One of our family’s favorite things to do on vacation? We love taking factory tours! That’s one of the biggest reasons we prefer road trips to plane trips, because it allows us to stop all along the way and learn about how stuff is made.
5 Things to Love about Factory Tours
What’s so great about factory tours? I could name lots of things, but I decided to stick with the top five. These are the things that keep us coming back for more:
Factory tours are educational
We love getting to see how things work, and factory tours provide a fun, hands-on, memorable way to do just that. The opportunity to view behind-the-scenes manufacturing operations has provided a great way to broaden our children’s experience and education, and keeps them learning, even while we’re on vacation. 😉
Factory tours are inspiring
From carving granite to blowing glass to cultivating tea to manufacturing guitars to mining salt, there is a certain level of craftsmanship that goes into creating even the most mundane items. Observing the many steps required to make such things is simultaneously humbling and motivating and fosters a deeper appreciation for the world around us and the workers in it.
Factory tours are inexpensive
Most of the factory tours our family has taken were completely free. Not only did we gain knowledge by taking these tours, but many times, we were given free souvenirs by which to remember our visit, as well. You can’t beat that!
Factory tours are uncrowded
Those hour-long lines at Disney World? You’ll seldom, if ever, encounter crowds like that on a factory tour. With the exception of Hershey’s Chocolate World, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a factory tour group with more than 15-20 people in it. Many times, our family members were the only ones there. We could ask all the questions we wanted without feeling like we were monopolizing the tour guide.
Factory tours are refreshing
When you’re taking a road trip with children, you’ve got to stop every couple of hours for restroom breaks and to let everyone stretch their legs, anyway. Factory tours make for much more interesting rest stops than gas stations (and the bathrooms are usually cleaner, as well). 🙂
Where to find factory tours
First of all, I recommend starting close to home. Local businesses are often happy to give tours and explain what they do to anyone interested — all you have to do is ask. In the years since we moved to East Texas, we’ve toured a local…
- fire station
- police department
- forensics lab
- pizza parlor
- concrete plant
- fish hatchery
- radio station
- laundry service
- plant nursery
- construction site
- zoo (behind the scenes)
Keep your eyes and ears open, do a little brainstorming, make a few phone calls, and learn about the businesses in your own backyard.
Second, ask lots of questions as you go about your day-to-day life. That’s how my kids got this up-close-and-personal explanation of what goes on when their sibling visits the orthodontist:
And third, when planning road trips, take into consideration what industries you may be traveling past. Then check to see if they offer tours and allot enough time for that in your travel plans.
I’ve found an invaluable resource for such planning is the website Factory Tours USA. They have details for nearly 600 factory tours, searchable by state. Occasionally, I’ll find broken links or outdated information in their listings, but it’s a great starting place for finding tours, regardless. Most listings provide phone numbers, so it is an easy matter to double-check prices and other information before going.
Some factory tours our family has enjoyed (listed by state)
Like I said, we’ve been touring factories for years, both at home and abroad. Click on the name of any state below to read our family’s impression of a few of the many factory tours we’ve personally taken in each one.
Golden Flake Factory (Birmingham, AL)
[FREE] This factory tour is the real deal. They show you an introductory film, put you in a hairnet, and lead you right out onto the floor where all the action is going on. We saw a variety of Golden Flake potato chips and snack foods being made the day we visited, and our tour guide would sometimes even pause to catch a basketful of chips hot off the conveyor belt for us to sample. She also loaded us down with packaged samples once the tour was over — all free. My kids still talk about the great time we had there and point out Golden Flake trucks whenever they spot them in Texas (which happens occasionally as the company expands into new markets).
Cerreta’s Candy Company (Phoenix, AZ)
[FREE] Get a close-up view of how Cerreta candies and chocolates are made. A film walks you through the entire process and gives a brief history of the Cerreta family, and you can observe the candy making in action on the floor of the factory, just feet away behind a small retaining wall. The company is still family owned and operated. Free samples are included in the no-charge tour. For a small fee, you can make your own chocolate pizza while you are there. A wide variety of chocolates and other sweet treats are available for purchase in the gift shop at the end of the tour.
The Los Angeles Times Printing Plant (Los Angeles, CA)
[FREE] This plant prints more than just the LA Times. They print other papers, as well (including all the Wall Street Journals sold on the west coast) and several magazines. The machinery is massive and the warehouses expansive. The amount of paper the plant uses in a week is truly staggering. Schedule tours in advance. A knowledgable guide will walk you through the entire process and answer all any questions.
Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District (Aspen, CO)
[FREE] We toured the waste water treatment facility last time we were in Aspen. Our tour guide explained how the city uses a combination of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to digest the waste products in the water. We got to watch as the water moved from one holding tank to the next, getting cleaner and cleaner every step of the way. It was a fascinating process and a fascinating tour.
Coors Brewery (Golden, CO)
[$$] A brewery tour may sound like an odd choice for a tea-totaling family like ours, but it was very educational. Did you know, for instance, it was Bill Coors who invented the recyclable aluminum can? He did it to keep cans out of the landfill. And, what’s more, he purposefully didn’t patent his invention, because he wanted every company to use it. Ticket price includes a sample of beer (or root beer) at the conclusion of the tour.
Hammond’s Candies (Denver, CO)
[FREE] Your tour of the largest handmade candy factory in North America starts with a short, captivating film on the history of Hammond’s and the whole candy making process. Fun, multiple choice questions given at the end of each video segment will test to see if you are paying close attention. Next, you’ll go behind the scenes to see the candy makers in action.
The tour is free and includes free samples, but it takes more self-control than we posses to get out of there without spending any money. The tour exits through a gift shop and candy store, with such a vast array of mouthwatering treats that we couldn’t resist getting a few bags full for snacking on the road.
Phoenix Gold Mine (Idaho Springs, CO)
[$$] A short drive west of Denver is Idaho Springs, where you’ll find the Phonex Gold Mine. We stopped there on our way back from Aspen to take a look around and try our luck panning for gold. Doug declared this “the single most fascinating tour I’ve been on to date” — which is saying a lot, considering taking factory tours is a big part of almost all our vacations.
Davidson of Dundee (Dundee, FL)
[FREE] This makes a great rest stop if you are in the neighborhood. In addition to fresh fruit, they sell citrus candies and marmalades, many of which you can sample in the store. You can also watch the entire candy-making process, from start to finish, through several plate-glass windows that overlook the factory. The lady behind the cash register gave us a brief history of the company, explained what we were observing, and answered all our questions. This took less than half an hour — only slightly longer than all the candy we purchased there lasted. 😉
Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, FL)
[$$] We’ve never been big NASCAR fans, but we really enjoyed touring this amazing facility and learning about how the world of racing functions.
Florida’s Natural Grove House (Lake Wales, FL)
[FREE] This is not an actual factory tour, but a visitor center that stands next to a small orange grove and serves complimentary samples of citrus juice. It also features a small museum with several films and interactive exhibits that explain the orange growing process.
Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop (Jacksonville, FL)
[$$]This tour gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the candy making process, culminating in your getting to make your very own candy bar.
Whetstone Chocolate Factory (St. Augustine, FL)
[$$] For a fee, you can take a behind-the-scenes chocolate-tasting tour. Our tour guide was both funny and informative and volunteered to take pictures of us standing next to a model of Lucille Ball working on the candy wrapping line.
Buford Trout Hatchery (Cumming, GA)
[FREE] Learn how Georgia keeps its lakes and streams stocked with trout and observe fish at different ages of development, from fingerlings to full-grown-and-ready-to-be-released.
Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery (Dawsonville, GA)
[$$] For a nominal fee, tour gives history and how-to of moonshine making. Very educational.
Federal Reserve Bank (Atlanta, GA)
[FREE] The Monetary Museum far exceeded our expectations. It boasted several rooms of interesting and highly interactive exhibits. Visitors can learn all about the history of money and take a look inside the Reserve’s cash-processing operation, where millions of dollars are counted, sorted, or shredded daily. They’ll even give you some of the shredded money to take home as a souvenir — a huge hit with our kids.
Cheney’s Dairy Barn (Bowling Green, Kentucky)
[$$] For a nominal fee, you may take a self-guided tour through the barn and milking stalls. Includes explanatory films along the way. Be sure to enjoy some fresh-made ice cream before you leave.
Kentucky Horse Park (Lexington, KY)
[$$] Everything you ever wanted to know about horse breeding and racing. Extremely educational and entertaining. Admission to this one is a bit pricier (we saved by buying through Groupon), but you can easier spend an entire day here and still not see it all.
Mardi Gras World (New Orleans, LA)
[$$] Get a guided tour through vast warehouses and learn about the many steps required to make parade floats.
Metropolitan Waterworks Museum (Boston, MA)
[FREE] To gain a better understanding of where running water comes from, visit Boston’s Waterworks Museum. It’s a great place for budding engineers — especially if you visit on one of their regularly scheduled family days, like we did. They bring in extra hands-on activities and additional volunteers to answer questions on those days.
Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate (Springfield, MO)
[FREE] Call in advance to reserve free tickets for a fun factory tour. You’ll hear the history of this family owned business before being taken onto the factory floor to see firsthand how the company’s fine, hand-crafted chocolates are painstakingly created. Though no purchase is required, the tour includes several free scrumptious samples that will very likely persuade you to buy more from the gift shop.
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery (Branson, MO)
[FREE] There is a nice museum, a fascinating film about why and how they breed fish, and many outdoor tanks full of fish at different ages, which you can feed.
Hoover Dam (Boulder City, NV)
[$$] You can tour the dam, the power plant, and/or the visitor center. It’s been a few years since we’ve done this one, but we really enjoyed it when we were there. It’s an amazing feat of engineering.
Hershey’s Chocolate World (Hershey, PA)
[FREE/$$] The basic tour is free, which is the only one we’ve ever done, as we are normally just passing through. The tour is an automated explanation of how Hershey’s chocolate is processed. Our kids liked the fact that the tour was conducted like an amusement park ride. If you are going to be in town for longer, you may want to also buy tickets for the Chocolate Tasting Experience, the Trolley Tour, the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” class, or the adjoining amusement park.
Martin Guitar Factory (Martin, PA)
[FREE] This is another real-deal tour that takes visitors right out on the factory floor and walks them through the entire 300-step process required to produce a hand-crafted guitar. The tour takes about an hour, but you’ll want to allow extra time to try your hand at playing one of the practice instruments at the end of the tour and viewing the extensive museum exhibits. The grounds are beautiful, and our entire family was glad we took time to stop.
Charleston Tea Plantation (Charleston, SC)
[FREE/$$] You can take a self-guided tour of the factory for free, but will have to pay a small fee to take the trolley tour of the grounds. We’d highly recommend doing both. Be sure to get free samples of flavored tea in the visitor center while you are there.
The Old Mill (Pigeon Forge, TN)
[FREE] We love the Old Mill district in Pigeon Forge — there is so much to do and see. Unfortunately, they were no longer giving tours of the mill the last time we were in town, but you can still visit the pottery shop and watch the artisans throwing or turning their earthenware plates, bowls, and mugs. The one working when we were there happily answered all our questions as he worked. A candy store down the street features a taffy making machine prominently displayed in the front window. It has been busily pulling, cutting, and wrapping taffy every time we’ve visited. Both the Pottery House Cafe and the Old Mill restaurant used grain milled at the Old Mill in their baking, and Pottery House serves all their meals on hand thrown plates that were crafted, glazed, and fired in the pottery studio next door. We usually buy a couple of bags of seed to feed the geese along the river that runs beside the mill.
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (Palestine, TX)
[FREE] Guided tours are offered May through August of this NASA facility to explain the purpose of scientific balloons and answer questions. Advance reservations required.
SAS Shoe Factory and General Store (San Anotonio, TX)
[FREE] Watch the shoe making process from beginning to end, right on the factory room floor. Tour guide will take you to every station and explain what happens each step along the way. Be sure to swing by the general store afterwards to enjoy 5-cent sodas and 10-cent popcorn. This is one of the most economical, educational, and entertaining deals going!
Texas Museum of Broadcasting (Kilgore, TX)
We toured this facility with our homeschool group. The staff are very knowledgeable. Includes a fully-functional radio studio and television news station, as well as an impressive array of broadcasting artifacts.
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (Athens, TX)
[$$] Learn about Texas wildlife conservation and preservation efforts through lots of multi-media and ranger-led presentations. Ride a tram around to view the hatchery ponds, look through the museums, admire the alligator, and fish for trout and catfish in the fishing pond (poles provided).
Grafton Cheese Village (Grafton, VT)
[FREE/$$] You can watch the cheese-making process through observation windows in the gift shop, where you may also sample a wide variety of cheeses made onsite. All that is free. For a small fee, you can also visit the petting farm on the premises.
Rock of Ages Granite Quarry & Factory Tours (Barre, VT)
[FREE/$$] You can see the Visitors Center, watch a short documentary, try your skill on the outdoor granite bowling lanes, and take a self-guided tour of the factory to watch memorial production — all for free. But you must pay a nominal fee to tour the nearby granite quarry (which we highly recommend doing).
Simon Pearce Glassware (Quechee, VT)
[FREE] You can watch the glassblowers ply their trade from a catwalk above the workroom, then view the finished products in the showroom. The glassware is really exquisite and the grounds are beautiful, too.
I’ll be adding to this list as we take more tours in the future, so if you are interested, bookmark or pin the page and check back later for more.
We’re still open to suggestions
Do you know of any fun factory tours you think we’d enjoy? Tell us about your favorites in the comment section, and we’ll try to stop in next time we’re in the neighborhood!
More Travel Ideas for Families
If your family loves to go as much as mine does, check out my book Pack Up & Leave. It’s chockful of smart tips that will make your next family road trip or vacation more economical, educational, and memorable.