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.

  • Yesterday was Day 16 of social isolation for us. Because of Ann's underlying heart condition and suppressed immune system, we've cooked all our meals at home (no takeout). We've starting to get more and more creative as time has gone by. ⁣
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Last night, we made chicken and shrimp vindaloo and learned online how to make homemade naan.⁣
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It wan't as good as our favorite Indian restaurant, The Oven, but it did satisfy the craving we've had for Indian food. ⁣
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What are you craving these days?
  • We moved our living room furniture around this week and put two swivel chairs near the sliding glass door. Each day, we take time to turn around, rest our minds, enjoy in the view, and just be. #webelieveinhome
  • Our daughter, Meghan, is a cardiac ICU nurse. Despite all of the current uncertainties in healthcare during this pandemic, early this morning she put on her scrubs and went to work a 12+ hour shift. 
She is not alone. Across the country and around the world, healthcare workers are putting the safety of themselves and their families at risk to help others. It's what they do. Every. Single. Day. 
We are incredibly grateful that there are selfless people like this in the world and we pray for them and we hope you'll join us. 
We couldn't sleep this morning, so we wrote instead. Click on the link in our bio to read our morning thoughts and prayers.
  • Trying to decide where we’ll travel this weekend. Covered porch? Living room? 😉
  • We are staying home. 
We've been here for almost a week now because Ann is one of "those people." You know the ones. Those people with an underlying health issue. Those people with a suppressed immune system. One of those people who could become seriously ill, need hospitalization, and even die if exposed to the coronavirus.  Those people need your help to stay safe and live. And all you have to do is stay home when you don’t NEED to be out.

Over the past few days, we’ve seen photos, videos, and witnessed first hand people of all ages (but mostly young people) gathering in groups for what us mid lifers would consider “non essential” reasons: birthday parties, movies, youth sports practices, St. Patty’s Day celebrations at the bar, spring break at the beach, and the like. 
We don’t understand it. 
We try not to judge. 
But just for a time during this worldwide pandemic, could we ask people who are participating in non-essential activities to consider who “those people” most at risk really are?

Those people are already battling serious illnesses.

Those people want to see their grandchildren grow up.

Those people need to do their jobs as nurses and doctors.

Those people are first responders. 
Those people run the grocery store, and the pharmacy, and the gas station. 
Those people pray for you and your generation. 
And what about those other people? 
The ones you know.

Those people who made sacrifices to meet your needs.

Those people who took care of you when you were sick.

Those people who went to your games and cheered you on. 
Those people who taught you in school.

Those people who helped you pay for college.

Those people who cooked your favorite dish for you.

Those people who taught your Sunday School class.

Those people who have forgiven you.

Those people who will always love you unconditionally.

We keep wanting to scream, “It’s not about you, it’s about those people!” But the truth of the matter is, IT IS ABOUT YOU. 
You have the power to help.
You have the power to influence others.
You have the power to flatten the curve.

And by not changing your behaviors, you also have the power to harm. 
How will you choose to use your power?j
  • We’re sharing your postcards and encouraging you to help others and stay positive. 
If you’d like to send us a postcard, mail to: Postcard Jar, PO Box 334, Crete, NE 68333.
  • Stuck at home? We're just social distancing here in Nebraska and thinking up ways to experience travel without leaving our home. ⁣
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We have a NEW BLOG POST (link in bio) with more than a dozen ideas of ways you can curb your wanderlust while stuck at home. ⁣
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What are you up to today?
  • It’s Day 2 at home together and here’s what we’re up to. Let us know what you’re doing in the comments below.

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