Fun Factory Tours

Factory tours in California, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona give you the inside scoop on how things are made-from Boeing 747s to jellybeans.

Basic Brown Bear factory tour kids

Basic Brown Bear

Conventional wisdom suggests that you don't really want to know how sausage gets made. But if you are curious about how jelly beans, teddy bears, or even Boeing 747s come together, why not accept the invitation of some fascinating factories for their behind-the-scenes tours?

Ethel M Chocolates
No Oompa-Loompas in this chocolate factory, just employees in hairnets and visitors with their noses pressed to the glass. On these self-guided tours, the inner workings of Ethel M stand in plain view, visible through large picture windows. See molten toffee rolling in copper kettles. Watch liqueur creams take shape in fast-vibrating machinery, truffles ride conveyor belts on their way to a cooler, and fresh candies pass under a white-chocolate waterfall and emerge in their milky coats. To satisfy your curiosity, check out the overhead videos, which explain the whole chocolate-making process. To satisfy your sweet tooth, grab a free sample in the gift shop. Ethel M also has a cactus garden with 350 varieties of shrubs and succulents, but don't go nibbling the prickly pears.

If you are going . . .
2 Cactus Garden Dr., Henderson, Nev.,
(702) 433-2500, www.ethelm.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Not necessary
Hours 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily

Boeing
Aviation fun fact: The economy section of a 747 is longer than the distance of the Wright brothers' maiden flight. No wonder workers look like Lilliputians as they climb over the bodies of the world's largest commercial airplanes. Here, from a third-story perch inside the world's largest building, you can watch all phases of the process, from the crane-aided attachment of the wings and tail fin to the sleek formation of the fuselage. This factory also builds 767s and 777s, but it's the mammoth dimensions of the 747 that command the most attention–its nose is so large you could drive a bus through it. A 747 uses 2,000 pounds of gas during takeoff alone. Makes you wonder: When you travel in coach, why do the dang things feel so small?

If you are going . . .
Everett Tour Center, Hwy. 526, Everett, Wash., (800) 464-1476, www.boeing.com.
Admission $5 adults, $3 children under 16 and seniors
Reservations Recommended
Hours Mon.– Fri. 9 a.m.–11 a.m. and 1 p.m.–3 p.m.

Basic Brown Bear
This kid-friendly destination is less a factory than a nursery, a place where teddy bears are welcomed into the world. You can play expectant parent by helping deliver your own custom bear. The bear-making process begins when a trained designer sketches a pattern on paper. This serves as a guide for cutting the plush fabric into several pieces, which are then stitched together by seamstresses. Next, grommets are used to clamp on the plastic eyes. Now it's your turn. You'll use a stuffing machine to pump up your bear with air and polyester, then beam with pride as your newborn is sewn shut. Along the way, you'll learn how the teddy bear got its name (Teddy Roosevelt had something to do with it) and give your bear a "bath" with pressurized air. Admire your handiwork. In spirit and substance, there's a bearable lightness to these beings.

If you are going . . .
The Cannery, 2801 Leavenworth St., San Francisco, (415) 409-2806.
Admission Free
Reservations Not necessary, except for groups of eight or more
Hours 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, starting on the hour

Mrs. Grossman's
If you ♥ stickers, you'll love spending time in this intimate, artsy setting. The business that Andrea Grossman started at her dining room table nearly 30 years ago has expanded to a 110,000-square-foot building, but the place still retains its warm, family-run feel. Tours kick off with a 20-minute video narrated by Mrs. Grossman's Australian shepherd, Angus (OK, his voice is dubbed), and end at an arts-and-crafts station where you get to construct your own sticker project. Along the way, you'll have friendly face-to-face contact with many smiling employees, from graphic artists to the press operators whose machines churn out 360,000 stickers an hour. Watch them heat-seal into plastic your favorite stickers, including the red hearts that made Andrea Grossman famous and that stand as the symbol of her company today. A computer-controlled laser cutting system creates Mrs. Grossman's most intricate designs, but what stands out on this tour is the sticker company's human touch.

If you are going . . .
3810 Cypress Dr., Petaluma, Calif.,
(800) 429-4549, www.mrsgrossmans.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Required
Tours Mon.–Fri. 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m

Jelly Belly
Bean there, done that? Not until you've toured the sweet-smelling building where "the Original Gourmet Jelly Bean" was born. Elevated walkways inside the factory offer a bird's-eye view of the bright-colored candies as they pass through their life cycle: shaped into globules from a corn syrup goo, showered with sugar, then sent for several spins in whirling cauldrons called engrossers (shades of Harry Potter), which help the beans plump up to their final size. Prospective visitors should note that bean production shuts down on weekends, when you'll only get a glimpse of the process through videos. Jelly Bellies come in 50 official flavors (chocolate pudding and buttered popcorn among them) and by the time they're polished and ready to be packaged, each one sparkles like a jewel. Of the 15 million Jelly Bellies this factory makes each day, most get eaten. Others are used for artwork, such as the portrait in the lobby of Jelly Belly lover Ronald Reagan. Consider this an executive order: Head to the gift shop and grab a free sample for yourself.

If you are going . . .
1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, Calif.,
(707) 428-2838, www.jellybelly.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Not necessary
Hours 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily

Harry and David
Harry and David Holmes are probably the world's most famous pear-growing pair. They made their name in the 1930s selling mail-order boxes of the Royal Riviera, a succulent pear so juicy that the brothers liked to say it should be eaten with a spoon–not to mention packaged with care. That's just what happens today at this Oregon plant, where Harry and David's employees assemble the gift baskets that are now a well-known ornament of the holidays. Watch from a balcony as each fruit is wrapped by hand, set snugly into Styrofoam, and sent off to the shrink-wrap machine. The fruit is often shipped with cheese, nuts, and other goodies like fruit galettes made right in Harry and David's bakery, another stop on this aromatic tour. In a separate kitchen, candy makers turn out gourmet chocolate. Try a free sample. If only this stuff grew on trees.

If you are going . . .
1314 Center Dr., S. Gateway Center, Medford, Ore.,
(877) 322-8000, www.harryanddavid.com.
Admission $5
Reservations Recommended
Tours Mon.–Fri. 9:15 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 1:45 p.m

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
People have been brewing beer for roughly 6,000 years, and here they've got it down to a science. On these engaging tours, the step-by-step process is explained in a brewery adorned with colorful murals and antique beer-making machinery. All the ingredients are on display–the hops, the malted barley, the cold-filtered water fresh from the mountains that gave Sierra Nevada its name. No one will make you walk a straight line, but you do proceed across a catwalk that overlooks barrels of fermenting beer. Along the way, you'll gain an appreciation for the subtleties of yeast, in all its strains and subcultures, and the different ways that it's used in lager and ale. Because the tour is open to all ages, free samples are a no-no. But down in the restaurant, they've got something on tap for you.

If you are going . . .
1075 E. 20th St., Chico, Calif.,
(530) 896-2198, www.sierranevada.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Not necessary
Tours Self-guided tours 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.Guided tours at 2:30 p.m. daily. On Saturday, additional guided tours start every half hour from noon to 3 p.m.

Pendleton Woolen Mills
Call it a dyed-in-the-wool blanket factory. Pendleton sprang to life in 1909, producing sturdy blankets with bright and intricate designs that were highly favored by local Indian tribes. The company now operates facilities in Washington and Nebraska, maintains a nationwide chain of retail stores, and has branched out into men's and women's sportswear. But this mill is the original, and a strong thread of tradition still informs the place. Bundles of wool arrive here, already washed and dyed, ready to be stretched into thin strands called roving. Spinning machines then twist the roving into yarn. From there, it's off to the weaving room, where the walls fairly shake from the steady pounding of large motorized looms. Watching the process can be mesmerizing, but you might not get to see it from start to finish. The most elaborate projects take more than a month to weave.

If you are going . . .
1307 SE Court Pl., Pendleton, Ore.,
(541) 276-6911, www.pendleton-usa.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Not necessary, except for groups of nine or more
Tours Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m

Rodgers Instruments
It's quiet as a church mouse when you first set foot inside this tidy factory, where skilled technicians peer through microscopes at hair-thin wiring on circuit boards. Since 1958, when Rodgers built its first transistorized organ, the company has led an industry-wide conversion to computer-driven digital sound. Most notes on Rodgers organs are electronically sampled, but you don't hear any when you start this hour-long tour. What does strike a chord as you move through the building is the craftsmanship that goes into each organ's wooden body. In the vast carpentry workshop, a many-tentacled machine called a Shoda router does the precision cutting. But every piece of oak (and maple and mahogany) is sanded, lacquered, and detailed by hand. Before you leave, listen to a trained musician play the finished product in a stately display room, and you'll understand why a Rodgers is the organ of choice at Carnegie Hall.

If you are going . . .
1300 NE 25th Ave., Hillsboro, Ore., (503) 648-4181, www.rodgersinstruments.com.
Admission Free
Reservations Required
Hours Tues. and Thurs. 9 a.m.–noon

BEST OF THE REST
By Anthony Epidendio

Here's a selection of other cool factory tours around the West.

Anchor Brewing Company San Francisco, Calif. A pioneer in the craft brewing industry, Anchor offers a free, reservation-only tour. A brewer will walk you through the brew house, and the fermentation and conditioning cellars, but the taproom is everyone's favorite. (415) 863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com.

Celestial Seasonings Boulder, Colo. Step inside the home of America's largest herbal tea com-pany, where you'll see the original paintings for the tea box designs. Then clear your sinuses in the Mint Room and relax at the tea bar with a cup of chamomile. (303) 581-1202, www.celestialseasonings.com.

Fortune Cookie Factory Oakland. Find out how those words of wisdom get inside the cookie, as well as other Chinese culinary secrets. Receive a bag of the fresh-baked treats and write a fortune that will be put into your own personal cookie. (510) 832-5552.

Luhr Jensen & Sons Hood River, Ore. Fishing fanatics should cast an eye toward this family-owned enterprise, which has been producing lures since 1932. (541) 386-3811, www.luhrjensen.com.

Mauna Loa Hilo, Hawaii. Follow macadamia nuts through the cultivation and roasting process, then see them transformed into chocolate-covered treats. Work off your free samples on the nature trail. (808) 966-8618, www.maunaloa.com.

The Peanut Patch Yuma, Ariz. Visitors get to the root of the growing process and then learn how the popular legumes are turned into peanut butter and peanut brittle. (928) 726-6292, www.thepeanutpatch.com.

Taffy Town Salt Lake City. Take a trip to Taffy Town and discover the world of gourmet taffy on an animated multimedia tour. Sweet samples await you at the end. (801) 355-4637, www.taffytown.com.

Taylor Guitars El Cajon, Calif. Learn how a small three-man operation grew into a company that now produces over 74,000 guitars annually, and hear why their enviable craftsmanship attracts the attention of musicians such as Neil Young and Bonnie Raitt. (619) 258-1207, www.taylorguitars.com.

Tedeschi Vineyards Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii. Tour a winery on ranch land still roamed by Hawaiian cowboys. Inside a 130-year-old cottage, belly up to a bar cut from the trunk of a mango tree and enjoy some fine grape or raspberry wine. Maui Blush, indeed. (808) 878-6058, www.mauiwine.com.

Tillamook Cheese Tillamook, Ore. See how the company's famous cheddar gets from the cow to the counter. It starts with milk (1.6 million pounds a day) and ends after the cheese has aged for 60 days. (503) 815-1300, www.tillamook.com.

Windmill Tours North Palm Springs, Calif. Given California's recent energy woes, $23 (for adults) is hardly excessive for a ride through a forest of giant windmills and a lesson in environmentally friendly power. (760) 320-1365, www.caladventures.com/windfarmtours.htm.

Photography by Melissa Barnes

This article was first published in March 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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