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.

  • And, we have a baby bird! A cowbird, that is. ⁣
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We were so excited when we found eggs in the nest two house finches built in a fern on our front porch in Pawhuska, Okla. When we posted a picture of the nest last week, several readers pointed out that one of the eggs was not like the others - - it was a cowbird egg.⁣
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Cowbirds, it turns out, have kind of a bad reputation. It seems that they don’t build nests of their own. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and let the other birds raise their chicks. The cowbird chicks tend to develop faster than the other nestlings, and sometimes out compete them for food and resources. Because of this, there are those who give advice to remove the cowbird egg from the nest. ⁣
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According to an article we read on the Audubon Society’s website, though, there are several reasons to leave the cowbird egg in place: ⁣
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First, cowbirds are native to North America and have been here for millions of years and we are never going to teach them how and where to lay their eggs a different way. ⁣
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Second, cowbirds are, like all other songbirds, protected in the US. In short, it’s illegal to remove their eggs.⁣
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Third, cowbirds have been known to check the nests where they leave their eggs and will, occasionally, destroy nests from which their eggs have been taken. As a result, all of the resident chicks would be killed, as well, instead of one or two being outcompeted for resources. ⁣
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Because of these reasons, we decided to let the natural process play out in our fern. We’ll see what happens. But what we do know is that the cowbird hatched first...and that chick is hungry.
  • 🏡 We've had such a wonderful time at our Pawhuska, Okla., home. It felt so good to actually pack a suitcase again, even if we just went to our house there and stayed put. We walked together every day, drove through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, and chatted with friends from a distance on our front porch. We took time to watch the sunset and see a mama house finch care for her babies in our hanging fern. We also explored a state park and found a waterfall. ⁣
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Most importantly, we got to see our daughter, Meghan. She is an ICU nurse in Tulsa and because of her potential exposure to coronavirus, we'd not spent any time together in months. But Ann found a way to create a safe (and decorative) outdoor space for all of us to visit, share a few meals, and just be in each others' presence. We can’t tell you what a comfort it was to see her again. ⁣
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In this time of sickness and uncertainty, it was nice to have a clean, safe place to get away. We are so thankful to have found this gem of a town, so many supportive and caring friends here,  and a second place to call home.
  • As we've been home since March 12, Steve has taken up bread making as a hobby. His sour dough starter is looking promising, but he also found the easiest four-ingredient artisan bread recipe that is so impressive. ⁣
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We've shared the results a few times on social media and many of you have asked for the recipe, so he wrote a blog post about it. We've included a link in our bio with step-by-step instructions on how to make it. ⁣
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If you bake this artisan bread, we'd love to hear about it (and see a photo). Just be sure to tag us @postcardjar. ⁣
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We love this bread plain, with olive oil and seasoning, as toast with almond or peanut butter, and grilled for bruschetta. If you use the #Noom app like us, it is about 100 calories a serving (12 servings in loaf).
  • As we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day, we hope you will join us in honoring others in a time of reflection, gratitude and respect. ⁣
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Both Steve's grandfathers and Ann's grandfathers all served in the military and fought in WWII. We took this photo a few years ago at Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where Ann's grandfather, Donald Shrewsbury, was laid to rest.
  • Today is the day! This afternoon our friends and fellow travel writers @lindseyranzau and @coleranzau are taking over our Instagram stories and we can’t wait for you to meet them.⁣
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⁣They are travel experts on everything Minnesota and will also be sharing some of their favorite Midwest destinations in honor of #NationalRoadTripDay! ⁣
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⁣Lindsey and Cole have traveled the world and love finding hidden gems and writing about them on their blog, Look About Lindsey (link in bio). You’re going to love their personalities as much as their incredible photography so be sure to watch our stories and say hello.⁣
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⁣And, to see our picks for best Midwest road trips, follow @lindseyranzau where we’ll be taking over her IG stories. It’s going to be a blast and we hope you’ll come along.
  • We are so excited to announce that Minneapolis-based travel writers Lindsey and Cole Ranzau of the blog Look About Lindsey will be taking over the Postcard Jar Instagram stories Friday, May 22! In celebration of National Road Trip Day, we are trading places (and IG stories!) to show each others' followers some of our favorite Midwest road trips and destinations. ⁣
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We encourage you to check out our stories tomorrow to meet Cole and Lindsey (they are so much fun) and follow @lindseyranzau where we'll be sharing some of our favorite Midwest travel experiences on their Instagram stories. When the time is right and you feel you can travel safely, we hope you'll consider a road trip in the Midwest. ⁣
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You can check out the Look About Lindsey blog at the link in our bio. ⁣
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@natdaycal @pilotflyingj
  • The @pwmercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, reopened today. We have talked to folks here who said employees have been working hard to clean and sanitize everything. On our walk today, we noticed that hand sanitizer that was readily available, tables were spaced out, and Merc employees were wearing face masks in accordance with CDC recommentations. We hope visitors to our little town will also do their part to keep everyone safe and healthy.

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