Beacon: Art, Hiking and, Oh, the Views

Contemporary art, plus 60-mile views just a short hike away? We're sold.

beacon new york things to do

Storm King Art Center | Photo: Jerry L. Thompson

You know this story: A busy Northeast town loses its factories in the 1960s and ’70s, shriveling to a shell of its former self. Artists, drawn by low rents and unique work spaces, sketch out the beginnings of a new identity; retail follows, and a tourist mecca is born.

But Beacon falls more to the epic side of this familiar tale, thanks to the scale and variety of its gallery-rich downtown, a major art museum, and river-to-mountaintop recreation possibilities.

Distance from Philly: 3 hours.

Where to Stay

You can’t get a more intimate glimpse of Beacon’s industrial heritage than at the Roundhouse, a complex of reclaimed factory buildings situated along the edge of a roaring mini-waterfall on Fishkill Creek. The high-ceilinged rooms are all brick, wood and steel — some are even outfitted with a soaking tub at the foot of the bed — and you can enjoy a gratis breakfast buffet in the hotel’s namesake restaurant, perched right on the water. From $229 per night.

What to Do

Let’s get this out of the way — you’re coming to Beacon for the art. Many people date the city’s turnaround to the 2003 opening of Dia:Beacon, a former Nabisco printing plant that’s now home to large-scale installations from modern masters like Donald Judd and Richard Serra. The museum is massive, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed — allot at least half a day, with breaks in the cafe. Another massive must-see is Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden anchored by gigantic works from Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson and more. It’s here, where the undulations of Maya Lin’s Wavefield read as ripples from a mountain wind, that it hits you: This effortless intertwining of man-made and nature-made beauty is precisely what makes the Hudson Valley so special in the first place. Back in town, Beacon’s 15-plus galleries range from formal multi-artist spaces to small, eccentric studios, and the monthly Second Saturday event is a festive, kid-friendly introduction to the diversity of the scene.

Where to Eat

On the more upscale end, the Vault serves deliciously herb-heavy cocktails and tapas — pick two to three plates each, and make sure at least one is the crispy brussels sprouts with Moroccan spiced honey. When a long day of gallery-browsing has left you yearning for simpler pleasures, head to Yankee Clipper Diner, a real local hangout, for almost comically oversized sandwiches. Weird, but no less wonderful: If you happen to count a Doctor Who fan among your group, you must land at the Pandorica for a Time Lord’s plate of British pop-culture kitsch. And whatever the time of day, it’s definitely worth braving the line at Glazed Over Donuts.

Get Out There

Explore the island home of Bannerman Castle — the former residence of a Scottish-born arms dealer and, hands down, the most picturesque ruin in America — via guided weekend boat and kayak tours. Feeling the need for a serious stretch of the legs? Tackle the steep switchbacks and moderate rock scrambles of the Mount Beacon trail — the expansive view at the top is a stunning reward. And if you just want to stroll, walk down to Long Dock Park and contemplate the vastness of the Hudson, a river that makes the Delaware seem like a rock-skipping stream.

Good to Know

Some shops, galleries, and restaurants close on Mondays, and many more shut down on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Published as a part of “Into the Valley” in the September 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.