Made in the USA: 32 Must-See Factory Tours
Many people have gone on a brewery tour or been through the chocolate wonderland that is the Hershey's Chocolate Tour in Pennsylvania. But guitar factories, glassmaking studios, motorcycle plants, and other fascinating sites are also open to visitors. This survey of more than 30 tours -- all free or less than $10 a person, unless otherwise noted -- can add an educational element to your next vacation and may also provide free samples, along with fun memories.
Who hasn't turned to a pint of Ben & Jerry's for comfort at some point? Fans can see where that sweet solace is made at the Ben & Jerry's factory tour and ice cream shop in Waterbury, Vermont. The 30-minute tour takes visitors through the process -- the production area is viewed from a glassed-in mezzanine -- and ends on a decidedly sweet note, offering everyone the sample of the day.
Music fans visiting Memphis, Tennessee, can take a 45-minute to hourlong tour of Gibson's guitar factory. The Gibson Beale Street Showcase lets visitors see the binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing, and tuning processes, and hear how the company has been adding to the musical landscape for more than 100 years.
Visitors can experience the sights and smells of snack-making during a free tour of the Utz Potato Chips and Snacks factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania. A self-guided tour of the 600,000-square-foot facility -- the Utz Potato Chip Trip -- takes an average of 30 to 45 minutes. A glass-enclosed observation gallery looks down on the entire production process, while an audio program and closed-circuit TV monitors help guide visitors through.
Folks who have wondered how that addictive sweet-salty Moose Munch snack is made can take a Harry & David tour in Medford, Oregon. It offers a look at the mail-order company (dating back to the 1930s) and its treats, including baklava and truffles. For those not already enticed, there's a reminder on the website: "FREE CHOCOLATE AT THE END OF EVERY TOUR!"
Visitors can get a glimpse of how a car is made on a free, hourlong tour of Toyota Kentucky in Georgetown. It's America's first and the world's largest Toyota manufacturing facility, cranking out some 2,000 vehicles each day. Visitors see a 1988 Camry, the first ever made in the United States, before enjoying the guided, tram-driven tour around the plant.
At the 358,000-square-foot Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations plant in Kansas City, Missouri, free tours give a limited view of the assembly line and designated fabrication areas, along with further displays on manufacturing and assembly. Visitors can also sit on current production models. For true devotees, a Steel Toe Tour ($38) offers more behind-the-scenes details, plus a souvenir safety vest and commemorative pin.
Summit Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota, bills itself as the maker of "A More Meaningful Brew." Visitors can find out what that means when they "witness the miracle of brewing" and have a few samples from these Midwest pioneers who made their name with copper kettles instead of covered wagons. There's no charge for the tour, but visitors are asked bring a food donation for Second Harvest Heartland.
It might be crass to call this a factory tour, but Beecher's Handmade Cheese in New York City's Flatiron District (a sister to the famed flagship in Seattle's Pike Place Market) features a glass-walled cheese-making kitchen where visitors can watch centuries-old craftsmanship. Guests can also grab a sandwich in the café or have a glass of wine downstairs in the Cellar, where rows of Beecher's cheeses ripen to perfection.
For those with an interest in science, nuclear energy, or electricity, a free tour of Idaho's pioneering Experimental Breeder Reactor-I explains how electricity is generated from nuclear energy. Located between Idaho Falls and Arco, the (EBR-I) Atomic Museum is a National Historic Landmark where usable electricity was first generated from nuclear energy in 1951.
They certainly have milk at Knigge Farm in Omro, Wisconsin, the first dairy farm in the country with robotic milkers. They also have 600 acres of alfalfa, corn, soybeans, oats, and wheat, along with 130 milk cows and 170 heifers, calves, and steers. A half-hour guided tour features a free-stall dairy barn where cows are milked robotically 24 hours a day. Guests can also feed the calves if it's mealtime.
Those with a soft spot for stuffed animals can tour the Vermont Teddy Bear factory in Burlington and see how those well-dressed cuties are made. During the guided tour, which lasts about 30 minutes, visitors watch bears be crafted by hand and see the Bear Hospital, where "Dr. Nancy" does repairs.
The Wisconsin Wagon Co. in Janesville produces more than a dozen handmade wooden products such as the signature Janesville Coaster Wagon, along with serving trays and more. An hourlong tour takes visitors through the manufacturing process, which includes metalworking, woodworking, finishing, and assembly operations.
Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, California, is a family farm established in 1921. Today the fourth- and fifth-generation families offer a glimpse into the business and a "Nuts For You" Tour for groups of 15 or more by reservation. It touches on the history of nut-growing in California and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the roasting, packaging, and storage facilities on site, along with seasonal snacks.
Recreational vehicles have become more sophisticated and continue to be the ride of choice for many retirees. Intrigued? Fleetwood RV factory tours at the company's Decatur, Indiana, facilities are pitched to potential customers and offer a look at the people and processes behind these rolling homes.
Admission is free for Jelly Belly factory tours in Fairfield, California. Videos give visitors a peek into the jelly-bean-making process, while a self-guided walk along the elevated, quarter-mile-long tour lane provides a bird's-eye view of the operation. There are also interactive exhibits and free samples.
At the Mrs. Grossman's factory tour in Petaluma, California, visitors start with a quick video before hitting the factory floor, where they see thousands of stickers printed, die-cut, and perforated. Sticker history and sticker facts are shared as the tour visits six workstations, with free stickers at each stop. At the company store, visitors are invited to create a project.
Gillinder Glass in Port Jervis, New York, which marks 156 years in business in 2017, offers a glimpse into the timeless and fascinating tradition of glassmaking with demonstrations and guided factory tours. Visitors observe the gathering, pouring, and pressing of the glass during production.
At the Mount Rushmore Gold Factory in Rapid City, South Dakota, free factory tours put the spotlight on skilled artisans who demonstrate the ancient process of lost-wax casting and show how diamonds are cast in molten gold. Diamond cutting is also demonstrated on the free tour. At the factory store, visitors can take advantage of factory-direct prices.
Queen Creek Olive Mill in Arizona is a thriving agri-tourism destination with 7,000 trees, a market, and an eatery. During the 45-minute Olive Oil 101 Tour, guests get to taste the oil created on site. They also learn about the qualities, standards, and health benefits of olive oil, as well as the 10-year history of the farm.
Stone Creek Coffee features a free weekly tour of its 1880s factory on Sundays. The Milwaukee craft coffee roaster, founded in 1993, gives visitors an inside look at the craft, from the coffee-growing seasons to the art of specialized roasting, in its green storage area, roasting facility, cupping lab, and training center -- along with free coffee.
Tours of the Pez Visitors Center in Orange, Connecticut, are self-guided, and viewing windows offer a look at the production floor. Video monitors explain the process that produces the more than 3 billion Pez candies sold annually. That's just in the United States, and not to mention the quirky dispensers.
Kazoos and road trips go together -- at least, kids used to think that was so. Take a nostalgic trip into the history of the musical instrument that seemingly everyone can play with a tour of the Kazoo Factory, Museum & Gift Shop of Eden in New York. History, trivia, and manufacturing are explored in self-guided and hosted tours.
Salisbury Fine Metal Artisans in Easton, Maryland, has a retail shop with a glass partition through which visitors can see the pewter, cast aluminum, and sterling silver goods -- jewelry, frames, trays, awards, and more -- being made in a process that goes from spinning and casting through soldering, polishing, engraving, and inspection. Guided tours are available.
Pennsylvania's Lancaster County has a strong craft tradition that continues today with companies like George's Furniture, headquartered on a small farm outside the village of Maytown. In a woodshop that can be toured at no cost, skilled artisans make solid hardwood furniture by hand to custom specifications. Items such as chairs, beds, tables, and cupboards are crafted out of walnut, cherry, oak, or hard maple.
Cigar Factory New Orleans has been described as "a cigar factory, smoke shop, and hangout space with a cigar museum and rollers doing on-site demos." Seems to cover all the cigar-related bases, right? In the famed French Quarter since 1999, this is a place to step back in time accompanied by Latin sounds and aromatic scents.
Snyder's of Hanover in Pennsylvania offers a free tour of its pretzel bakery that touches on the company's history as it explores the fast-paced manufacturing facility. The guided walking tour includes the raw-materials warehouse, finished-goods warehouse (expect robotics), and a state-of-the-art packing room. Visitors even get to see the oven room, which will likely inspire hunger. Luckily, the tour ends at the factory store with free bags of pretzels.
Lake Champlain Chocolates creates fresh, all-natural chocolates in Burlington, Vermont. Visitors are invited to see how it's done with a free, 30-minute, through-the-window tour that includes free samples. There are also free weekend tastings and demonstrations throughout the year.
St. Louis is home to All Natural Soap Handmade by Herbaria, a company marking its 15th anniversary this year. Visitors are invited to take the free "backstage tour" of the factory/store and hear all about both the botanical ingredients and the chemistry that go into soap-making. This destination is said to be "worth a trip for the smell alone!"
The Yankee Candle Village, the company's flagship location in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, is a bit more theme park/shopping center than factory. But amid special events, visitors can see 400,000 candles in more than 200 different scents and view candle-making in a re-created 1830s shop.
The Hallmark Visitors Center in Kansas City, Missouri, offers a free look at the company's history, which spans more than 100 years, and a display featuring 40 years of ornaments. Writers, illustrators, designers, photographers, and sculptors behind popular products regularly participate in the Hallmark Live exhibit. Visitors can also take a selfie with one of the Emmy Awards presented to the company for its "Hallmark Hall of Fame" productions.
The Crayola Experience in Easton, Pennsylvania (there are also locations in Minneapolis and Orlando, Florida) is a 65,000-square-foot destination designed to spark imagination and creativity by touching on color, chemistry, and technology. Although admission is $20, families can expect to spend three to four hours exploring more than 25 attractions, which include the Crayon Factory, a live theater show that explains how crayons are made. Visitors can save $2 by booking online.