What’s more fun than breaking open a bright new box of crayons or digging a spoon into a melty pint of ice cream? Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how they’re made, of course.
Whether you’re a super fan or are just generally curious, companies around the US – some that have been in business for decades, and in some cases, for over a century – are offering a fresh new way to experience their goods. Visiting the factory offers insight on how a product comes to life, usually in a hands-on, interactive and fun way. From Cape Cod potato chips to PEZ candies, these 11 factory tours are worth a visit.
PEZ Factory – Orange, Connecticut
The world’s largest PEZ dispenser, vintage Star Wars PEZ and a PEZ motorcycle can all be found in the 4000 sq ft visitor’s center of the company’s candy-making factory. From floor-to-ceiling windows, see the tiny tabs being packaged. (Along with its sister candy-making factory in Traun, Austria, the company produces 5 billion candies each year).
Take time to explore the decades of memorabilia packed into the two-story center, and go on a scavenger hunt for a chance to win a sweet prize at the end.
Ben & Jerry’s – Waterbury, Vermont
Every ice cream lover should add a Waterbury, Vermont, pilgrimage to their bucket list. The Ben & Jerry’s factory tour gives guests a front-row peek into the ice cream-making process, an overview of the company’s colorful history, and – the best part – a sample of the flavors. Finish the visit with a stroll around the company’s outdoor Flavor Graveyard, an ode to discontinued pints.
If a 30-minute tour isn’t enough, opt for the Flavor Fanatic Experience; the $225, two-hour package includes a private guided factory tour, a tie-dyed lab coat, and a hands-on mixing and tasting session in the Flavor Lab, led by one of the company’s Flavor Gurus.
Cape Cod Chips – Hyannis, Massachusetts
In Hyannis, Massachusetts, find the Kennedy compound, the fast ferries to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory. More than 250,000 visitors each year take the free, self-guided tour, which includes a walk through the facility to see potato chips made in custom kettles, plus relics from the first factory dating back to the 1980s.
At the end of the tour, break open your complimentary chips at an umbrella-shaded table on the sunny patio. (The tour is available Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm.)
US Mint – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
If you have coins in your pocket, there’s a good chance they were minted in Philadelphia. (You can tell by the tiny “P” stamped on one side.) In the city of brotherly love, the US Mint has been producing coins for over 225 years, and visitors can see the process during the self-guided, 45-minute tours available to the public most days.
See the coining operation from 40ft above the factory floor, check out the historic artifacts, like the press used to make the nation’s first coins in 1792, and see the series of seven, 5ft-tall Tiffany glass mosaics created to commemorate the opening of the third US Mint building in 1901. While the Mint sadly doesn’t offer free samples, you can buy commemorative coins and other collectibles in the gift shop.
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Jelly Belly Factory – Fairfield, California
The sixth-generation family-run candy company has been in business since 1898, and making the beloved Jelly Beans since 1976. At the Jelly Belly Factory, self-guided tours lead visitors through a quarter mile-long elevated path, with interactive exhibits and a view of the factory floor. For a flat fee of $39 for groups of up to six, private tour guides will take you through. In the end, everyone gets free samples of the rainbow-hued treat.
Louisville Slugger Factory – Louisville, Kentucky
You can’t miss the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, located in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The 120ft, 68,000 pound, world’s largest baseball bat leans against the side of the building, marking the entrance. Louisville Slugger has been making its iconic bats since 1884, and the factory and museum give visitors an up-close look at how they’re produced. Walk through the line to see the step-by-step process, explore the Bat Vault, with a copy of nearly every bat the company has ever made, and leave with a souvenir mini bat, free for tour-goers.
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Tillamook Creamery Factory – Tillamook, Oregon
Inside the strikingly modern facade of Oregon’s Tillamook Creamery Factory, the milk produced by the cows on the company’s fourth generation farm is transformed into award-winning cheeses. Get a bird’s-eye view from the observation windows, down onto the factory floor, as the process goes from fresh milk to cheese curds to aged cheddars.
The sprawling, state-of-the-art aging warehouse on site houses upwards of 37 million pounds of cheese, which age from 60 days to 6 years before being sent back out to the warehouse to be cut into bricks and packed up for the grocery store. Don’t leave before sampling all the cheese.
Hershey’s Chocolate Factory – Hershey Pennsylvania
In the central Pennsylvania town of Hershey, the lamp posts are shaped like Hershey’s Kisses and there’s usually a faint whiff of chocolate in the air. To find the source, head straight for the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. During the free, 30-minute tour, visitors can take an immersive journey through the facility to see how chocolate is made, from cocoa bean to foil-wrapped bar, and finish with a Hershey’s treat.
For $26.95, the create-your-own candy bar tour lets visitors make their own confection, and design a personalized wrapper for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Crayola Experience – Easton, Pennsylvania
Crayola has been in business for over a century, making iconic crayons and coloring accoutrements for kids and adults alike. (Color Escapes, ie adult coloring books, were introduced in 2015.) The colorful company has a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, about halfway between Philadelphia and New York City, and about ten minutes away, visitors can check out the Crayola Experience. Guests can see how crayons are made in a live show, pose for a personalized coloring page, mold a critter or character out of crayon wax, and name a color, taking home a keepsake crayon.
Taylor Guitars – San Diego, California
Seasoned musicians and anyone who appreciates a good Spotify playlist will love the thoroughly educational look into how Taylor Guitars are made. Every weekday at 1pm, free, guided tours are offered at the legendary manufacturer of premium acoustic guitars, used by artists like Taylor Swift, Dave Matthews, and Zac Brown.
The 75-minute tour takes place right on the factory floor, so visitors can soak up each step of the process, from choosing the wood and assembling the pieces to finished product. Don’t miss the guitar room, where myriad models are available to test out. (Tours aren’t offered on weekday holidays, so check the schedule before visiting.)
Boeing – Everett, Washington
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located just north of Seattle, at the company’s Everett factory. Inside the building – which is the largest in the world, by volume – the aircraft design and manufacturing company assembles the 747, 767, 777 and 787 planes. The 90-minute tour is the only one of its kind in North America, offering a look inside a working commercial jet engine assembly plant, and highlights include the factory tour, plus the Boeing gallery that showcases over 150 products the company makes and is developing, including satellites, submarines, and alternative fuels.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the facility offers hands-on robotics workshops, introducing visitors to the basics of coding robots for use in the manufacturing process. Tours are so popular, travelers can book day trips from downtown Seattle that include transportation, hotel pickup and dropoff. (Visitors must be 4, or 122 cm tall, to go on the tour.)