It's not Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but kids will love visits to factories producing some of the country's best sweets! Watch how chocolate is made, taffy is pulled and ice cream is churned at factories across the country, most of which offer free tours throughout the year. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Hershey Chocolate World, Hershey, PA
The Hershey factory tour became so popular, the company created a special theme park attraction for families to get the authentic factory experience without interrupting the chocolate-making process. The free, robotronic-filled tour takes visitors through the processing, beginning with the cocoa bean harvesting through the end: milk chocolate candy. In the same building, families can join a Chocolate Tasting Adventure, the Really Big 3-D Show and Kissworks, where kids can package their own Hershey Kisses.
2. Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield, CA
Founded in 1869, the "original gourmet jelly bean" maker offers free tours and a chance to sample a selection of over 150 jelly-bean flavors. Worth the 40-minute drive from San Francisco, the 40-minute walking tour divulges the secrets of the Jelly Belly jellybean, which takes more than a week to create! Tours are offered Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tours on Saturdays but machines are not operating. After the tour, visit the store and stock up on sweets.
3. Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Waterbury, VT
Vermont's Green Mountains make a beautiful backdrop to the factory and headquarters of the beloved ice cream manufacturer, where visitors get to watch the production and manufacturing of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. At the end of the 30-minute tour, visitors get to sample the flavor of the day in the Flavoroom (the best part of the visit!). Visit the Flavor Graveyard and cows in the pasture in the summer months and visit the gift shop or the full-service ice cream parlor, the Scoop Shop. Hours vary in winter and spring months between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The tour is $3 for adults and free to children under 12.
4. Hammond's Candies, Denver, CO
When in the mile-high city of Denver, visit the candy maker that has been dishing out candy since 1920. Free factory tours are offered every 30 minutes, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Candy sticks, holiday-themed candy, lollipops, and chocolate are available for purchase at the tour's end.
5. The Candy Factory, Columbia, MO
With a name like the Candy Factory, how can a tour of this chocolatier's factory not make the list? Walk through Candy Lane to watch traditional handmade candy-making processes create assorted chocolate and cream combinations, then smile big when devouring a sample. The viewing rooms are open to the public everyday, and group tours are given by appointment.
6. Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory, Hyannis, MA
When vacationing on Cape Cod, a rainy day becomes a perfect excuse to hide indoors at the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory -- the chips your family is consuming daily on the Cape's sandy beaches. The self-guided tours are free every Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The retail store closes at 4 p.m., so if you go late, be sure to get your fix before you tour!
7. Blue Bell Ice Cream, Brenham, TX
Somewhere between Houston and Austin rests a little Texas town churning out butter-soft Blue Bell ice cream. Forty-five-minute tours of the factory are provided Mondays through Fridays 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a first come, first served basis ($5 adults, $3 children 6 to 14, free for children under 6; closed most holidays). Tours include a short video about the company and ice cream samples, guaranteed to cool off the Texas day. Factory tours are also available at Blue Bell's Oklahoma and Alabama facilities.
8. Wolfgang Chocolate Factory Tour, York, PA
The chocolatier invites families to visit its Visitor Center and Museum just an hour north of Baltimore and west of Philadelphia for samplings of the chocolate its been producing since 1921. Begin with a look at its antique candy-making molds, jars and factory items before an official tour held Mondays through Thursdays (Fridays in the fall) Labor Day to May 31, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are required for the 45-minute to one-hour walking tour that specifies sleeved shirts, enclosed toe shoes without heels, and hairnets (provided). After the tour, stop in Das Sweeten Haus for gifts like chocolate dipped blueberries.
9. Morley Candy Makers, Clinton Township, MI
Self-guided, "Stop & Shop" tours are available at the chocolate factory of a company producing lip-smacking good sweets since 1875. Follow a 100-foot observation walkway to watch confectioners hand make chocolate treats, then sample the goods before stocking up in the candy and gift shop. Tours are offered Monday through Friday (closed to tours from Labor Day through Halloween and on holidays) but depend on production schedules and advance reservations are required.
10. Sweet's Candy Company, Salt Lake City, UT
Since 1892, Sweets has been producing a variety of sweets to make any sweet-tooth smile. The free, 40-minute tour is operated by appointment only, Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and gives a glimpse into the production of the family-owned company's 250+ candies. The tour lands you in a gift shop, of course, where you can bring some of the candies home.
11. PEZ Candy, Orange, CT
Although you cannot tour the manufacturing area, the PEZ headquarters has just added a fantastic new visitor center that features the world's largest PEZ dispenser, a 40-foot-high working replica. Interactive video areas feature a PEZ timeline, trivia and a Factory Tour. The Personalize Your PEZ section gives you a chance to do just that! Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children 3 to 12, and free for kids under 3. Every admission receives a $2 credit toward merchandise and candy purchased. The center is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (Subject to change at any time, so call ahead.)
12. PEEPS, Bethlehem, PA
An hour outside of Philadelphia awaits Bethlehem, the home of Just Born candy, which is the maker of Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike's and, of course, PEEPS! The company only provides factory tours online, but every New Year's Eve, the factory lifts a gigantic PEEPS for an annual PEEPS Chick Drop and Fireworks. The four-day PEEPS Fest features live music, arts and crafts, movies, S'more making and photos with the PEEPS Chick before ending on New Year's Eve with two daytime drips for all ages to enjoy.
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