15 Best Things to Do in Clear Lake, IA

Clear Lake, IA
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Clear Lake is a city in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, named after its namesake and the city’s primary source of tourism income.

Because of its topography, the city has sprawling wildlife areas, state parks, and lakeside establishments, making this a prime destination for outdoor adventurers.

Besides the lake, the city has many museums and cultural landmarks that add variety to your itinerary.

Clear Lake is also a great pit stop if you’re traveling along Interstate 35 and headed to other areas in Iowa.

This city has plenty of restaurants, lodging, and convenience stores, even if it has one of the smallest city populations in the United States.

To help you plan, here’s a list of the best things to do in Clear Lake, Iowa:

Watch a Movie at Lake Theatre

View of Lake Theatre
Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re in the mood for movies, Lake Theatre is a fantastic movie house that gives off an old-school vibe.

With a 20th-century facade, Lake Theatre is famous among locals and tourists as the city’s go-to movie house.

This cinema has popcorn and excellent seating, fully modernized despite its vintage facade and interior design.

Because of its ambiance, Lake Theatre is also a great romantic spot to bring a date with you.

Showing the latest movies, this movie house is an excellent addition to your itinerary, along North 4th Street near Central Gardens, North Iowa.

Explore Clear Lake State Park

When visiting the city, Clear Lake State Park is one of the best ways to enjoy the massive lake and do all sorts of fun activities.

Camping is one of the most popular activities here.

Many locals and tourists bring their recreational vehicles or tents to experience the lake’s beauty from afternoon to sunrise.

There’s a lovely sandy beach along the park’s coast, too.

Here, you can do all sorts of water sports, such as parasailing, kayaking, and boating.

Of course, swimming is permitted, making this a great place to enjoy the hotter summer months.

Thanks to amenities like dump stations, restrooms, and access to electricity, Clear Lake State Park is an ideal camping experience.

You can find it along the city’s South Shore Drive.

Visit the Buddy Holly Plane Crash Site

Beyond the lake, Clear Lake is also associated with a tragic event in America’s music history.

The Buddy Holly Plane Crash Site is just a few miles north of the city along Interstate Highway 35.

In 1959, the plane carrying prominent musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P Richardson, fondly known as “The Big Bopper,” crashed, killing all three.

The three musicians were headed to Minneapolis after finishing a concert in Clear Lake.

This tragic event greatly affected Rock n’ Roll in the country; Buddy Holly was 22 years old when he died.

The Buddy Holly Plane Crash Site is a monument that features the singer’s signature eyeglasses.

Many fans and history buffs still visit the site to this day, offering mementos or flowers in honor of the musicians who died.

Learn Rock n’ Roll History at Surf Ballroom and Museum

Monument at Surf Ballroom and Museum
GravityIsForSuckers, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Surf Ballroom and Museum is another historical site in Clear Lake, located along North Shore Drive along Clear Lake.

Surf Ballroom and Museum is an architectural marvel and a glimpse of the rich music history in the U.S.

Many performers have played here since the 20th century, becoming a hub of Rock n Roll history.

This landmark site is where Buddy Holly performed before the tragic plane crash that killed Buddy, Ritchie Vallens, and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson.

The museum is famously referred to as “The Day the Music Died” from Don McLean’s song, “American Pie,” and has a lot of information regarding the events surrounding that tragic day.

With fantastic architecture and sprawling music exhibits, few places offer the 20th Century Rock n’ Roll experience like Surf Ballroom and Museum.

Take a Stroll at Central Gardens of North Iowa

Central Gardens of North Iowa is a botanical garden with around 20 themes that’ll make you feel in tune with the beauty of Clear Lake City.

Located in the heart of the city’s busy districts along 2nd Avenue North, you can easily visit this place if you’re looking for a relaxing spot.

There are a ton of flowers and plants beautifully arranged, harmonizing well with the garden’s paved walkways.

There are also ponds and water fountains that accentuate the beauty of Central Gardens of North Iowa.

Central Gardens is a fantastic place for romantic dates or relaxation.

Try to make time for this gorgeous gem in Clear Lake.

Check Out the Vintage Locomotives at Trolley Park

Trolley Park is another treasure chest full of historical artifacts in Clear Lake, displaying vintage rail cars and other railroad artifacts.

As a great place to bring children or train enthusiasts, Trolley Park, is a fun little escape in the city that operates differently than other museums.

For starters, it’s an outdoor park like a museum, allowing you to operate vintage locomotives on the park’s small tracks.

There’s also an indoor space where you can see all sorts of relics relevant to Iowa’s railroad history.

Trolley Park also offers tours subject to availability, giving you a better experience in understanding all the artifacts in the area.

Trolley Park is easily accessible along Main Avenue in the city’s eastern part.

Visit the Clear Lake Fire Museum

Front view of Clear Lake Fire Museum
Tealover7711, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built-in the early 1900s, Clear Lake Fire Museum is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the city’s firefighting department.

There are a lot of displays here that showcase the equipment and gear used throughout the decades.

One of Clear Lake Fire Museum’s treasures is its 1883 hand-operated horse cart and 1924 pumper truck.

You won’t see many firefighting museums worldwide, so visiting this place may pique your interest.

Take a tour of the museum, located a few blocks from Central Gardens of North Iowa.

Grab a Lakeside Meal at PM Park

If you want to mingle with the community of Clear Lake, PM Park is another excellent access point along Raney Drive.

PM Park, short for Patriarchs Militant Park, is a lake resort with a restaurant, lodging, and other amenities that make it fit for family gatherings.

One of their highlights is their restaurant with a Tiki bar.

PM Park offers excellent service and food if you want a nice lunch or dinner along the lake.

The place here is very festive, featuring live music and lots of people congregating for a nice meal with friends and family.

Of course, you can also book accommodation or private space with PM Park.

See Local Art at Clear Lake Arts Center

If you want to immerse yourself in the works of the city’s local artists, Clear Lake Arts Center is an excellent addition to your plans.

Various art and cultural events happen regularly at the Clear Lake Arts Center, so check their website to see what’s happening.

There are plenty of rotating art exhibits here, showing all sorts of unique artworks from local artists.

If you want a souvenir or to show support, you can buy handcrafted memorabilia from their gift shop, made by the center’s collective of artists.

You can find Clear Lake Arts Center along South 4th Street, just a few steps away from Lake Theater.

Enjoy Scenic Views of Clear Lake at City Park

City Park is an urban park in the city’s heart, just a few minutes from Lake Theater and Clear Lake Arts Center.

It gives you access to Clear Lake without needing to visit any state parks.

Hence, this place is fantastic if you only want to see the lake and not go on an outdoor adventure.

While its main charms are its benches and scenic lake views, it also has a beach nearby where you can take a dip and cool down.

Overall, the City Park is the go-to option for those not interested in applying bug spray but still want to see Clear Lake.

Immerse in American History at Kinney Pioneer Museum

Kinney Pioneer Museum portrays vintage American life through replicas, dioramas, and various collections.

You can see many photographs and documents here, along with historical stations that bring you back to the 19th century.

The main highlight here is their vintage cars, an Instagram-worthy display.

There’s more to explore at Kinney Pioneer Museum, taking you to different eras in U.S. history.

You can find it along 265th Street, inside Mason City Municipal Airport.

Practice Your Swing at Veterans Memorial Golf Club

If you’re searching for an excellent golf course along the lake, the locals highly rate Veterans Memorial Golf Club.

It’s a well-maintained golf course with excellent greens, offering enough challenge to make it enjoyable.

Service is also excellent here, spearheaded by its competent staff.

Their nine-hole course is a quick way to get some swings going, making it a great stop if you have time to spare.

You can find Veterans Memorial Golf Club along North Shore Drive near the Surf Ballroom and Museum.

Cool Down at Clear Lake Aquatic Center

If swimming in the lake isn’t your thing, the city is also home to Clear Lake Aquatic Center.

It’s a straightforward public water park facility with fun slides for children and adults.

The pool here is great for children as they have shallow waters and plenty of shade and seating.

While not the biggest, it has enough space to accommodate its usual goers—good news for first-timers.

Great for families and children, Clear Lake Aquatic Center is along 2nd Avenue South, near Clear Lake Arts Center.

Play Billiards at Rookies Rockin’ Sports Bar

Located along Main Avenue near City Park, Rookies Rockin’ Sports Bar is one of the most popular nighttime establishments in Clear Lake.

Since it’s both a restaurant and a sports bar, this sports bar offers several pool tables for you to enjoy with friends.

Besides playing billiards for hours, there are also T.V. screens here in case you want to watch a live sports game.

Of course, the experience won’t be complete without trying their delicious food and drinks.

They have amazing sandwiches, wings, burgers, and pork dishes that go well with their wide selection of craft beers and other alcoholic beverages, such as ciders and classic cocktails.

Rookies Rockin’ Sports Bar is a hallmark of Clear Lake’s community, making it an ideal place to immerse yourself with locals no matter the time of day.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Birdwatching at Mclntosh Woods State Park

Mclntosh Woods State Park is another park where you can enjoy the beauty of Clear Lake.

It’s mainly a hotspot for birdwatching and photography, given its lush trees surrounding the area.

The park also has excellent camping sites and easy access to Clear Lake’s shores.

Because it’s much smaller and further away from the city’s business districts, Mclntosh Woods State Park is much less crowded than other parks.

If you’re looking for a quieter spot with lots of opportunities to observe birds, visit this quaint spot in Ventura, Iowa, seven minutes from Clear Lake.

Final Thoughts

Clear Lake is a beautiful place in northern Iowa full of outdoor adventure thanks to its sprawling parks and a massive lake.

However, the city brims with historical places throughout its urban districts.

It’s a must-visit for rock music enthusiasts, featuring historical rock ‘n’ roll sites.

Besides that, you’ll also enjoy the themed museums, city parks, and other cultural hubs.

The best things to do in Clear Lake, Iowa, await you!

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