The establishment and maintenance of chromatin states involves multiscale dynamic processes integrating transcription factor and multiprotein effector dynamics, cycles of chemical chromatin modifications, and chromatin structural organization. Recent developments in genomic technologies are emerging that are enabling a view beyond ensemble- and time-averaged properties and are revealing the importance of dynamic chromatin states for cell fate decisions, differentiation and reprogramming at the single-cell level. Concurrently, biochemical and single-molecule methodologies are providing key insights into the underlying molecular mechanisms. Combining results from defined in vitro and single-molecule studies with single-cell genomic approaches thus holds great promise for understanding chromatin-based transcriptional memory and cell fate. In this Review, we discuss recent developments in biochemical, single-molecule biophysical and single-cell genomic technologies and review how the findings from these approaches can be integrated to paint a comprehensive picture of dynamic chromatin states.