WHY GO: Beacon, NY grew up a mill town. Hunched at the foot of mountains and wedged between waterfalls and the navigable Hudson River, factories harnessing raging water eroded beauty from the landscape. Industrial waste turned the Hudson into “a sewer,” according to Beacon’s most famous resident, Pete Seeger. When fortunes and industry fell, so did Beacon. But then Seeger helped clean up the Hudson, and a contemporary art museum built to house installations too large for MoMa or the Guggenheim, carved from the closed Nabisco Box Printing factory, put Beacon back on the map. Opened in 2003, DIA:Beacon gave culture hounds a reason to come upriver for the day. As more people came, artists, chefs and aspiring retailers did, too. And then, in late 2012, a boutique hotel measuring up to the standards of those urbane museum and gallery goers finally opened in Beacon, creating the perfect overnight arts, shopping, and wine and beer-sipping Getaway.
Things To Do In Beacon NY
VISIT: Dia: Beacon. Visit the 300,000 square foot Dia: Beacon on the banks of the Hudson River, and you will be forced to face the question – What exactly constitutes “art”? This former paper factory, glossed up and renovated for massive contemporary art installations opened in May 2003 and is drawing art students, historians and the merely curious to its soaring halls. Over two dozen masters of visual art from the 1960’s and 1970’s are featured in a space so vast it will take a relatively athletic person a couple of hours just to sprint through. Mansion-sized galleries highlight Andy Warhol’s Shadows, minimalist Donald Judd’s simple wooden boxes, Sol LeWitt’s weblike drawings, Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light works and the macabre body parts and spiders from Louise Bourgeois tortured imagination. Thurs – Mon. 11am-6pm, $12 adults, kids under 12 free.
TOUR: Bannerman Castle. What’s this ruin of a Scottish castle doing in the middle of the Hudson River? Take a hard-hat tour offered by the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. to find out. Oh, all right. I’ll give you some background. It was the “storage shed” of America’s first Army/Navy Store. As a pre-teen in the 1860’s an enterprising Francis Bannerman looked for ways to make money. Utilizing a grappling hook to dredge rope and scrap metal from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he learned that he could resell these government supplies. In just a few years, young Bannerman had amassed a mountain of Civil War surplus, including bugles, buttons, swords, scabbards and uniforms in addition to military ordinance – so much, in fact, he opened up a very successful store in Brooklyn.
But Bannerman required a remote location to house his ever-growing collection of explosive materials. In 1900, he discovered an island on one of his trips on the Day Liner up the Hudson and bought it for $1,600. Originally from Scotland and a lover of castles, Bannerman had this organic-styled warehouse built from a variety of local bricks, cobblestones and boulders; a series of six buildings that ended up looking like a Scottish king’s abode. When Francis passed away in 1916, Bannerman Island passed down to his children. Two years after New York State purchased the island from the Bannerman family, in 1969, the castle caught fire and was engulfed in flames that reached 260 feet above the warehouse roof. The wooden floors, old ships’ planks impregnated with highly flammable creosote, created an inferno that burned for three days, leaving the castle an empty, weed-choked shell. Plans are afoot to stabilize what’s left of the warehouse and restore the main residence. Take a 2 ½ hour tour aboard the Estuary Steward, a tour boat that shuttles you to the island and drops you off for a fascinating walk around the ruins. Boat leaves Beacon dock Sat. and Sunday May-October 12:30, $35 adults, $30 children. RSVP Necessary, tickets sell out quickly. See Bannerman Island article for tour details.
SEE: Kayak Pavilion at Long Dock Park. How many kayak storage sheds have won architectural awards? I assume not many. But this Hudson River kayak-port has won the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2013 Honor Award and is as snazzy as they come. From the Pavilion, stroll out to the tip of the formerly industrial 15-acre Long Dock Park to scramble around George Trakas’s steel stair-step sculpture. Park open daily dusk to dawn.
DO/SUMMER: Kayak on the Hudson With Mountain Tops Outdoors. If it’s a nice day or evening, squiggle into your own craft with Mountain Tops Outdoors. You can rent by the hour or day – just stop in to the shop on Main Street. Or sign up for one of a few dozen group paddles organized throughout the summer. Check website for dates and fees. Kayak rentals $20 per hour, $50 per day; 2-hour Wed night Sunset paddles $20, Bannerman Castle Paddles $100. Check website for others.
DO/WINTER: Hudson Beach Glass; Make Your Own Blown Glass Christmas Ornament. Occupying an 1890 repurposed firehouse, Hudson Beach Glass shop/studio/glassworks is a wonderland of color. Blown right on site, pieces can be pricey, but be assured that they are one of a kind. If you visit in November or December, resident glassblowers put a special extension on blowpipes so that you can make a custom Christmas ornament with some assistance. Choose a color and texture, then make your very own orb in 15 minutes. Pick it up the next day, or have it shipped home. $35 from early November to New Years. Ages 6 and up. This DIY activity is becoming very popular so, RSVPs a MUST.
SHOP: More Good. You won’t find a better selection of unusual “Bitters,” bar tools, house-made soda syrups, or loose leaf tea at better prices than this tiny shop on Main St. Owned by a bartender who couldn’t find decent tools of his trade, he solved the problem by opening his own store. And what’s better than a bevy of bitters? Beneficence! More Good donates 10% of net profits to Generosity Water – an organization dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries.
SHOP: Dream In Plastic. It figures this “Designer Vinyl Art Store” began online out of Brooklyn, NY. You’ll find mini works of plastic art (starting at $4.95), stationary and paper goods like a “Decomposition Book” made with recycle materials ($8), a shelf-full of vintage cameras, including the original Kodak Brownie, and a slew of Polaroid’s among a plethora of colorful plasticine paraphernalia.
SHOP: X-On-Main. Now exhibiting the tongue-in-cheeck macabre work of Beaconite and world-renowned artist, Ron English; you’ll find terrifying Teletubbies with skull-teeth tummies for $30,000 and surrealistic -ie, Fantastic Mr. Fox on acid - diorama photographs. Ron English’s commercial-brand caricatures have overtaken various unoccupied storefronts in town plus, he’s the star of the “Beacon Bigfoot” Youtube videos. Or is he?
What To Eat In Beacon NY
SNACK: Zora Dora All Natural Gourmet Popsicles. This little hole in the wall sells only ice-pops – in flavors you never knew existed. Try the “Mount Beacon” – a blend of pureed bananas, peanut butter, dark chocolate and Oreos. Just $3 a pop!
EAT/LUNCH: Homespun Foods. So good, owners were offered the concession at DIA:Beacon, this adorable 50’s Formica-kitchen-kitsch café serves up the best fresh food in town. Lines form out the door for meals like the Vegetarian “Meatloaf” – nutty and enhanced by a dollop of homemade smoky ketchup – with a large side-salad for $9.95.
EAT: Swift at the Roundhouse. Regional cuisine as befits a David Rockwell-designed dining room overlooking the falls, score a table next to the curved bank of floor to ceiling windows and you’ll be perched on the edge of the frothing creek. Chef Brandon Collins creates preciously simple (and simply delicious) dishes from Salad of Seasonal Vegetables ($9), with peas so fresh and sweet, they pop open with a satisfying snap at first bite, to Chicken with Beets, Jus, Spring Onions ($22). Entrees from $22-$32 render a meal in this spectacular space reasonable indeed.
DRINK: The Hop. That’s Hop as in “Hops” as in the most esoteric beer brands from near and far, impeccably curated and laid out like a fine wine collection. If you prefer ale over Merlot, pilsner over Pino, this is your place. “Artisanal” bites are noteworthy as well.
DRINK: The Patio at the Roundhouse @ Beacon Falls. On a terrace abutting the cascades – it’s THE place to eat and drink on temperate summer nights. Order a glass of wine ($10) and addictive Crispy Chick Peas ($5 for a heaping bowlful), and you’re all set for a glorious creekside evening.
Where To Stay In Beacon NY
STAY: Roundhouse At Beacon Falls. How fortunate that the only overnight game in town is a standout in the Hudson River Valley, if not all of New York. Opened just a few months ago in a former dye-works factory, The Roundhouse, perched on Fishkill Creek, has brought lodging in Beacon to a level commensurate with the sophistication of DIA:Beacon and its benefactors. Ask for Room 101. You will not want to leave. A corner suite, you are surrounded by cascading water as the raging creek – just a few feet away from all six windows – makes its dogleg turn. The force tosses mist into the air, splays froth over boulders while afternoon sun plays off leaping waves; the show is a tranquilizer unlike any other. This off-white, minimalist suite is built for a weekend of romance; no door bars the view into a striking bathroom with soaking tub and large exposed-stone rain shower. If you’d rather enjoy the falls from your private patio, reserve one of two Penthouse Suites; each with dramatic bath and glass-blown lighting. Turndown service includes a baked treat and order form for breakfast. Though Yogurt and muffins are store bought, the coffee that arrives at your door at precisely the requested time (starting at 7am) is served in a French Press and could not be fresher. Rates in Roundhouse begin at $289 for streetview and $329 for falls-view. Penthouse suites and room 101, $699-$729. Millhouse rooms (no waterviews) begin at $189.
STAY: Hyatt House, Fishkill, NY. For those on a relative budget who still require the creature comforts of a stylish,friendly and comfortable hotel, the Hyatt House a few miles up Route 9 (just on the north side of I-84) is a great alternative. Large suites include a sitting room and bedroom, and are equipped with kitchen and pull-out couch. A hot breakfast buffet is included in room rates $95 – $160 per night.