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What is Clear Lake Iowa known for?

Clear Lake, Iowa is a small city in north central Iowa, located along the southern shore of Clear Lake. With a population of just over 7,700 people, Clear Lake is best known as a popular summer tourist destination thanks to its beautiful natural surroundings and abundance of recreational activities.

The Natural Beauty of Clear Lake

Clear Lake itself is the star attraction in Clear Lake, Iowa. Covering about 3,600 acres, Clear Lake is Iowa’s third largest natural lake and is renowned for its stunning beauty and crystal clear waters. The lake shoreline stretches for about 11 miles, much of which is fronted by grassy parks, sandy beaches and scenic trails.

Visitors flock to Clear Lake in the summer months to enjoy the lake’s cool waters, with activities like swimming, boating, water skiing, jet skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing being extremely popular. The area’s natural beauty also attracts bird watchers hoping to catch sight of the many species that thrive around the wetland habitats surrounding Clear Lake.

A Top Recreational Destination

In addition to its namesake lake, Clear Lake offers plenty of other recreational opportunities to keep visitors busy. The city maintains over 20 public parks, many located along the lake shoreline, that offer amenities like playgrounds, picnic shelters, boat ramps, fishing piers, and campgrounds.

Clear Lake State Park, located on the lake’s west shore, is a top attraction with over 1,100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and grassy areas to explore via hiking and biking trails. Water recreation like boating, swimming, and fishing can also be enjoyed at the park’s beach and marina.

For golf lovers, Clear Lake is home to several scenic golf courses, including the 18-hole Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course right in town and the highly rated 27-hole Clear Lake Golf Club along the lake’s northern shore.

The Surf Ballroom & Museum is another unique attraction drawing visitors to Clear Lake. This historic ballroom hosted famous musicians like Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper back in the 1950s and still holds concerts today. The museum commemorates the last concert these musicians played at the Surf on February 2, 1959, before their tragic plane crash after the show.

A Rich Aviation History

Clear Lake has a notable history in the world of aviation, starting back in the 1920s when the Surf Airport was built along the lake’s shore to accommodate wealthy tourists flying their private planes in to vacation on Clear Lake. This helped establish Clear Lake as an aviation-friendly town early on.

In 1934, Wiley Post and his navigator Harold Gatty took off from Surf Airport to make the first solo flight around the world. A memorial to this historic flight stands today at the site of the original Surf Airport.

During World War II, hundreds of Navy pilots were trained at the Clear Lake Navy Flight School, cementing Clear Lake’s reputation as an aviation town. Today, the Clear Lake Aviation History Museum at the Mason City Municipal Airport showcases this unique history, housing vintage aircraft and artifacts from Clear Lake’s flying past.

Clear Lake continues to cater to aviation enthusiasts, with the annual Clear Lake Air Show held each summer featuring aerial stunts and demonstrations that attract spectators from across the Midwest. The town is also home to an active general aviation airport serving private pilots.

A Hub for Arts & Culture

Despite its small size, Clear Lake boasts an impressive arts and cultural scene. The Surf Ballroom & Museum is the cornerstone, hosting regular concerts along with its historical exhibits. The Clear Lake Arts Center is another hub, offering art classes, exhibits, and events year-round. Live theatre is also popular in Clear Lake, with two downtown theatres – the Clear Lake Community Theatre and Clear Lake Children’s Theatre – putting on productions throughout the year.

For history buffs, Clear Lake has several museums that showcase key aspects of the town’s heritage. The Clear Lake Historical Museum documents the area’s settlement and development. The Hobo Museum offers a look into the unique hobo moniker and culture tied to Depression-era transient workers. And the Farm History Museum portrays Clear Lake’s agricultural roots with exhibits of vintage farm equipment and livestock barns.

Annual festivals and events add to Clear Lake’s cultural appeal for visitors and residents alike. Summer brings popular festivals like Bike Week, Rib Fest, the Fourth of July Celebration, and the North Iowa Band Festival. Year-round community events like Chalk the Walk, Winterfest, and the farmer’s market further enhance Clear Lake’s small-town atmosphere.

A Vibrant Downtown District

Clear Lake’s downtown district near City Park offers blocks filled with local shops, eateries, and businesses. Visitors will find antique stores, boutiques, salons, cafes, and more lining the downtown streets. The summer tourist season brings additional dining, nightlife, and shopping opportunities, with restaurants opening patio seating, live music at bars, and seasonal vendor markets setting up downtown.

Popular downtown attractions include the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake Community Theatre, Clear Lake Historical Museum, and the farm-to-table restaurant Rustica. The downtown area also offers scenic parks, monuments, public art installations, and murals to take in while strolling around. Visitors often begin their Clear Lake getaway with an afternoon browsing downtown before heading to the lakefront attractions.

A Hub for Watersports & Water Recreation

As a town situated on the shores of Iowa’s 3rd largest natural lake, it’s no surprise that watersports and water recreation are a major draw for visitors coming to Clear Lake. The lake’s 11 mile shoreline provides countless spots for visitors to take a dip, and the crystal clear water makes activities like waterskiing especially popular.

Clear Lake has one of the highest concentrations of boats per acre of any lake in the Midwest, so water lovers will find no shortage of opportunities for activities like sailing, wakeboarding, tubing, and boating. Paddle sports like kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddle boarding have also grown in popularity in recent years thanks to equipment rentals and lessons available from local outfitters.

Fishing is another passion pursuit on Clear Lake, known as one of the top walleye lakes in the country. The lake also holds crappie, yellow bass, yellow perch, catfish, and black bullhead that keep anglers returning year after year. Clear Lake hosts several annual fishing tournaments to showcase the lake’s outstanding walleye, bass, and panfish populations.

With its stunning natural backdrop and seemingly endless watersports options, it’s easy to see why Clear Lake is such a paradise for boating, swimming, fishing, and water recreation enthusiasts. Calm bays and beaches provide the perfect spot for family fun, while the main body of the lake offers ideal conditions for watersports enthusiasts to ski, tube, wakeboard, or cruise for a day on the water.

A Foodie’s Paradise

Clear Lake has evolved into a surprising foodie destination, with numerous dining options to satisfy any palate. Seafood lovers will find fresh catches featured at lakefront spots like Clear Lake Fish Company and Lakeshore Restaurant, where the walleye is a house specialty. Pizzerias like Lake Time Pizza and Oakwood Pizzeria offer family-friendly dining complete with lake views.

The area’s many burger joints showcase how Clear Lake does more than just simple fast food burgers. The boozy brunch burgers at Lake Time Burger Bar and build-your-own Buffalo burgers at Zip’s are local favorites. For farm-to-table cuisine made with locally-sourced ingredients, Rustica and the Clear Lake Wine Bar are popular downtown eateries.

Small town cafes, romantic bistros, corner taverns, and supersized buffets round out the dining options around Clear Lake. sweet treats don’t go overlooked either, with beloved local ice cream shops like Culver’s, Sandy’s, and Dairy Queen satisfying dessert cravings. Visitors will have their choice of laidback or elegant dining atmospheres to complement Clear Lake’s scenic surroundings.

A Hub for Outdoor Recreation

In addition to its namesake lake that draws water lovers from across the Midwest, Clear Lake also offers plentiful opportunities for outdoor recreation on land for nature enthusiasts. Clear Lake State Park provides hiking trails winding through over 1,100 acres of woods and prairie areas along the lake shore, with abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. Bird watching is especially popular, as the park’s wetland areas attract many migrating species.

The town maintains an extensive parks system with over 20 public parks. Trails weave through wooded areas, along the lake shoreline, and connecting neighborhood parks throughout town. Walkers, runners, bicyclists, and nature photographers all enjoy these well-maintained natural trails year-round.

Clear Lake has two public golf courses – the scenic 18-hole Veterans Memorial Golf Course in town and the Clear Lake Golf Club along the lake’s northern shore. Disc golfers also have a course to play at East Park. Just northwest of town, McIntosh Woods State Park offers camping, hiking, and horseback riding through its forests and prairies.

With so many options to enjoy the great outdoors and natural scenery, it’s easy to see why Clear Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation. Hiking, biking, golfing, wildlife viewing, and exploring the area’s parks allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in Clear Lake’s inherent natural beauty.

A Variety of Annual Festivals & Events

Throughout the year, Clear Lake hosts a variety of festivals and events that attract visitors and residents alike. The summer season brings popular events like the Fourth of July fireworks show, Rib Fest, the North Iowa Band Festival, and Bike Week, when thousands of motorcyclists roar into town. The Clear Lake Arts Center hosts the Annual Summer Art Show in August as well.

During winter, Clear Lake celebrates with holiday events like Winterfest in December and Chalk the Walk in February, when artists decorate downtown sidewalks with colorful chalk art. Year-round community events like the farmer’s market, gallery walks, and theater productions provide ongoing entertainment.

One unique annual festival is the Hobo Day Celebration held in August, celebrating Clear Lake’s history with the hobo moniker for transient workers. Events include a Hobo Museum exhibit, hobo poetry and stories, live music, and kids games evoking Depression-era fun like stickball.

Clear Lake also hosts several fishing tournaments each year spotlighting the area’s excellent walleye, bass, and panfish populations. Anglers compete in events like the Clear Lake Walleye Classic and the Fall Walleye Classic annually.

From summertime celebrations to holiday events in winter, Clear Lake’s roster of festivals and happenings help highlight local culture while providing plenty of entertainment options for visitors.

A Relaxing, Family-Friendly Getaway

With its natural beauty and wealth of recreation, dining, shopping, and attractions, Clear Lake has evolved into a popular spot for a relaxing family vacation. Families especially love Clear Lake’s laid back vibe, small town charm, outdoor fun, and child-friendly attractions.

When it’s time to unwind, Clear Lake offers scenic parks for picnicking, playgrounds to let kids’ energy loose, and sandy beaches perfect for swimming and building sandcastles. Rainy days can be spent at kid-pleasing attractions like the Clear Lake Historical Museum or watching a show at the Clear Lake Children’s Theatre.

Clear Lake also provides plenty of lodging ideal for families, from campgrounds at the state park to mid-range chain hotels with indoor pools. Rental cabins and lakeside cottages offer home-like amenities suitable for longer stays. And the walkable downtown district gives families a place to stroll, shop, and dine together.

With its friendly atmosphere and wealth of attractions both fun and scenic, Clear Lake has become a beloved destination for families, especially during the lively summer months. The area offers the ideal blend of a peaceful natural escape along with enough activities, events, and entertainment to keep visitors of all ages happy.


Though it may seem a small, unassuming town at first glance, Clear Lake, Iowa has plenty to offer visitors who come to experience its natural beauty and local charm. From outdoor recreation on land and water to historic attractions, cultural festivals, and a vibrant downtown district, Clear Lake is the quintessential summertime getaway spot for families and nature lovers alike.

The stunning lake itself remains the focal point, with its crystalline waters providing the perfect backdrop for boating, swimming, fishing and unwinding along its grassy shoreline parks. Yet Clear Lake also offers opportunities for golfing, hiking, artistic events, aviation history, and more to round out a vacation itinerary. This Northern Iowa gem truly has something for everyone seeking fresh air, good times, and relaxation on the lakefront.

Key Facts About Clear Lake:

Category Facts
Size 3,643 acre lake – Iowa’s 3rd largest natural lake
Location North central Iowa, 120 miles north of Des Moines
Depth Average depth 10-15 feet, maximum depth 20 feet
Shoreline Length About 11 miles
Popular Activities Boating, swimming, fishing, waterskiing, jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding
Major Attractions Clear Lake State Park, Surf Ballroom, downtown shopping/dining district
Population City of Clear Lake – 7,777 (2010 Census)
Annual Visitors Over 750,000 annually