Clear Lake, Iowa: Ultimate Family Fun Travel Guide

Clear Lake, Iowa comes to life every spring with tons of things to do and see to keep this lake town rockin’ with adventure and rollin’ with history, culture and the arts.

Clear Lake rock ‘n roll music icons’ memory remains as cold as that early February day in 1959 when the bad news hit the doorstep of America. Music legends, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richarderson were tragically killed in an airplane crash in a cornfield in Clear Lake after a concert.

While America was healing from the that tragic day, Clear Lake, Iowa decided that black cloud wasn’t going to hold over their town forever. Today, Clear Lake is a fantastic vacation destination chocked full adventurous and fun things to do!

Located between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Des Moines, Iowa, the town of Clear Lake, Iowa is easy to get to from I-35. And because it’s a lake town, you can bet there’s tons of cool outdoor adventures to enjoy.

For the active adventure seekers, sailing, boating, and water skiing are there for the taking. Or, if you’d much rather relax, you can go for a swim, lounge on the beach or catch a few Walleye or Crappie. But if enjoy keeping your legs moving, there’s amazing places to go bicycling and sightseeing! Oh, and don’t forget to take your sightseeing bag! You’ll need it!

So, lace up those walking shoes, put on your bicycle helmet or grab your boat keys! It’s time to explore all the fun attractions in Clear Lake!

Always On Liberty - Clear Lake, Iowa-3

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Ultimate Family Fun Travel Guide to Clear Lake, Iowa

Surf Ballroom

LOCATION: 460 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST:  $5 each – Suggested donation.   $8 each – Guided Tour
WEBSITE:  Surf Ballroom
Clear Lake Iowa - Surf Ballroom
Photo Credit: Visit Mason City

Located on Clear Lake’s North Shore Drive, the Surf Ballroom and Museum is best known as the site of Buddy. Holly’s last concert on February 2, 1959. Holly, along with Ritchie Valen’s. and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash north of Clear Lake following their performance at the Surf Ballroom in the early morning of February 3rd.

The Surf Ballroom was restored to its original splendor in 1995. In 2009, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio dedicated the Surf Ballroom as a historic rock ‘n’ roll landmark.

Clear Lake 1959 Airplane Crash Site

LOCATION: 3140 Gull Avenue, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free
WEBSITE: Roadside America Buddy Holly Crash Site

Clear Lake Iowa - Plane Crash Site

Though the memorial is located on private property, its’ owners understand the significance of visiting this important iconic memorial.

At the entrance, you’ll come upon the iconic Buddy Holly glasses that leads to the plane crash site.

Clear Lake Iowa - Plane Crash Memorial Site

Then, you’ll see the stainless steel guitar and a set of three stainless steel records marking the exact location where the plane caring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson came to rest that fateful early February airplane crash.

A second monument was erected in 2009 to honor their pilot, Roger Peterson.  

The Memorial is open all year from 7:00 am to 10:30 pm. Visitors are asked to respect the property and owners while visiting.

Watch the Ritchie Valens story:

La Bamba - Ritchie Valens Story

Clear Lake Three Stars Plaza

LOCATION: 474 N Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST:  Free
WEBSITE:  Clear Lake Three Star Plaza
Clear Lake Iowa - Three Stars Plaza
Photo Credit: Jeff Heinz, The Globe Gazette

Rock ‘n’ Roll music legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are honored and remembered at the Three Stars Plaza.The Three Stars Plaza is located west of the Surf Ballroom (listed above).

In the center of the Plaza, this artistic display stands 15 feet high, depicts a giant record player spindle stacked with three 45 RPM records, illuminated in the same blue neon like That encircles the plaza and the sides of the spindle.

In 2017, musical features were added so that visitors can experience the star’s hits.

Check out these awesome reads:

 

Lake Theater

LOCATION4 N. 4th Street, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Current shows and ticket prices
WEBSITE:  Lake Theater

Clear Lake - Lake Theater

The Lake Theater in Clear Lake was originally an opera house built in 1890. You can still see original architectural written features on the top of the building.

Unfortunately, the opera house was succumbed by fire and the interior was destroyed in 1920’s. But that didn’t dampen the town’s spirit as it was renovated a decade later; making it into the movie theater that many locals frequent today.

Iowa Trolley Park

LOCATION: 3429 Main Avenue, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free – $25 for family hand car locomotive experience
WEBSITE: Iowa Trolley Park Facebook Page

Clear Lake - Trolley Park Hand Car

Iowa Trolley Park in Clear Lake, is home to a collection of older rail cars, vintage equipment, and railroad artifacts. It’s operated by the mason city and Clear Lake electric real Road historical society.

The Trolley Park gives visitors the chance to see and try it first hand some pieces of real railroad history. Hop on to a handcar or blow the whistle on a speeder or diesel locomotive ride. Learn about the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Depot that served Clear Lake from 1913-1984.

Admission to the museum is free. The Trolley Park is only open on Saturdays and Sundays 10:00 am to 5:00 pm between Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Iowa DNR Aquarium

LOCATION: 1203 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Unknown
WEBSITE: Iowa DNR Public Aquarium

Clear Lake - Iowa DNR Aquarium
Get close and personal with fish from the Clear Lake at the department of natural resources aquarium. Realize this isn’t your typical tropical fish or ocean sea creature aquarium. These fish are what are found 
in North Iowa lakes and rivers.

Browse the tanks featuring walleye, perch, muskie, largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish, plus rough fish species and panfish including crappies, yellow and white bass.

For more information call 357-3517 to see if the display is open.

 

Charles H MacNider Museum & Architectural Walking Tour

LOCATION:  303 Second Street SW, Clear Lake IA 50428 
COST:

Museum Tour – Educational Groups will be given tours at no cost. Group Tours – $5 per person (minimum 10).  

Architectural Walking Tour – $10 for a docent led tour, $8 for groups of 10 or more, $5 for self-guided audio tour, and free for educational groups.

WEBSITE: Charles H MacNider Museum
 
Photo Credit: Charles H. MacNider Art Museum

The MacNider Art Museum in Mason city includes a permanent collection of American Art. It also includes the famous Bil Baird puppets and an interesting display of artistic ceramics.

The museum regularly changes exhibits, films, studio classes for all ages, special events and a gift shop.

Kinney Pioneer Museum

LOCATION:  Mason City Municipal Airport,                                          Suite G, 9184 265th St, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST:  Adult $5, Child $2 (ages 5-12), Group Tours $50 minimum 
WEBSITE: Kinney Pioneer Museum
Photo Credit: Visit Mason City Iowa

Though not actually in Clear Lake, it’s only 9 miles away in Mason City at the Mason City Municipal Airport. As part of the Silos and Smoke Stacks National Heritage Area, the Kinney Pioneer Museum holds 18,000 square foot of exhibits that preserve the history and traditions of North Central Iowa.

It hosts a one-room school house, log cabin,  jail and blacksmith shop. There are demonstrations of Pioneer crafts in trades during the special event days.

You and your family may experience life on the Iowa frontier through the vintage exhibits, including a Pioneer Village. Be aware, the Kinney Pioneer Museum is only open from May 1st to October 1st.

Clear Lake Battle of Pleasant Hill

LOCATION: Near 2 N Lake View Dr, Clear Lake IA 50428           COORDINATES: 43° 8.135′ N, 93° 23.039′ W. 
COST: Free
WEBSITE: Iowa and the Battle of Pleasant Hill
Clear Lake Iowa - Battle of Pleasant Hill Historic Marker
Photo Courtesy of William Fischer, Jr.

If you’re a Civil War history buff, check out where the historic Battle of Pleasant Hill took place.

The story of Clear Lake Soldiers who served during the Civil War is depicted through a unique display at Clear Lake City Park. A granite stone marks the memory of Lieutenant Tom Howard who died in the Pleasant Hill Battle in Louisiana on April 9, 1864 and the G.A.R. Post of Clear Lake who served during the Civil War.

There are several other markers are within walking distance of this marker:

Touch for a list and map of all markers in Clear Lake.

Clear Lake Vietnam Veterans Memorial

LOCATION: 1st Ave N, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free
WEBSITE: Clear Lake Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

Clear Lake Ioway - Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Memorial is at the intersection of Main Avenue and Lake View Drive, on the left when traveling west on Main Avenue in Clear Lake, Iowa, in Cerro Gordo County.

The Clear Lake Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in memory of those who served and gave their lives in the Vietnam Conflict.

Clear Lake Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial

LOCATION: N 8th St near Main Avenue, Clear Lake, IA 50428   COORDINATES: 43° 8.251′ N, 93° 22.738′ W
COST: Free
WEBSITEClear Lake Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial
Clear Lake Iowa - Freedom Rock War Memorial
Photo Courtesy of Ruth VanSteenwyk (2019)

The Clear Lake Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial pays tribute and honor to Medal of Honor recipient, First Lieutenant (Infantry) Henry I. Smith, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 15 March 1865, while serving with Company B, 7th Iowa Infantry, in action at Black River, North Carolina.

First Lieutenant Smith voluntarily and under fire rescued a comrade from death by drowning.

Clear Lake Fire Museum

LOCATION: 112 N 6th St, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free
WEBSITE: Clear Lake Fire Museum


Iowa’s first, the Clear Lake Fire Museum, was constructed by the local volunteer firefighters. Central to the exhibit is the still operative 192 Ahrens-Fox pumper engine. This Rolls-Royce of fire engines was a major fire fighter for fifty years; being decommissioned in the mid 1970’s.

Other exhibits include a large collection of early fire extinguishers, as well as old firefighting apparatus and equipment.

The Clear Lake Fire Museum is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day each year.

Clear Lake 9/11 Memorial

LOCATION:  711 2nd Ave N, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free
WEBSITE: Clear Lake Fire Department
Photo Credit: Jake Rajewsky, The Globe Gazette

Just outside the Clear Lake Fire Department, a 9/11 steel memorial invites visitors to stop and remember the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Ten years later in 2011, local firefighters travelled to New York City to escort back a piece of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center.

Clear Lake’s 9/11 Memorial was designed to be a reminder and celebration of brotherhood of our Nation and those in fire services as well, tighten the bond of all who were affected by the attacks.

Central Gardens of North Iowa

LOCATION: 800 2nd Ave N, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COST: Free but donation suggested
WEBSITE: Central Gardens of North Iowa

Central Gardens of North Iowa

North Iowa’s Central Gardens, located in Clear Lake, boasts it’s amazing 2.75 acre horticultural green space. Over 15,000 guests from every state and several countries make these gardens a fun and relaxing destination every year.

The goal of Central Gardens in Clear Lake is to engage a diverse audience with a variety of events that unite to learn and enjoy the beauty of the gardens. They proudly host over 50 events, offered almost exclusively at no cost to participants.

Central Gardens is open from May to October dawn to dusk. So, make you bring your camera!

Do you love botanic gardens? Check out our 15 Best Botanical Gardens in the United States

Bicycle Trail Riding

Bicycle on Sunset Water

Clear Lake is a bicycling town! You can bring your own bicycle or rent a beach cruiser to ride the 14 miles around the lake. Or, if you’re really adventurous, you can explore country landscape or travel of the two bicycle trails in the area. 

Sister’s Prairie Trail:
The trail leads from Ventura Heights access to an access off 235th St., just west of Cardinal Avenue on the north side of the road. This scenic paved trail traverses just over a mile through a private prairie-wetland complex representative of Iowa’s beautiful prairie pothole region.

Trolley Trail:
A 7.5-mile bike trail between Clear Lake and Mason City on County Road B-35. The trail extends into Mason City, where the trail it’s clearly marked.

Lady of the Lake

LOCATION: Seawall Downtown, Clear Lake, IA 50428
COSTAdults- $15, Children 12 & under- $6, Children -2 Free
WEBSITE: Lady of the Lake Cruise
Clear Lake - Lady of the Lake Cruise
Photo Courtesy of Travel Iowa

Lady of the Lake, North Iowa’s premier cruise ship welcomes you aboard! So, sit back and enjoy a 90 minute public cruise around the natural, spring-fed Clear Lake. The Captain gives a historical narration about the boat, beautiful Clear Lake and sites you can see around the lake.

You can also charter the Lady of the Lake, book a group public cruise and throw a party for your travel companions.

But, one of their best highlights is their 4th of July Fireworks Cruise and make memories that will last a lifetime. Check Lady of the Lake’s cruise schedule for dates and times.

Camping

There’s no better place to camp than where the sun sets beyond the horizon lighting up the sky with beautiful hues. Lightening bugs sparkle in the evening as the campfires are lit.

If you’re bringing your RV or camper to be serviced at the Newmar and Winnebago Service Center in Forest City, you’ll definitely want to extend your time in the area before or after your service appointment.

So pack your RV or tent and camping gear because Clear Lake is definitely a for even a staycation. These four awesome campgrounds that are calling your name!

Or here’s some amazing HipCamps (first you have to join). And, if you’re a local who’s reading this and want to become a HipCamp Host, you can be a part of camper’s amazing adventure too!

If you don’t RV or tent camp, there’s still several different places to stay; from hotels, vacation rentals to bed and breakfasts.

That’s a Wrap on Clear Lake, Iowa

Whew!! Did you get all of that? Whoever said small towns in Iowa are dull and boring hasn’t been to Clear Lake! What an incredible list of fun things to do either by yourself or with your travel companions or family! So, while this may be where the music died, Clear Lake is very much alive!

If you’re looking for more information on Clear Lake, Iowa, check out the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. Their website is chocked full of more activities and adventures in the area. 

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