Thanks to an artistic resurgence and a thriving downtown, Beacon, New York, lives up to its name. Drawing attention like a signal flare, the city is a bright cultural hot spot in the Hudson Valley.
Start some Beacon sightseeing with Dia:Beacon, the Dia Art Foundation’s museum that kicked off the town's artistic re-birth. Opened in 2003 in a former Nabisco box-printing factory, Dia:Beacon is the largest contemporary art museum in the country, with a breadth of works dating from the 1960s to the present. The museum, which overlooks the Hudson River, started the trend of converting industrial spaces into contemporary art galleries, and its interiors still retain fixtures and surfaces from the building's factory days. Due to the museum's expansive size, many large-scale works are showcased, from artists like Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin and Richard Serra.
Continue a Beacon tour by walking about a half-mile east to Main Street, a stretch of historic structures in which many new galleries have popped up over the last decade, thanks to Dia:Beacon. Notably, non-profit Fovea Exhibitions presents photo-journalism exhibits as well as documentary films, book signings and panel discussions.
Also on Main Street, Hudson Beach Glass showcases the work of several local glass artists, with frequent demonstrations of glass blowing and sculpting, all nestled into Beacon's original firehouse. In another unique historical building, The Howland Cultural Center melds numerous art forms, hosting live music performances, poetry readings, gospel singing and classical music concerts designed for children. The Center, which features Norwegian-inspired architecture with a six-gabled roof covered in Delaware slate, was once the town's library.
Beacon's quaint charm shines through in its restaurants as well, like Max's on Main, a neighborhood hangout specializing in hot steaks and cold beer. For comfort food with a twist, there's Homespun Foods, dishing up lunch favorites like chicken salad and pulled-pork sandwiches, but also vegetarian banh mi and roasted vegetables with gruyère cheese. For a sweet treat afterward, Zora Dora's offers tempting small-batch ice cream pressed into Popsicle-like concoctions, with ingredients that come from local Hudson Valley farmers.
After Beacon sightseeing in town, take in some outdoor views by heading three miles east to Mount Beacon. The century-old Incline Railway leading to the top is in the process of being lovingly restored by a local society, with the route now favored by hikers who appreciate the stunning views of New York City from the top.
Riverfront Park should also be on any Beacon tour, for its Hudson River vistas and expanses of lawn that are perfect for picnics, as well as for a 20-foot-wide wading pool floating just off shore. Enjoy a fresh-air jaunt by renting a bike at Beacon Cycles, which specializes in touring-the-city bicycles, but also has mountain bikes for more adventurous types.
With its many Victorian homes, weekly farmers market and small-town-Americana buildings, Beacon offers a heady blend of serene Hudson Valley views with hip galleries and boutiques, making the town’s appeal likely to last.