Must-See Factories (Yes, Really!)

There was a time when people made whatever they needed. You want a rocking chair? Get to chopping down a tree. But now that we buy everything ready-made, kids (most of us, really) have little idea what goes into making a sock, a lamp, or an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese singing “Happy Birthday.”

These awesome factory tours will show how some of your family’s favorite things are made.

Factory name: Jelly Belly Candy Company

Photo by Flickr user jpellgen.

What they make: Jellybeans!
Where they are:
Fairfield, California
Why you should go: It takes 7 to 14 days to make each of the 1.25 million beans the factory turns out daily, which you’d know if you’d walked around the elevated platform above the humming hive of factory employees, busily overseeing sugar showers and the giant spinning copper “engrossing pans” that give the beans their sheen. Afterwards, you can pick a custom bean mix from the gift shop, or eat something less sweet at their cafe.

Tour details: Free 30 to 45 minute self-guided tours are available every day except Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Easter, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you want something more, try Jelly Belly University, a guided, behind-the-scenes floor tour, available by reservation only. Reserve at least 6-8 weeks ahead of time; ages 6 and up; $47 per person.

Factory name: Mardi Gras World

Photo by Flickr user Wayne Hsieh.

What they make: Floats for New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras Parade
Where they are: New Orleans, Louisiana
Why you should go: Kern Studios, the float-building company at the center of Mardi Gras World, has been building elaborate, incredible Mardi Gras floats since 1947. So many people begged to see the behind-the-scenes float-making that the company founded Mardi Gras World in 1984. Visitors to the float-building floor can wander at will or get a guided tour, and get close enough to the floats to touch them if they wish. Some floats are even open to climb onto and try out your parade wave.

Tour details: Self-guided tours are available 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day but Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and, of course, Mardi Gras. Guided tours begin every half hour and last about an hour. Admission is $19.95 for age 12 and up; $12.95 for ages 2-11, free for kids under 2. Mardi Gras World has a free shuttle from many locations in New Orleans, including the French Quarter.

Factory name: Harley-Davidson

Image by Flickr user Eric O’Brien.

What they make: Motorcycles
Where they are: York, Pennsylvania; Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Missouri
Why you should go: If you have gearheads in the family, a spin around one of the three Harley factories that offer tours may be just the ticket. At the Kansas City and York locations, you can take a free Classic Factory Tour, which offers a look at the assembly line and fabrication rooms. In Menomonee Falls, you’ll have only a video of factory areas for the free tour. Each location offers the souped-up Steel Toe Tour, which includes entry into more factory areas, a commemorative pin, a group photo, a safety vest, and $5 to spend in the gift shop.

Tour details: Free classic factory tours run 1 hour in Kansas City and York and are offered regularly between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Menomonee Falls tours are a half-hour long and run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tickets for tours are distributed for each day’s tours on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 9 a.m. Steel Toe Tour tickets are $35 to $38; the tour is offered by reservation only, twice a day. Steel Toe Tour is for ages 12 and up.



Factory name: Sally Corporation

What they make: Animatronics and “dark rides”
Where they are: Jacksonville, Florida
Why you should go: If you’ve visited a Six Flags, Universal Studios, or Legoland, chances are you’ve seen one of Sally’s creations leering, glimmering, or talking to you. Since 1977, Sally has been building creatures and effects for rides and haunted houses around the world. See how Sally takes their otherworldly creatures from concept to showtime, with a focus on the design process, fabrication, lighting, and sound effects.

Tour details: The hour-long tours are free and offered Tuesday and Thursday, each hour from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tours are by reservation only; guests must be age 7 and up. Tours are not conducted in June, July, or August.

Factory name: The Crayola Experience

Photo by Flickr user Dan Hatton.

What they make: Crayola crayons
Where they are: Easton, Pennsylvania
What you’ll see: The actual crayon factory floor is too dangerous for small kids, so Crayola’s former straight-ahead factory tour has morphed into a family-friendly “experience” that is a real thrill for kids age 7 and under (and even some adults). Kids can watch as Crayola “crayonologists” pour melted wax into molds, or dip long cotton swabs into pots of melted crayon soup to make their own wax painting. Elsewhere, stations memorialize the eight retired Crayola colors, show off the World’s Largest Crayon (made by melting down broken crayons mailed by kids around the country), and create your own coloring page or glow-in-the-dark artwork.

Tour details: There’s no formal tour. Visitors are free to wander daily from 9:30 to 5. Kids age 3 and under are free; adults are $17.99. Allow an entire day to explore this four-story cavalcade of crayon delights.