Plan a Clear Lake Day Trip


clear lake iowa day trip Des Moines MomEnjoy a beach day trip right here in Iowa!

Like the Raygun shirt says, “Clear Lake: We’re closer than Okoboji!” 

Clear Lake is an hour and 45 minutes from downtown Des Moines. With shops, restaurants, and beaches, there’s plenty to do.

I’ve been visiting Clear Lake since junior high. Whether it’s camping, boating, or hanging out on the beach with friends, a warm summer day spent in Clear Lake doesn’t disappoint! It’s like your favorite small town that happens to sit on a 3,600-acre lake.

Here is a loose schedule (we all know how kids and schedules can go) with recommendations below so you can plan what works best for your family.

Your Clear Lake Day Trip

  • Getting There: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Explore Downtown: 10 a.m. to noon 
  • Lunch: Noon to 1 p.m.
  • Beach Time: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Treats: 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Dinner: 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Going Home: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Getting There

Set your GPS to Cabin Coffee. You’ll land in the heart of downtown and have a spot to recaffeinate if needed. The large city park and city beach are both within walking distance.

Explore Downtown

KB Emporium sits in a carefully restored building. It has coffee, ice cream, and a café on the same level as their fun selection of clothes, restored furniture, and vintage treasures. You shop, kids have a treat.

Our kids also love Larson’s Mercantile. They sell toys, home goods, and a bunch of other unique finds. While you’re there, check out my favorite lake shoes, Fit Kicks. Yes, I am a lake person but still hate the muck on the bottom when I swim. 

Weathered Elements, Lake Lifestyle, and so many more shops are on main street, you may need to come back for a girls’ trip! While you’re exploring downtown, the kids can either go with you or hang out at the park – or a bit of both! 


Have a brought-from-home picnic in the park or try a local favorite like Starboard Market, Ge-Jo’s, Seven’s or Backyard Deli.

Beach Time

Bring all the beach things: towels, life jackets, floaties, chairs, umbrella, water shoes, sand toys, and sunscreen. City Beach has a swimming area, splash pad, and a small playground. There’s also a fishing dock nearby. Kids of all ages can find something to do! 

Treat Time

I am a strong believer in happy hour, aka: Treat Time. Try Lake Time Brewery. They have outside seating, perfect for loud kids like mine. Inside, they have a bunch of fun board games to play. Or, check out Cookies, Etc., Viking Drive-Inn or South Shore Sweet Spot for a treat (before dinner, of course, it’s a day trip!). My recommendation? Get the cookies and take them to the brewery.


If you’re done, you could head out and grab fast food on your way. If the kids are good, try a spot on the water for dinner.

The Landing on Clear Lake at Lakeside Inn offers awesome views of the lake, great service, and good food. It’s an outdoor restaurant and my boys are fans of the mac and cheese. I like the crab Rangoon nachos!

If your kids aren’t done with playing in the water, have dinner at PM Park. It’s on a beach where the kids can play while you wait at the outdoor tables for your food. 

We also like Anchor Inn, The OP, and Bread and Buttercreme for either lunch or dinner spots! These a good, just not on the water.

Clear Lake roadtrip family fun

All the Lake Things

I can’t write about Clear Lake and not mention The Surf Ballroom. It’s where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper played their last show before passing away in a plane crash. It’s worth a stop if you’re a music buff!

Want more than a day trip? Events happen nearly every weekend! There’s also a local theaterart center, boat rental places, a big paddle boat called ‘The Lady of the Lake’, golf courses, bike trails, and so much more.

I’ve loved the area forever and it’s fun sharing the experience with my kids. Questions? Ask away!


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