Fun Factory Tours

Ever wonder how one Jelly Belly can make you feel like you’re eating an entire mango? Or how the world’s toughest nut becomes one of the world’s most sought after candies? You and your family will have a blast finding the answers during a factory tour–where behind-the-scenes secrets of everyday products are revealed. Over the years, my family and I have donned white paper hats and joined hundreds of others to see how products are made. Here are three of my favorite factory tours that have two things in common… FREE admission and FREE samples.

Jelly Belly Factory Tour
There are factories (and factory tours) in Fairfield, California (located about an hour north of San Francisco) and in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (located on the Wisconsin-Illinois border). We took the mouth-watering tour in Wisconsin where the sweet smells from the factory waft into the parking lot and inside your car. The tour begins with you hopping on board the Jelly Belly Express train for a tour inside the warehouse and distribution center. During the 30-minute ride you’ll see how the Jelly Belly is made, flavored, branded with the logo, and packaged. You’ll also learn why it takes more than a week to make a single bean. The ride also takes you down “Candy Alley” where six- foot giant jellybeans are suspended from the ceiling and you are treated to a chorus line of Jelly Belly characters. As you ride through the factory, you are treated to the smells of popcorn, peanut butter and exotic fruits that give the candy it’s unique flavor. At the end of the tour you are given free samples and if that doesn’t fill you up there is a snack bar that offers pizza and hamburgers in the shape of Jelly Bellies. For more information on factory tour times and directions to the facilities visit the Jelly Belly website.

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory Tour
I grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, just miles from the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut factory, so I have been on this tour many times and highly recommend it to visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii.

The island of Hawaii is home to thousands of acres of macadamia nut tress, most owned by the “Mauna Loa” company… the world’s largest macadamia nut company. Harvest season runs between August and April and if you visit the factory during that time you can see workers gathering nuts as you make the drive in. The tour itself is very educational. You learn that the macadamia is the hardest nut in the world to crack, requiring 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to break the shell. You get to watch as the nuts are passed between rotating steel rollers, precisely spaced to break the shell without disturbing its content. Then you see how the nut is roasted and packaged. But, the part of the tour that draws the most oohs and ahhs is the area where the nuts are made into candies. You get to watch as the nuts ride a conveyor belt through a shower of sweet chocolate. Next to that, watch, as macadamia nut shortbread cookies are hand-dipped into pure milk chocolate. The smells of melting chocolate are amazing and free samples are waiting for you at the visitor’s center. For directions to the factory and times of operation visit the Mauna Loa website.

Chicago Tribune Factory Tour
I took this tour as a working television reporter, but you don’t have to have an interest in journalism to enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce your Sunday paper.

The Chicago Tribune produces over one million Sunday papers, and as many as 70,000 newspapers per hour on their huge presses. On this tour, you get a close-up view of how the paper is produced, from the warehousing of the raw paper to bundling and delivery. Once you get inside the massive building you see why producing the Chicago Tribune is a major operation. Train tracks run to the warehouse to deliver up to 20 railroad cars full of paper delivered each weekday. From the observation deck within the plant, you get a birds-eye view of mammoth black-and-white and color tower presses printing, cutting, and folding the paper into sections. Then the tour takes you to the packaging area, where you observe advertising sections being inserted and papers being bundled for delivery.

The downfall to this tour is that it is noisy and it’s hard to know whether the presses will be running at the time of your visit. You also must be 10 years or older to take the tour. Before you make the trip visit the Chicago Tribune website.

Family Travel does not have to be expensive. The factory tours I recommended are cheap and easy ways to give your children an educational glimpse into the inner workings of companies and how products are made. There are hundreds of tours available throughout the country, which can easily fit into your summer vacation or weekend getaway plans.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.