An easy train ride from New York City, Beacon is an up-and-coming artists’ community that has risen from the ruins of industrial decay, with Main Street at its heart. Near to the Hudson river and scenic Highlands, this is a great destination for arty and outdoorsy types.
One of the best ways to get to know the place is Beacon Arts’ Second Saturday, a citywide celebration held on the second Saturday of each month. Gallery exhibitions, live music, food tasting and more go on all day and into the night, making it one of the Lower Hudson Valley’s most talked about street fairs. Most of Beacon’s countless galleries schedule their exhibition openings to coincide with the event; convenient and fun.
The Towne Crier Café has been serving American roots, jazz, and world music since 1972, not to mention its acclaimed dessert and pastry offerings. Back in 2013, owner and founder Phil Ciganer relocated his legendary nightclub from Pawling, New York, to downtown Beacon. Every aspect of this rootsy performance venue has flourished since, not least in hosting some of the area’s finest musical offerings. Sunday brunch often features free entertainment too.
On more than 30 acres (12ha) of land near the banks of the Hudson River, Dia: Beacon houses the Dia Art Foundation’s permanent collection from the 1960s to the present, and curates regular special exhibitions and new commissions. Housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory, the industrial building features sprawling open spaces and abundant natural light, making the unique 300,000sqft (28,000sqm) brick, steel, concrete, and glass structure a perfect complement to the museum’s exhibitions.
At American Gypsy Vintage, curators Nicole Alyse and Cabot Bramhall carefully select only the finest vintage clothing and denim, ensuring the trendy consignment shop radiates its own fashion flair: casual, edgy, and tastefully worn-in. The shop specializes in denim and tees, but you can also get a wide variety of other bits and bobs, including jewelry, boots, and leather.
Bannerman Island, also known as Pollepel, sits on the Hudson River just south of Beacon. Its castle ruins are now part of the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. Regular walking tours are offered by the Bannerman Castle Trust, which is dedicated to the upkeep of the historic site. The island is only accessible by water, so cast off from Beacon’s Long Dock Park by kayak. Make reservations ahead of time aboard the Estuary Steward, or join a kayak tour sponsored by Beacon’s Mountain Tops Outfitters. Consider joining one of the island’s special tours or events, such as the light show on weekend evenings, or one of the regular outdoor theater productions.
At the top of buzzing Main Street, in a restored former firehouse, Hudson Beach Glass casts and sells glass art, both sculptural and functional. Price tags here can be steep, but the glasswork is unique and brilliantly lit. The building’s former fire engine bay, attached to the side of the store, serves as an open-air glassblowing demonstration studio. Sign up for a class, in which participants learn to create their own beautiful ornaments, paperweights, or beads.
If spectacular views and challenging hiking trails are your thing, consider a trek to the peak of Mount Beacon. This well-maintained site is one of a number of Hudson Valley parks managed by Scenic Hudson, the organization credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement. The journey begins at the original access road to the now defunct Mount Beacon Incline Railway which used to deliver passengers to the Beaconcrest Hotel and Casino that once sat at the mountain’s peak. The trail continues sharply uphill via a stairway to the first of many observation decks, followed by a steep hike that ultimately joins the Fishkill Ridge system. Efforts are underway to restore the railway, but for now only the sturdiest hikers are able to enjoy Mount Beacon’s breathtaking vistas.
Drawn to the quirky and offbeat? Then check out Clutter Gallery, highlighting the very best (and worst) of toy design, as well as modern pop and lowbrow art. The gallery and its exhibitions share space with Clutter Magazine which boasts a sizeable collection of eclectic designer toys, including the work of POPaganda artist Ron English. A treasure trove of weirdness.
What distinguishes the Beacon Flea Market from other large flea markets is a strictly enforced requirement that all merchandise is either handcrafted or authentically vintage: absolutely no knock-offs or new mass-produced items allowed. Every Sunday from April to November (weather permitting) vendors share their crafts and wares on stalls which line the Henry Street parking lot, behind the Main Street Post Office. Sleuths in search of the rare and unusual will revel in the treasures waiting to be discovered among tabletops, bins, and clothing rails. Be warned that most vendors only accept cash.