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.

  • Perched high on a hill in Tuscany is the medieval village of Montepulciano. In the center of town is the piazza grande paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern in the 14th century. ⁣
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Standing in the piazza, looking at the bricks, we were filled with a sense of awe at the history these bricks have seen. They've been there for 700 years so have seen times of war and peace, celebration and sorrow. Generation after generation of townsfolk were born, lived and died, and all have walked on these bricks. ⁣
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This is one of the things we love most about traveling. It gives us an authentic feel for history, one we wouldn't have if we just stayed at home.
  • We were so tickled when @thechefandthedish reached out and asked us if we'd like to take a complimentary cooking class with them. They offer private cooking classes with chefs from all over the world that you can take right in your own kitchen. ⁣
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For this class, we Skyped with chef Paola who taught us to make strawberry risotto, traditional bruschetta, and a delicious poached pear dessert that blew our minds. ⁣
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Risotto always seemed like a difficult dish to make, but Chef Paola explained it so well that it wound up being pretty easy. We spent a great afternoon with friends, learned something new, and enjoyed a great meal after. A class with The Chef & The Dish is a great gift idea, as well. Follow the link in our bio, and you can read more about our class on our blog.
  • The world is a big place, and there's so much to discover. Go places, and see things. It doesn't matter if you don't have a detailed itinerary, either. Sometimes, it's more about the journey and what you see and experience along the way, than it is about the destination.
  • During our trip in Tuscany with @italyunfiltered, we stopped at a small family winery. After learning about the organic methods they use to produce high quality Chianti Clasico wines, we had a tasting. ⁣
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Wine tastings in Italy are nothing like those in the US. They are glorious affairs complete with delicious foods paired with the incredible wines. This particular winery brought us samples of homemade, organic jams made from fruits grown in the family's garden. We dabbed these on locally produced pecorino cheese. Yum!⁣
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We're so glad that we had a local driver and guide. Stopping here was a highlight of our Italian adventure, and we never would have found it on our own.
  • The village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, is famous for these brightly painted fishing boats. The design is rather ancient, possibly dating back to Phoenician times, though it's still used today because it is very strong and holds up well in rough weather. One feature of each boat's decorations, are eyes painted on the bow of the boat. These eyes are said to protect the people fishing while they are at sea.
  • The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are actually part of a recycling project which started 500 years ago. Iron foundries in Spain produced huge piles of waste, called slag. Rather than throw these piles away, the slag was made into blocks which was placed into ships as ballast. The ballast was offloaded in Puerto Rico when they loaded products bound for Spain. The blocks were then used to pave the streets. ⁣
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Pretty good idea, and 500 years later, they are holding up well!
  • The Overseas Highway connects Key West and the Florida Keys to the mainland U.S. While the entire road is a marvel of engineering, the centerpiece is the Seven Mile Bridge, which runs over water for, well, seven miles.⁣
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The next time you're driving, reset your trip odometer and wait until it gets to seven miles. You'll see that's a pretty long distance. And then think about the fact that people built a bridge over water with no land to support them for that distance. Pretty incredible-especially since the first one was built in 1912.
  • We'd never heard of cannonball rocks before we drove past them at North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and asked each other, "did you see that?" We'd never seen anything quite like these natural "concretions" created when water leaked into pockets of minerals in the ground. Now, as a hill erodes, these formations are exposed.⁣
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Seeing these rocks was such a cool experience because it reminded us of why we travel. We never know when we'll find something new, something that we never knew existed. We got along fine not knowing about cannonball rocks, yet now that we've seen them, our lives are a little richer. ⁣
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The world is a pretty cool place. Check it out.⁣
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@ndlegendary

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