The locale: A five-and-a-half-hour drive southeast through the Catskills and to the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.
The scoop: For centuries, the mill town of Matteawan and the fishing village-turned-port of Fishkill Landing sat together at a scenic bend in the Hudson River, backed by Mount Beacon and other tall, forested peaks. In 1913 — after a “Let’s Pull Together” campaign — the two hamlets merged into Beacon. The new town was named for the signal fires that patriots had lit in the Hudson Highlands during the Revolutionary War. Beacon’s industry, including hatmaking, box-stamping and brickmaking, became the flames that fired the town’s economy in the early 20th century. Then, as in so many American towns, Beacon’s industry shut down, and its fortunes followed suit.
In recent years, the town of 15,000 has pulled together once again, redeveloping its waterfront into photogenic park space and resurrecting itself into an arts hub. The revival was set in motion decades ago, as the late folk singer and longtime Beacon resident Pete Seeger publicly campaigned to clean up the polluted Hudson. The little city turned a new corner in 2003, when a former Nabisco stamping factory was converted into Dia: Beacon, a renowned contemporary art museum along the Hudson’s banks. The museum drew resident artists and visitors the 60 miles up from New York City and from as far away as Australia. Today the town’s mile-long Main Street, nearly vacant just 15 years ago, is lined with galleries, murals, boutiques, restaurants and a landmark freshwater-research organization, the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries.
The hit list
The Roundhouse — A onetime foundry turned hat factory had become so rundown that weeds grew up through the floor. Following a 2011 restoration, the Roundhouse has become the pinnacle of boutique lodging in a discerning arts town, all sleek timber and dark slate. In winter its lounge, with its fireplace one long, straight line of gas-fed flame, is one of the coziest spots in town for a cocktail.
The Loft House — With a limited number of hotel rooms in Beacon, updated Airbnb rentals from artists and other community members offer the chance to see lofts and other older properties as locals have reimagined them. The Loft House, run by millennial creatives Amie and Patrick, is one smart option, complete with multiple bedrooms, a backyard pool, airy open floor plan and walkability to Main Street.
Kitchen Sink Food & Drink — This homey farm-to-table spot has quickly become a local favorite, chosen the area’s best new restaurant last year by Hudson Valley Magazine. Comfort-food entrees include Grandma’s brisket grilled cheese and a French onion strip steak. Art is a bonus: The back offers peeks at the “The Birds Nest,” a sculpture garden behind the gallery next door that includes a tin man and other scrappy-fun metal sculptures.
Chill Wine Bar — A lovely turn-of-the-century downtown building had tumbled into a laundromat. Ten years ago it was transformed (using recycled Hudson Valley barn wood) into a wine bar every bit as intimate and relaxed as billed. The big overstuffed couches and lamp-lit bistro tables are cozy, the wines are affordable, and the server gives the check only on request so that, as the menu puts it, “you don’t feel rushed and time passes gently through the night.”
Dia:Beacon — This 1920s factory building, with its scarred and nail-pocked hardwood floors, wasn’t designed by any starchitect — but its nearly 300,000 square feet are flooded with natural light. That attracted artistic heavyweights like Dan Flavin, Sol Le Witt, Donald Judd, Walter De Maria and Louise Bourgeois. Many of these Conceptual and Post-Minimalist artists designed large-scale works specifically for the impressive space, which opened in 2003 and now draws some 70,000 visitors per year.
Long Dock Park — Mount Beacon is known for stellar hiking that yields sweeping views from its restored, climbable fire tower. In winter, however, the safer bet is Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park, a former industrial site recently remade into a tranquil riverfront park. At the park’s popular Beacon Point, you can watch the sun sink beyond the Hudson and see the lights of Newburgh flicker on across the bridge. The beautifully redesigned point is so striking that photography workshops are often held there, usually around sunset.
Beetle and Fred — Main Street is packed with galleries that are excellent for viewing art (especially on the second Saturday of the month, when shops stay open late, openings are held, and both the music and wine flow). For tapping into your own creativity, however, this new shop is ideal, offering irreverent sewing, knitting and embroidery classes, plus lots of well-curated fabric and supplies.
Dream in Plastic — Beacon, the town where the law-enforcement comedy “Super Troopers” was set and filmed, doesn’t lack a sense of humor. This shop, opened nine years ago, is a clearinghouse of don’t-take-things-too-seriously creativity and fun. It’s jammed with entertaining magnets, ironic socks, colorful washi tape and wacky board games, all pop-culture relevant and ready to make you laugh.