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11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Beacon, NY

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Dec 11, 2020

New York's Hudson Valley is peppered with historic, riverfront towns that have played important roles in the shaping of New York's history. Many of these towns, like Beacon, New York, are rooted in an industrial past and, over the decades, have fallen out of the spotlight. But a recent Renaissance over the past two decades has turned these Hudson Valley towns, Beacon in particular, into havens for creatives and artists fleeing the frenetic, exhausting energy of New York City.

Today Beacon has transformed into an absolute paradise for artisans and young professionals. It started back in 2003, when the former Nabisco box-printing factory was converted into one of the biggest contemporary art museums in the country. What sprung from that is a bevy of other galleries, farm-to-table restaurants, theater, and shopping.

Beacon also affords the benefit of prime Hudson Valley natural beauty, perched in the heart of the Hudson Highlands region. Visitors and locals alike are attracted to its many parks and hiking trails, as well as farmers markets that can be found all around the region.

Once one of the best-kept secrets of the Hudson Valley, Beacon is now one of its most polished jewels and a major draw for day trippers up from New York, thanks to the direct train route straight from the city.

If you're ready to explore the Hudson Valley, Beacon is an ideal place to start. Learn about the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Beacon, NY.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Visit the Art Galleries

Dia:Beacon
Dia:Beacon | VillageHero / photo modified

Beacon is known in the Hudson Valley for contemporary art. In fact, ever since Dia:Beacon, one of the largest contemporary art galleries in the country, opened in 2003, Beacon has established itself as a mecca for art and artists, drawing creatives from New York City and beyond.

Today dozens of galleries and museums are waiting to be discovered in the river city. Dia:Beacon is undoubtedly the most famous. Built within the bones of an old Nabisco box-printing factory, Dia:Beacon's collection of art spans from the 1960s to the present.

Then there is Hudson Beach Glass, which has been a staple in Beacon for more than 30 years. Today the gallery and glassblowing studio are a local favorite for their beautiful handmade glass sculptures, as well as their glassblowing demonstrations.

Another community favorite is The Clutter Gallery, which prides itself on showing off the work of emerging artists across the genres of toy design, modern pop, and lowbrow art.

Consider planning your trip to Beacon on the second Saturday of the month, for what the city calls Second Saturday. For the monthly celebration, galleries and shops stay open until 9pm.

Dia:Beacon

  • Address: 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, New York

Hudson Beach Glass

  • Address: 162 Main Street, Beacon, New York

The Clutter Gallery

  • 163 Main Street, Beacon, New York

2. Stroll Main Street

Aerial view of Beacon, New York
Aerial view of Beacon, New York

To get the real feel for the vibe of Beacon, you're going to want to hit the pavement, specifically on Main Street. Main Street is, as you'd expect, the main drag of the town. A short distance from the Metro North Railroad station on the Hudson River, Main Street is Beacon's lifeline, flanked with the majority of shops, restaurants, and boutiques.

Start at the top of Main Street, at the intersection with Route 9D. You'll pass the famous Bank Square Coffeehouse, which is an essential spot for locals to "caff" up.

Main Street is home to many of the town's best and most notable art galleries, like Hudson Beach Glass and Clutter Gallery. There is even a Dr. Who-themed restaurant, Pandorica.

3. Explore Bannerman Castle

Bannerman Castle
Bannerman Castle

Just down the Hudson River from Beacon's train station, visitors will notice a small, tree-covered rocky island offshore. This is Pollepel Island, a six-acre jewel in the Hudson Highlands.

Today, the island is home to the ruins of Bannerman Castle, which was built by the Scottish Bannerman family in the early 20th century to look like a Scottish castle. Guided tours of the castle and island are available. Guests are welcome to kayak or canoe to the island to do self-guided sightseeing tours, as well. The island even hosts outdoor movie nights on the castle grounds.

4. Scope Out the Ruins

Bannerman Castle isn't the only relic ready for exploring near Beacon. In fact, many other historic sites are begging to be explored, especially if you're a photography buff looking for that next provocative backdrop.

Just a few miles outside of Beacon sits an abandoned Victorian mansion that was once the site of one of America's first privately licensed psychiatric hospitals, The Craig House Institute. One of its most famous patients was the tragically misunderstood Zelda Fitzgerald, the lifelong love of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other patients included Frances Seymour, the mother of Jane Fonda, as well as Rosemary Kennedy.

The inside looks exactly as it did when it closed down in 1999. Today, it is locked to outsiders, but a new owner is in the process of restoring the building and the grounds.

Over on the Hudson River, near the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, are the ruins of Dennings Point Brickworks. The abandoned buildings are all that remain of a brick empire that churned out a million bricks a week. A 15-minute walk away in Madam Brett Park is the Old Beacon Hat Mill ruins, which was established in 1879.

Beacon is also home to an abandoned Dutch Reform Church Cemetery, which sits perched atop a hill overlooking the river. The cemetery is part of the Reformed Dutch Church, which has been in operation since 1859, but the cemetery behind it remains hushed and almost forgotten.

Address: The Craig House Institute, 7 Craig House Ln, Beacon, New York

5. Rummage at the Local Flea Market

The Beacon Flea Market
The Beacon Flea Market | Peter / photo modified

The Beacon Flea Market is a mecca for treasure hunters. Every Sunday (save for a few holidays), the streets come alive with tables and tents hawking the wares from small businesses, artists, and local collectors. Keep your eyes peeled for vintage designers, records, books, jewelry, glassware, and furniture.

More than 50 vendors camp out at the seasonal market (April-November). It starts at 6am. and most vendors have packed up for the day by 3pm. Bear in mind that most vendors are cash-only.

What's neat is that the Beacon Flea Market is committed to supporting local business, so it does not sell food or drink at the flea market, with the idea that it encourages shoppers to go eat at one of the many local restaurants in town.

Address: 6 Henry Street, Beacon, New York

6. Scour the Farmers Market

Freshly picked carrots at the farmers market
Freshly picked carrots at the farmers market

New York State's Hudson Valley is known statewide for its iconic farmers market. The Beacon Farmers Market is no exception. Held every Sunday from 10am to 2pm, the year-round farmer's market is one of the city's most beloved events.

Tables and booths piled high with colorful, fresh products bring locals and visitors from all over the Hudson Valley to peruse the local fruits of labor.

The Beacon Farmers Market has been around since 2016 with the mission to support local farms and businesses. The market helps the community gain access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey, cheeses, meat, smoked fish, sauces, and syrups.

Address: Veterans Pl, Beacon, New York

7. Wander the Parks

View of Mount Beacon
View of Mount Beacon

Surrounded by the Hudson Highlands, Beacon has no shortage of beautiful parks and outdoor spaces to explore at any time of year. The most famous green space is none other than Mount Beacon Park. The stunning park is managed by Scenic Hudson, a grassroots organization that manages several other parks in the area.

The main event of the park is climbing to the summit of Mount Beacon. The path to the summit begins at the original access road to the now-decrepit Mount Beacon Incline Railway, which used to shuttle passengers to the Beaconcrest Hotel and Casino that once sat at the apex. Today the trail follows a steep incline to several observation decks, and eventually joins the Fishkill Ridge system

Locals also love Long Dock Park, created on the site of the former working dock peninsula, which served as a terminal for ferrying rail cars across the river in the 19th century. Today it's one of the most beloved places in Beacon for a riverside afternoon, from kayaking and picnicking to fishing or admiring the sculptures along the water's edge.

Finally, discover madam Brett Park, known for Catheryna Brett, the first European settler in Beacon who operated a gristmill at Fishkill Creek. Wildlife lovers can scour the marshes for amphibians and other aquatic mammals, as well as bald eagles and ospreys.

8. Soak Up the Atmosphere at the Towne Crier Cafe

Since 2013, the Towne Crier Cafe has been a Beacon institution for community, music, and legendary dessert. The original Towne Crier Cafe opened in the town of Pawling in 1972, but seven years ago owner Phil Ciganer made the decision to bring his baby to Beacon.

Today it's a town favorite, not only for its calendar of sensational live music, but also its decadent Sunday brunch, which often features live entertainment. The acts tend to swing rock, jazz, and blues, and the café has seen some notable former guests, from Richie Havens and Suzanne Vega to Pete Seeger.

But the dining is nothing to look past, either. The comfy, cozy bistro is strewn with plush banquettes. Large windows and soaring ceilings only add to the snuggly vibe. The concert area has a space for nearly 200 viewers, and is separated from the dining area with a retractable wall.

Address: 379 Main Street, Beacon, New York

9. Catch a Performance at the Howland Cultural Center

Howland Cultural Center
Howland Cultural Center | skarocket7 / photo library

The gorgeous Howland Cultural Center (formerly the Howland Library) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fascinating building dates back to 1872. But not only is it visually inspiring (and historically fascinating), it also is an important part of the modern day cultural scene of Beacon.

The Howland Cultural Center is a nonprofit organization that works to promote arts and culture, whether it's producing its own events or sponsoring the events of other creatives.

The building, constructed by Civil War general Joseph Howland, is designed in the summer home style that was common for wealthy New England vacationers. It has elements of Norwegian Gothic architecture, as well. Today, the cultural center uses a geothermal heating system to reduce its use of fossil fuels. It was the first geothermal system installed in the city of Beacon.

Address: 477 Main Street, Beacon, New York

10. Immerse Yourself in the History of the Madam Brett Homestead

At the beginning of the 18th century, Roger and Catheryna Brett left New York City and relocated to Dutchess County where they built their Dutch-style house. For the next seven generations, the house remained a part of the Brett family. Today it is one of the oldest buildings in the county, as well as a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

The homestead-turned-museum is maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and tours are offered every second Saturday, giving a glimpse into life in Beacon's historic past.

The house is beautifully preserved, featuring original scalloped shingles, Dutch doors, and period furniture. There is a collection of 18th-century Chinese porcelain, silver tea sets, and other heirlooms on display. Guests can wander the five acres of land to discover the garden, small brook, and some of the oldest trees in the area.

Address: 50 Van Nydeck Ave, Beacon, New York

11. Drive In at the Story Screen Beacon Theatre

Beacon's historic Story Screen Theater, housed in a historic theater from the 1920s, is a haven for independent films. The theater has two screening rooms: one with a capacity of 77 people and one with a capacity for 25. The theater oozes nostalgia, with historic concession stands that stock local brands like the Hudson Valley Marshmallow Company marshmallows.

But the Story Screen experience doesn't end there. The company expanded in 2020 to include a Drive-In theater option. In partnership with the City of Beacon, the theater company has created Story Screen Beacon Theater Drive-In, yet another throwback to a vintage vibe.

The drive-in is located at The Park at USC. Capacity is 50 vehicles, and tickets must be purchased online in advance.

Address: 724 Wolcott Ave, Beacon, New York

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