This small riverfront city — set on the eastern banks of the Hudson River, just about 60 miles north of New York City — has undergone a major metamorphosis in recent years, transforming from a down-on-its-luck old mill town into a coveted Hudson Valley address for the hip and artsy set.
Connected to Manhattan by train via Metro-North, much of Beacon's hubbub unfolds along the eclectic eatery-, bar-, and boutique-lined Main Street. Cultural hubs abound, too, with institutions like the world-class contemporary art museum at Dia: Beacon (oft credited with putting Beacon on the map when it opened back in 2003) and popular live music venue Towne Crier Cafe. Happily, Beacon's artsy, industrial-chic, urban-grit aesthetic doesn’t forego ties to the superlative nature of the surrounding Hudson Highlands, with ample opportunities for nature enthusiasts, including a well-trafficked hiking trail leading up to the ever-looming Mount Beacon, right from the city enter.
Here, we round up thetop 12 things to do in Beacon so you can maximize your time in this happening Hudson Valley enclave.
Stroll Main Street
A stroll along Beacon's main drag – the roughly mile-long stretch of Main Street – reveals a slate of spots well worth dipping into to eat, drink, shop, and sleep. Refuel at one of Beacon's buzziest eateries like Homespun Foods (for hearty comfort food like vegetarian “meatloaf,” as well as an inviting backyard garden), Kitchen Sink Food & Drink (serving New American farm-to-table fare), Max’s on Main (for pub grub and a lively bar scene), or The Pandorica (a whimsical Doctor Who-themed establishment). For quicker grab-and-go bites, try locals’-favorite breakfast haunt Beacon Bagel, lip-smacking gluten-free bakery Ella’s Bellas, or indulgent ice cream joint Beacon Creamery.
Retail therapy awaits at shops like quirky gift and toy store Dream in Plastic, handcrafted body care shop Beacon Bath & Bubble, or vintage clothiers Blackbird Attic or Vintage: Beacon. Opt to stay a while by booking a room at The Roundhouse hotel, touting an industrial-chic aesthetic in a reimagined former textile factory that looks out over the Fishkill Creek, at the foot of Beacon Falls; there’s a restaurant on-site with patio seating overlooking the falls, and a fireplace-anchored lounge, too.
Beacon’s cultural anchor, Dia: Beacon marks a massive 300,000-square-foot contemporary arts museum perched on the banks of the Hudson River. Set within an old 1920s-era Nabisco box printing factory, cavernous galleries — oozing original industry-style architectural accents like steel, concrete, brick, and skylights to filter through abundant natural light — contain pilgrimage-worthy collections spanning the 1960s to present day. Look out for large-scale installations by major names like Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and Sol LeWitt, along with complementary public programming including guided tours, special exhibitions, art lectures, and educational art programs.
Hike Mount Beacon
Beacon sits within the shadow of Mount Beacon, and ascending its summit is a rite of passage for any visitor to town with a bit of stamina to spare. Rewarding hikers with excellent panoramas over the city, Hudson River, and surrounding mountain ranges look out for the ruins of an old incline railroad (for which restoration work is currently in talks) and casino en route, too. Open year-round from dawn to dusk, the steep, uphill, winding trailhead in Mount Beacon Park runs for just over a mile one-way: Be prepared for a workout for lungs and legs alike.
Run by nonprofit community arts organization BeaconArts, Beacon's lively Second Saturday event shines a spotlight on the citywide arts scene every second Saturday of the month. Time your visit to coincide with the monthly happening and you’ll see Beacon spill over with gallery show openings, artist receptions, and other hoppin’ Second Saturday goings-on like live music and food tastings. Plus, galleries and many shops stay open late till 9 pm, with a lot of activity centered on a walkable stretch of Main Street. Bonus: It’s kid-friendly, too, so you can encourage the wee ones to get an appetite for the arts early on.
A community gathering place unfolding every Sunday, the Beacon Farmers’ Market hosts a gaggle of weekly vendors from the surrounding Hudson Valley. You’ll find the requisite produce stands overflowing with farm-fresh fruits and veggies, alongside purveyors of breads and baked goods, meats and seafood, coffee, spices, honey, kombucha, and pickles. Select weekends feature additional stands for locally produced housewares and body products, too, like accessories made from alpaca fiber, ceramic serving plates, and vases, or soaps infused with essential oils. The outdoor market runs at Veterans Place, next to the Beacon Post Office, off Main Street (from May through November); off-season, a winter market moves indoors at the VFW building on Main Street.
Utilizing grains sourced entirely from local farms, this popular artisanal distillery is open for tastings Fridays through Sundays, with afternoon public tours scheduled on Saturdays. Pop in to sample some of Denning’s Point Distillery’s Beacon Bourbon, Viskill Vodka, Great 9 Gin, and more. Better yet, time your visit to coincide with their “Bourbon n' Blues” open jam session, held during the city’s Second Saturday arts event, or come on pretty much any Saturday evening to pair your pour with live music.
Get Down to the River at Long Dock Park
Beacon hugs the Hudson and making way to the waterfront Long Dock Park is a great way to appreciate the city’s deep-rooted river ties. The man-made peninsula here comes coated with rehabilitated wetlands and meadows, on the site of an old 19th-century ferry terminal, which for many years thereafter served as a center for industry and, subsequently, as little more than an industrial wasteland. Today the park space has been brilliantly reinvented with walking paths, picnic facilities, and Scenic Hudson's River Center, a center for education and programming themed around art, the environment, and folk music.
Make way for the waterfront George Trakas installation at Beacon Point for sunbathing, fishing, or simply soaking up the river views. If you’re hankering to get out on the water, you're in luck: The well-designed kayak pavilion here offers rentals and guided outings for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding through Mountain Tops Outfitters.
The seasonal, open-air Beacon Flea Market runs on Sundays (weather permitting) from April through November, coming chockablock with 50-plus vendors selling antiques, vintage items, collectibles, and handcrafted artisanal products, too. Word to the wise: Come early (the market starts setting up at 6 am and is done for the day by 3 pm) for first dibs on pickings. The hidden treasure-packed market unfolds in the Henry Street parking lot, adjacent to the post office on Main Street.
Set in the midst of the Hudson River just south of Beacon, Pollepel Island (aka Bannerman Island) comes steeped in history and legend, a site brimming with ancient Indian lore, Revolutionary War tales, and the decaying architecture of the towering Bannerman Castle. This fortress oddity is a remnant of the turn-of-the-20th-century business doings of Scotsman Frank Bannerman, who once stored his stock of ammunition and military surplus items in this elaborate 1901 "warehouse," a replica of a Scottish castle (which partially burned down in a fire in the late ‘60s).
Public guided tours of the island are available from May through October; exclusively accessed by water, opt for either a passenger tour boat or kayak excursion. While a handful of other Hudson Valley towns offer island access (in Cold Spring, Newburgh, and Cornwall-on-Hudson), Beacon puts forth the most options, as a launch point for both kayak (with Mountain Tops Outfitters) and passenger boat (via the Estuary Steward) excursions. Look out for special Bannerman Island events, too, like alfresco theater productions, movie screenings, and live musical performances.
Claiming a lengthy history in the Hudson Valley (since 1972), the Towne Crier Cafe has served as a live music mecca on Beacon’s Main Street since relocating there in 2013 from its longtime home in Pawling. The intimate venue welcomes a respectable roster of performers highlighting rock, jazz, blues, and world music most nights of the week (except Mondays and Tuesdays, when it's closed) — past acts have included names like Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, Richie Havens, and Pete Seeger. Tunes pair nicely with a dining menu that’s known for its desserts and pastries; tip: come for Sunday brunch and get a free live music show, to boot.
One of the Hudson Valley’s more popular craft breweries, Hudson Valley Brewery — set just off of Main Street— opens the doors to its public taproom Thursdays through Sundays. Thirsty patrons can sample the brewery’s current rotation of beers on tap, with a specialty focus on IPAs. Bonus: The brewery sells take-home 32-ounce “crowlers” (or, oversized cans) and features a pop-up kitchen from Barb’s Butchery on Saturdays and Sundays.
This glassworks gallery and glassblowing studio colorfully fills in a restored former firehouse on Main Street. Come to peruse the vast collection of functional and decorative glass objects on display in the shop, including housewares like bowls, glasses, plates, candlesticks, and more, alongside one-of-a-kind sculptural works. The adjacent studio sets the scene for glassblowing demonstrations, as well as a series of public workshops in which participants can craft their own handblown ornaments, beads, or paperweights.