American Road Trips
The majesty of New York's Hudson Valley has been inspiring artists since Thomas Cole founded the country's first major art movement here in the early 19th century. Today the work of those pioneering landscape painters shares the stage with a cornucopia of creativity — from massive, contemporary sculpture to works by old masters and unique pieces crafted by local artisans. Embark on this five-day, art-centric road trip through the heart of the region the Hudson River School painters once considered the Center of the Universe, taking in these six must-see museums. A bonus: quaint towns and stunning natural scenery.
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Day 1, First Stop: Storm King Art Center
Begin your journey 60 miles north of New York City at the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York. Spread across 500 acres of verdant hills and rolling meadows, this open-air museum features a remarkable assemblage of contemporary sculpture and site-specific earthworks. Approximately 120 pieces from influential artists — including Alice Aycock, Mark di Suvero, Donald Judd, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Joel Shapiro — punctuate the bucolic landscape.
Storm King, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2020, was originally intended as a modest indoor museum dedicated to the work of the Hudson River School artists. But in 1967, the art center's founders, businessman Ralph E. Ogden and his son-in-law, Peter Stern, shifted gears after acquiring 13 monumental works from the estate of abstract expressionist sculptor David Smith. Inspired by the placement of Smith's sculptures in the grass outside the artist's Adirondacks studio, Ogden and Stern sealed their vision for Storm King as an outdoor gallery as well as its role in the stewardship and conservation of the surrounding landscape.
Arranged into four sections (Meadows, Museum Hill, North Woods and South Fields), Storm King impresses both with its physical size and the scope and scale of its art. Allow plenty of time — three hours or so — to immerse yourself in the experience. Breathe deeply of the fresh mountain air as you explore, dwarfed by towering sculptures that reflect the shifting light of day. The seven nearly 400-foot-long earthen swells of Maya Lin's “Storm King Wavefield” undulate across an 11-acre swath of terrain in South Fields.
Across the way, Andy Goldsworthy's 2,278-foot “Storm King Wall” snakes through the woods and winds around trees before disappearing into a pond and emerging again on the other side. On Museum Hill, eight of the collection's David Smith sculptures adorn the grassy lawn flanked by a trio of colossal, painted steel pieces by Alexander Calder. Isamu Noguchi's “Momo Taro,” a nine-part, 40-ton granite assemblage named for an ancient Japanese folk hero, perches nearby on a specially landscaped knoll.
You can't drive your car through the grounds, so be prepared to walk. You can also hop on the center's open-air tram, which makes stops at many of the major points of interest, or explore on a bicycle, which you can rent onsite. Although most pathways are easy to navigate, you'll encounter a few hills and rocky spots in certain areas, especially the upper parts of the North Woods section.
Next Stop: Beacon
Make the 25-minute drive northeast (part of the way on Interstate 84) to Beacon, a faded industrial town reborn as a vibrant haven for the arts. Its renaissance began in 2003 with the opening of Dia Beacon (the star attraction on tomorrow's itinerary) and the subsequent influx of young families and artistically minded city expats.
Spend the rest of your day browsing through the shops and galleries along Main Street, perhaps finding some must-buy treasures. One of the first, Hudson Beach Glass — a gallery, shop and demonstration studio — opened in a restored firehouse. Across the way, the Marion Royael Gallery features the work of emerging and midcareer contemporary artists. At RonzWorld, artist Ron Williams creates custom-painted guitars and pop-art portraits.
Plan to spend two nights in Beacon because you have much more art to savor in this area tomorrow. A good lodging option: the 41-room Roundhouse Beacon, a rustic-chic property in a reclaimed textile factory overlooking Fishkill Creek. Dine at its eponymous restaurant, where seasonal menus spotlight a bounty of Hudson Valley goodness. Rooms from $229.
Day 2, First Stop: Dia Beacon
Come morning, make a quick 1-mile drive to Dia Beacon, a former box factory overlooking the Hudson River that was converted into an art museum by the New York City-based Dia Art Foundation. Here, feast your eyes on a fabulous collection of large-scale contemporary works by some of the most seminal artists of the 1960s and ‘70s. Natural light pours through massive windows and endless rows of skylights, illuminating 240,000 square feet of gallery space that echoes with the sounds of shoes as visitors click and squeak across gleaming maple and concrete floors.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, New York
Admission: $15 ($12 for seniors 65+)
Visit: Friday-Monday (closed Christmas and New Year's Day)
Accessibility: All galleries are fully accessible; wheelchairs are available at no charge (first come, first served) for those with mobility issues.
Each of the museum's airy galleries, spread out over three floors, features the work of an individual artist. Just inside the entrance, Conceptualist Mel Bochner's “Measurement Room” fills a football field-sized space where strips of bright red tape mark linear wall segments punctuated by numbers marking the corresponding dimensions. In an adjacent gallery, 72 bright, monochromatic screenprints compose “Shadows” by Andy Warhol, ringing the walls like a filmstrip.
On the third floor, Louise Bourgeois’ chilling steel and bronze “Crouching Spider” lies in wait in a brick-walled room of its own. And in what was once the factory's train depot, Richard Serra's enormous “Torqued Ellipses” compels viewers to venture into the chamberlike interiors of each contoured-steel sculpture. Enjoy the dizzying sensation of walking through the tilted, curvilinear passageways and into the cavernous enclosures while running your hands across the sculptures’ rough, sandblasted facades.
Dia Beacon is a place to savor, so plan to take your time exploring the fully accessible galleries. Using your smartphone, scan QR codes printed on the walls for online information about the artists and their works. Post-tour, stop in the onsite cafe, operated by Homespun Foods, a Beacon mainstay, for wine or a piping-hot espresso. If you're hungry, there are also sandwiches and salads.
Next stop: Magazzino Italian Art
Hop onto Route 9D and drive 10 miles south to Magazzino Italian Art, just outside the quaint hamlet of Cold Spring. One of the first pieces you see upon entering the museum's sleek glass and concrete interior is “Stracci Italiani” ("Italian Rags"), a reinterpretation of the tricolor Italian flag made from shreds of discarded fabric. Created by Michelangelo Pistoletto, the piece serves as an apt introduction to Arte Povera — literally “poor art” — a radical movement that emerged in Italy in the 1960s and forms the roots of Magazzino's permanent collection. Pistoletto and other pioneering artists of the movement utilized such humble materials as metal, neon, rags, soil and twigs to reject the commercialization of the art world and examine the social and economic challenges in a postwar Italy.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 2700 Route 9, Cold Spring, New York
Visit: Saturdays and Sundays (closed weekdays and all major holidays)
Accessibility: Wheelchairs are available, but accessibility isn't an issue, since the museum has only the one floor.
The word magazzino ("warehouse") pays homage to the movement, as does the building's modest history as a warehouse for agricultural products. It opened as a spacious, single-story museum in 2017, spearheaded by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu, a local couple with a decades-long passion for collecting postwar and contemporary Italian art. Seventy pieces from their personal holdings fill eight galleries showcasing the ongoing Arte Povera exhibition. Two especially memorable works: Alighiero Boetti's 1983 “Mappa” ("Map"), an embroidered commentary on the world's geography created in tandem with Afghani artisans, and “Senza Titolo” ("Untitled") by Marisa Merz, the only female artist associated with the Arte Povera movement. The moving sculpture depicts an upturned face that bears the imprints of the artist's fingers and rests upon a copper and iron pedestal.
Use the museum's new audio guide for a comprehensive, gallery-by-gallery narrative that explains the works. Plan at least an hour for your visit.
Day 3, First Stop: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Get an early start and drive 20 miles north on Route 9 to Poughkeepsie and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. Located just inside the school's arched main gate, this snug museum may appear small, but it packs a significant artistic punch.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie, New York
Getting there: Park on the street along Raymond Avenue, a short walk from Vassar's main gate. Arrange for accessible parking in advance by calling 845-437-5632.
Visit: Tuesday-Sunday (closed all major holidays)
Accessibility: No wheelchairs are available, but all galleries are accessible.
Founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery, the Loeb Center houses an encyclopedic collection of more than 22,000 objects representing global cultures in just about every medium imaginable, including a 3,000-year-old Egyptian monumental sculpture; modern and contemporary works by Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko; and a robust selection of Japanese prints.
But the collection's richest area is probably the impressive body of Hudson River School paintings and sketches. Displayed in a trio of inviting galleries, the exhibit provides an excellent overview of the School's idealized depictions of vast, untamed nature and showcases the work of the movement's leading artists, including Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole and Jasper Francis Cropsey.
Additionally, special quarterly exhibitions draw from the museum's permanent holdings as well as incorporating short-term loans and multimedia presentations. In the Loeb Center's Project Gallery — a space where faculty can request artwork be displayed for class use — pieces rotate frequently, so even more works from the collection see the light of day. “We're trying to share with the public that we're a teaching collection,” says T. Barton Thurber, the museum's director. “Even if you can't participate in our classes, you can understand how we're looking at works of art."
Next stop: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
A 15-minute drive north on Route 9 takes you to Hyde Park to explore the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. As a passionate archivist and a firm believer in “open government,” Roosevelt unveiled the country's first presidential library in June 1941 on the grounds of Springwood, his ancestral home in Hyde Park and a National Historic Site. When you finish touring the library complex, you'll want to visit Springwood as well.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, New York (Historic Site: 111 Estates Lane)
Admission: Library and museum, $10 ($6 for seniors 62+); home of FDR, $10. The National Park Service America the Beautiful pass ($20 annually for seniors 62+) is accepted.
Visit: Library and museum open daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day); home of FDR open Thursday-Monday. Grounds and gardens open daily.
Accessibility: Both properties are accessible via tram service, available from May-October. Wheelchairs are available at no charge in both the Library and the Historic Site.
While the library and museum serves as a repository for Roosevelt's papers, it also houses more than 34,000 objects and artifacts chronicling the lives and careers of both the President and his spouse, Eleanor Roosevelt, including a robust assemblage of artwork. “We present art as part of the larger story we're trying to tell here, which is the story of the Roosevelts,” says Herman Eberhardt, supervisory museum curator. “FDR was a collector — he had the collector bug. It was something he spent his lifetime doing long before he was president, and he continued acquiring things over the course of his life."
Don't miss Roosevelt's collection of naval and maritime art and historical items, including drawings, paintings, prints and more than 400 ship models. “It's actually one of the finest collections of naval and maritime art in the United States,” says Eberhardt.
Other important holdings include ancestral portraits of the Roosevelt family, such as a Gilbert Stuart painting of Isaac Roosevelt, FDR's great-great grandfather; New Deal drawings, paintings and prints; sculptural pieces created by artists employed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression; and one of the country's largest collections of World War II posters.
Next Stop: Rhinebeck
Continue north on Route 9 for 12 miles to the charming village of Rhinebeck. After a late lunch at Bread Alone, a local institution that for more than 20 years has been serving a hearty array of delicious soups, salads, sandwiches and sweet treats, stroll through the picturesque downtown. Be sure to stop into Winter Sun & Summer Moon, another longtime Rhinebeck favorite, to browse its gorgeous selection of globally inspired clothing, handcrafts and jewelry. Step back in time across the street at A.L Stickle, a classic, family-owned five-and-dime or check out the artfully curated home wares at the nearby Hammertown Barn.
From Rhinebeck it's a picturesque 25 miles north on Route 9 to Hudson, your home base for the next two nights. A good lodging option: The Wick, Hudson, a 55-room boutique property by Marriott with a stylish industrial vibe in a refurbished candle factory overlooking the river. Rooms from $175.
Day 4: Hudson
Take a break from museum-hopping and spend a leisurely day exploring the lively enclave of Hudson, where the town's wholehearted embrace of creativity is on full display up and down Warren Street, its main drag. “Without art we are but monkeys with car keys,” reads a sign in one gallery window.
In Magic Hill, an eye-popping array of polychromatic midcentury modern furniture and wares fills every available inch of space. Yes, the price tags are also eye-popping, but the store's sheer beauty makes browsing a joy. Up the block, find D'arcy Simpson Art Works, a snug gallery spotlighting works by local Hudson Valley artists. Across the way, drop into Spotty Dog Books & Ale to sample a local craft beer while perusing the shelves for a good read.
Day 5: Olana State Historic Site
Drive 5 miles on Route 9G to the Olana State Historic Site, the final stop on your art adventure. Once referred to by Mark Twain as “the exalted hill of art,” this sprawling, 250-acre estate once owned by famed Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church is widely considered one of the country's preeminent artist's residences. Though Church spent his career depicting idyllic scenes of the natural world — biblical sunsets, exotic rivers, mountain lakes bathed in dawn's golden glow — he poured his energies into Olana's design and construction for almost three decades, including the Persian-style main house and the magnificent grounds that surround it.
"I think the biggest ‘oh my gosh!’ moment of visiting Olana is the realization of how much the landscape was sculpted by Church,” says Allegra Davis, a curatorial assistant. “We have a painting by Arthur Parton of the farm looking down towards the Hudson before Church altered anything — the lake wasn't there and there were hardly any trees. It's just this hard-worn, old farming scrubland. It gives you the sense that today you're looking out at a living work of art."
Prepare yourself for quite the visual banquet when you tour the house. Sited majestically above the Hudson River, the fanciful structure, which Church conceived in tandem with architect and landscape architect Calvert Vaux, embodies a jumble of architectural motifs and ornamental elements inspired by his family's lengthy travels in the Middle East. Arched windows, decorative cornices, elaborate tilework and fine stenciling abound, and almost every window features panoramic views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains beyond.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 5720 State Historic Road 9G, Hudson, New York
Admission: $20; Access to the grounds is free. Guided walking tours of the grounds are $12.
Visit: The home is open Tuesday-Sunday, mid-May to October (closed all major holidays). Grounds are open daily, 8:30 a.m. to sunset.
Accessibility: To arrange for an ADA-accessible tour, call 518-751-0344 in advance.
Church hung only a few of his own works at Olana during his lifetime, but it has subsequently emerged as a distinguished art museum. Works procured by Church and his wife, Isabel, during their many travels — carpets, objects, paintings and sculptures — bedeck every room. You'll also see paintings and studies completed by Church's Hudson River School colleagues, most notably his longtime mentor, Thomas Cole.
In the East Parlor, look for Church's “Autumn,” a classic scene depicting the warm radiance of a New England fall. It hangs opposite Cole's “A Solitary Lake in New Hampshire.” The two landscapes beautifully illustrate the Hudson River School's characteristic portrayal of idealized naturalism. Standing there, surrounded by artwork and with the magnificent Hudson Valley scenery on view through the windows, feels like a spiritual renewal — just as Church intended Olana to be.
In the Sitting Room, your eyes will quickly move above the salmon-pink marble fireplace to “El Khasné, Petra,” Church's depiction of the Al-Khazneh temple in Petra, Jordan. Church gifted the painting to Isabel in 1875, and it has prominently hung in this same spot ever since.
A visit to Olana is as much about experiencing the landscape and its beautifully preserved views, however, as it is about exploring the house. Knowledgeable docents lead a variety of tours of the home and grounds, providing a fabulous overview of the estate as well as Church's life and career.
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Gina DeCaprio Vercesi is a New York-based journalist who contributes to National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 4, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.