When adventures take you outside of New York City, ideally the destination is easy to get to via public transportation, is different enough to feel like a mini-vacation, and offers a variety of things to see and do once there. A day trip to Beacon, located upstate in Dutchess County, checks all those boxes and then some.
Here by the Hudson River you can spend a couple of hours taking in the world-class collection of contemporary, post-1960 art at Dia Beacon, then eat, drink, and shop along the town's charming Main Street for as many more hours as you can squeeze in before heading back home.
In other words, it's the perfect getaway. Here's everything you need to know.
A Look Inside Dia Beacon
The Dia Art Foundation is a non-profit organization, founded in 1974 in New York City, committed to commissioning and collecting contemporary art. There are Dia outposts all over the country — they reopened a gallery on West 22nd Street in Chelsea and recently acquired Robert Smithson's famous Spiral Jetty in New Mexico, for example — but their flagship exhibition space is in Beacon.
Housed in a one-time Nabisco box printing factory, Dia Beacon is a low-slung brick structure set at the end of a parking lot at the bottom of a long hill. It looks rather unremarkable as you approach the modest front doors, but oh, what wonders they have in store across 300,000 square feet.
The main galleries are massive and filled with light, but there’s also a large, dark basement for videos and light-based pieces. You’ll also find alcoves upstairs (where Louis Bourgeois's giant spider lurks) and downstairs (home to Richard Serra's monumental Torqued Ellipses), and a garden designed by Robert Irwin that also features an amusing audio work by Louis Lawler, in which famous artists' names are performed as various bird calls.
The huge spaces make for dramatic installations, like John Chamberlain's expanse of crushed cars, Andy Warhol's moody Shadows series, Charlotte Posenenske's playful cardboard and aluminum modular tubes, Mario Merz's homey domes, Dan Flavin's eerie green fluorescent barrier fence, and Melvin Edwards's menacing barbed wire sculptures.
Other internationally-renowned artists with works on long-term view here include Gerhard Richter, Sol Lewitt, On Kawara, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, and Dorothea Rockburne.
It's really an extraordinary collection, in an equally striking setting, and you can spend well over two hours wandering around, exploring and taking photos. The whole experience feels like a bargain for $20. It's suggested that you order your tickets in advance (there's no service fee), and the hours are Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Exploring Main Street
Beacon is technically a city, but it vibes more like a village when you're strolling down Main Street — a slow-moving, tree-lined thoroughfare packed with cute stores and charming restaurants. There's even a scenic mountain dominating the view as you're walking away from the river, which looks extra-spectacular during fall foliage season.
Let's start with the food. If you only have the stamina for one meal here, make it Beacon Bread Company, a country-style bakery, coffee shop, and cafe with a brunch-y menu that will get you swooning. There are lots of egg dishes, bagels, a few hefty-sounding sandwiches (fried chicken and kimchi, cheese steak au jus), multiple vegan options, pancakes, waffles and one of the best plates of french toast you'll ever eat. And don’t forget to get some cookies to go.
Other restaurants, all within about four or five blocks of each other, include local favorite Max's on Main, which has been serving the community for decades — "Beacon's oldest bar," is the claim — and purports to have the best burger in town. You can get hearty Southern classics like oxtails, fried chicken, and grits at BJ's Restaurant; sandwiches and salads in the outrageously lovely back garden at Homespun Foods; and British pub fare such as Bangers and Mash and Fish and Chips at the delightfully Dr. Who-themed Pandorica.
Top picks: The Chili Cheese Burger at Meyer's Olde Dutch, and the Roasted Chicken Sandwich on focaccia at Little King, a cafe which also functions as a full-blown housewares and design shop. Almost all of the above spots serve alcohol, by the way, as does the Happy Valley Arcade Bar, where you can drink away the day in the spacious front garden, or inside amid the two dozen classic video games and pinball machines.
Definitely hit Zora Dora for a popsicle or two (there are nearly twenty varieties), or Beacon Creamery for double scoop cone (dulce de leche and cherry chocolate chunk, please), or Glazed Over Doughnuts for a sweet and gooey custom pastry (choose your glaze, your topping, and your drizzle) made to order by one of the high school kids goofing around in the open kitchen.
The festive Psychedelic Sunshine Vintage store has lots of cool clothing and accessory finds; One Nature plant shop features native, edible, and medicinal plants; and Ella and the Earth, a self-described "Boho boutique," is your source for skin care products like Plant Power Sea Goddess Drops and Spiritual Smudge Spray. Several art galleries are set amongst the shops, which seem to be a gathering place for locals, and there's a tintype studio, American flags flying everywhere, and random sculptures like the giant moose made from what looks like driftwood.
Getting To Beacon By Train Is A Breeze
You don't need a car to get to Beacon, and you don't need a car once you get there. Best of both worlds! From NYC, get on a Metro-North train (on the Hudson Line) at either Grand Central Terminal or 125th Street, and about 90 minutes later you pull into what to this city slicker feels like the quintessential small town.
If you've never taken the train up this way before, be sure to sit on the left side of the car heading north, by the window, for some picturesque Hudson River views (including of Bannerman Castle).
Once you arrive, the Dia Beacon complex is about a five minute walk from the train station, and Main Street, where all of the shops and restaurants mentioned below are located, is about ten minutes away on foot. There's also a free bus, called the Beacon Loop, that runs all day long from the station to Dia to Main Street and back again, around and around, hitting each spot about every 25 minutes.
Take Metro-North to the Beacon station, Dia Beacon and Main Street are a 5-10 minute walk from the station.