’ve just found a great restaurant you’ll remember. The best part is that in the off-season it’s much easier to get a table at this popular local eatery.

For breakfast suggestions, we asked around and everyone we talked to said we had to try the 7 Stars Family Restaurant. We’re glad we did. We loved our down-home style breakfast served to order with all of our favorite sides like hash browns and buttermilk pancakes. Pro tip: The portions are huge, so come hungry.

5. Have a drink

In a beautifully renovated building in downtown Clear Lake, K & B Emporium offers visitors a huge wine selection, along with clothing and decor items, as well as a cafe. Have a cocktail or a glass of wine before heading upstairs to Anna’s Ballroom, a fine dining establishment on the second floor. 

K&B Emporium offers shopping, food, and this incredible wine cellar.

K&B Emporium offers shopping, food, and this incredible wine cellar.

Also, plan time to enjoy Lake Time Brewery, Clear Lake’s own craft brewery. On tap there are local year-round favorites as well as seasonal offerings, all expertly brewed and available to enjoy at the brewery or in a crowler to take away.

6. Stroll the garden paths

Three seasons out of the year you can walk through Clear Lake’s beautiful Central Gardens of North Iowa. Centrally located, this volunteer-maintained garden is a well-designed, wonderfully groomed patch of beauty in this north Iowa town. Stroll the paths and bask in the beauty of the spring, summer, and fall plants and flowers throughout the garden May 1- Nov. 1 each year. 

Even in late September, flowers like this one were blooming at Central Gardens.

Even in September, flowers like this one were blooming at Central Gardens.

Central Gardens is maintained by local volunteers.

Central Gardens of North Iowa is maintained by local volunteers.

7. Shop ’til you drop

With antique shops, home decor boutiques, drugstores and clothing stores, Clear Lake offers visitors great shopping opportunities the whole year through. Around the holidays, the downtown area really comes to life with beautiful decorations and stores offering great specials. A visit to this quaint city-center is a must for any visitor to town.

The Red Geranium has beautiful seasonal home decor and fantastic staff to help you find just what you need.

The Red Geranium has beautiful seasonal home decor and fantastic staff to help you find just what you need.

Ralphene's has home decor, gifts, and so much more.

Ralphene’s has home decor, gifts, and so much more.

8. Take a cruise on the Lady of the Lake.

Something that’s been on my list for a long time is a cruise on Clear Lake aboard The Lady of the Lake, a paddlewheel boat that sets sail twice daily from May – August. I’d wanted to try this for a long time because I love any chance to get out on the water. We boarded the locally famous sternwheeler on one of the last days of its season in late September. It was wonderful because we had our pick of great seats, no line at the bar, and we even got to talk to the captain.

 

We enjoyed our tour along the lake’s shore and the opportunity to take in the views and history of this gem of a town without other boats zooming around. Such a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

9. See the Freedom Rock

All across Iowa, artist Ray “Bubba” Sorenson II has been installing Freedom Rocks. These pieces of art are designed to promote tourism while thanking veterans for their service. The artist’s goal is to place a rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Clear Lake plays home to Cerro Gordo County’s rock.

Freedom Rock Clear Lake, Iowa

Clear Lake is home to Cerro Gordo county’s Freedom Rock

10. Catch a movie at the Lake Theater

The Lake Theater is a classic American single-screen movie theater located in the old Clear Lake Opera House built in the 1890s. Take a step into the past and away from the crowded multi-plex as you sit and enjoy a current Hollywood release in a historic theater.

Lake Theater, Clear Lake, Iowa

The Lake Theater is located in the old Clear Lake Opera House.

So much more!

While a good start, this list is by no means complete. For instance, the Color the Wind Kite Festival happens each February in Clear Lake. While we have not been, it is definitely on our list of things we’d like to see someday. For a complete list of all the goings-on in Clear Lake, visit their Chamber of Commerce calendar HERE.


While our visit to Clear Lake, Iowa, and our night at the Lakeside Inn were complimentary, the opinions expressed and the constant craving for a Starboard Market sandwich are our own.

  • Steve writes: When I first set my eyes on the outside of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, I was unimpressed. In fact, I thought it was plain ugly. Construction continued, and I returned several times over the years, each time finding more to like about it. Finally, on a visit with Ann, the inside of the Cathedral was open for a visit. So we went inside.⁣
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Architect Antonin Gaudi's creation is brilliant. The way he uses stained glass to bring color to the stone inside, combined with the shadows created by the shape of the stone is breathtaking. Truly, this cathedral might be the most impressive one I've seen anywhere. This place should be on your bucket list. It's worth a trip to Barcelona to see it.
  • We've been going to the @PWMercantile for a couple of years now, especially since we bought a house in Pawhuska. Over that time, we've seen a number of changes both to the restaurant and to the merchandise they have in the store. But one item has remained constant: these turquoise beads.
  • One of our favorite stops on our hosted food tour of @visitkansascityks was the @403club. Sure, they offer a great selection of locally crafted and larger production domestic beers. But they also have pinball machines. In fact, they even have a pinball league.⁣
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We spent about an hour in this fun spot, sipping, playing, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. It will definitely be on our list of places to go again, someday. Beer and pinball are a pretty good mix.
  • On our visit to Italy, we visited the Prosecco region. While we toured a number of wineries, we actually stayed at an inn run by the Roccat winery. ⁣
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Prosecco is a sparkling wine, and people often see it as intergangeable with champagne. This isn't the case at all. Champagne is made from the Chardonnay grape, while Prosecco comes from Glara. Because of this, the two wines are completely different.⁣
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We enjoyed a tasting at Roccat, where they served us glasses of crisp, clear, delicious wine alongside some crunchy breadsticks that were just the right thing to enjoy with the wine.⁣
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If you ever have the opportunity to go to Italy, make sure you include time to head to Valdobbiandene and try some Prosecco.
  • Located in @clearlakeiowa, the historic Surf Ballroom has hosted some of the biggest names in music. It was on this stage that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson performed their final show on February 3, 1959. After the concert, they boarded a plane for their next town on their tour. That plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and the date has been remembered ever since as "the day the music died."⁣
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@traveliowa
  • Set in Millennium Park in Chicago is one of the city's most iconic art installations. It's a giant, shiny bean which reflects everything in sight. It's fun to walk around (and under) the bean and see how the shape distorts what it reflects.⁣
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Folks come from all over to see this art installation and take it in. Children love running around it and gazing into it, not realizing they are learning about convex and concave shapes. ⁣
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Standing here you'll hear a multitude of languages and see people from all walks of life there to enjoy the art. And that's why we love public art so much--it brings people together.
  • On our cruise from Italy to Greece, we made a stop in Mykonos. There, we had the chance to take part in a Greek cooking class in a woman's home learning from her.⁣
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We spent an afternoon with lessons about Greek cuisine, and how they waste nothing, not even excess juice from a cucumber. We also saw how to make incredible dishes like this spanakopita, or spinach pie. Sitting in her dining room, enjoying the light, flaky crust and delicious filling is an experience we won't soon forget. ⁣
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While traveling, we try to find opportunities to experience local culture. It's amazing how similar people in the world really are if you just take some time to see what life is like.
  • Do you remember that song from "The Music Man" about trouble? You know the one about the kids in the knickerbockers, shirt-tail young ones, peekin' in the pool hall window after school. ⁣
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Well, we got to peek in a replica of that pool hall on a recent visit to The Music Man Square on our hosted to Mason City, Iowa. It's the town where "The Music Man" creator Meredith Willson was born and raised and his legacy lives on. ⁣
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Before you go see @thehughjackman and @suttonlenore in this Broadway favorite, consider a visit to the real River City.⁣
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Click on the link in our bio to see our latest blog post about why fans of "The Music Man" need to visit Mason City, Iowa. ⁣
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@themusicmanbway

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