Shine a Light

Let your freak flag fly on a Beacon summer Friday

Frank Billingsley sits outside the Beacon Creamery, the ice cream parlor where he works at the western end of Beacon's curving Main Street, gently strumming a banjo whilst wearing a Hawaiian-esque floral-print shirt and straw fedora.

He smiles at passersby. If a kid likes the music, he chats them up and lets them hold the banjo.

Folks like Billingsley and the "you-do-you, anything goes" mindset are what make this small Hudson Valley town, located about an hour and a half north of the city by car, special and lovely and weird. Sure, there's been a fair influx of bougie elements, but the gallery-dotted Main Street retains its freewheeling artsy spirit. Speaking of art: The gorgeous contemporary Dia:Beacon museum, located just down the hill, is a worthy destination in its own right.

The east end of Main Street | Lobster roll at The Roundhouse | Frank Billingsley | Paté at The Hop

But let's stick with Main Street for now. Stroll past its murals and old-fashioned Car Wash signs and you'll pass a no-frills ribs-and-fried chicken joint called BJ's Restaurant, barber shops and a mirror-lined diner from 1946, New Age-y massage joints, vintage clothing and antique shops, and well-curated boutiques selling luxurious bath products and market totes. (See the slideshow for our favorite spots.)

Beacon is kind of the perfect city escape: It's easy to get to (hello, Metro-North station), it's real pretty—what with its low brick buildings and surrounding lush green hills—and it's got good food and drink. And everyone, from restaurant servers to chatty residents, is smiley. It may take a little getting used to, but try it, you'll like it.

"It's pretty quiet up here, but all you Brooklyn people keep moving here," Steve Astorino, owner of the Zora Dora paleta shop, jokes with me when I drop by for a popsicle.

As I recalled the past few hours of relaxing, out-of-the-city bliss and took my first very cold bite of fragrant lavender-honey paleta, I thought to myself, "That might be a very good idea someday."

  • The Roundhouse

    Opened in 2012, this modern hotel and restaurant is housed in the industrial Mill Building on the grittier eastern end of Main Street. The restaurant's sprawling, sunny outdoor patio—overlooking cascading Fishkill Creek waterfall—is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours over fancypants snacks of crisp barbecue-spiced chickpeas ($6), a mayo-dressed lobster roll served with a pile of matchstick fries ($15) and a glass of Birichino rosé ($10). Effortless waterside dining, done.

  • Ella's Bellas

    The mismatched tables at this gluten-free restaurant, café and bakery are ideal for a break from antiquing. Try an iced coffee ($2.50) made from local Taz roaster beans or a strawberry-mint lemonade ($4). There are toys on hand to distract and entertain kids, while you enjoy a breather on the bright garden patio in back.

  • Zora Dora

    Owner Steve Astorino has been doing the paleta thing for eight years, and the classically trained chef makes frozen treats that could rival Ample Hills or Blue Marble. He offers thirty-plus flavors of seasonal paletas ($3.50 each), made in batches of 28, at any given time. Choose from sorbet or ice cream iterations, like the creamy, dreamy lavender honey, studded with tiny bits of bee pollen, or the super-refreshing (and dairy-free) watermelon-mango-ginger.

  • Clay Wood & Cotton

    A gifter's paradise, complete with a selection of lovely letterpress cards. The boutique focuses on handmade items, so you'll find graphic silk-screened tea towels from Morris & Essex ($16), Appetite's hand-printed pot holders ($13) and Grosbeak Gardens soaps ($5), made in the Catskills in organic scents with names like "Tomato Leaf" and "Summer Farm Stand."

  • The Hop

    The guys at The Hop take their craft beer very seriously: The list of nine draft beers, which when I visited included an appropriately bitter Westbrook IPA ($3 for a half pint), changes daily. Order a few surprisingly elegant snacks: the irresistibly named Porky Puffs, rillettes sandwiches on profiterole buns ($13); rich chicken liver paté ($13) served with stewed raisins, crisp toasts and a runny slice of local Twin Maple Farm's funky Hudson Red cows-milk cheese. If you'd like a brew to go, The Hop is always restocking its selection of 250 or so bottles. Right now, they're geeking out about the hard-to-find Firestone Walker 2014 Stickee Monkey ($33), a barrel-aged Belgian Quad.

  • Yankee Clipper Diner

    One of the great joys of going upstate is sliding into a booth at a classic roadside diner. The freestanding Yankee Clipper's been around since 1946, and its retro, red-and-silver interior has more mirrors than a fun house, so be prepared to watch your reflection as you down a classic milkshake in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ($3.95) topped with a swirl of whipped cream.

  • Galaxie 13

    My personal favorite of the antique shops along Main Street: It's bright, beautifully curated and uncluttered. Inside you'll find pristine vintage typewriters, antique suitcases and a larger-than-life-sized statue of Ronald McDonald (yours for the bargain price of $1,000). See why I'm loving it?

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