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Top 10 list of the best factory tours in the western United States

One of the unique benefits of schooling on the road — and even for those who just like to check out neat things — is the never ending opportunities for field trips!  Field trips are a fabulous tool for supplementing your student’s educational journey.

Factory tours are educational field trips that give your children the opportunity to be present, engaged, and vested in the manufacturing process of products that we know and use.  Being onsite and actually viewing all it takes to bring an item from raw materials, to shelf ready products, leads to a memorable and enhanced learning experience where students are much more likely to understand, and retain, what they have learned.

Please note that most of the best factory tours encourage photography in their welcome areas, but photos are not allowed on the tours themselves.

Here are THE best factory tours for the area west of the Mississippi River (in no particular order):

Taylor Guitar Factory in San Diego, Calif.

This free, 75-minute tour of the Taylor Guitar factory is offered every weekday at 1 p.m. Participants must register with receptionist at least 10 minutes before tour begins.  This field trip takes visitors through all processes of guitar making, from wood selection to finished product.  This tour does require extensive walking, and may not be of interest to young children.

Leatherman Factory in Portland, Ore.

This free, one-hour tour is offered every Wednesday at 10 a.m. and is available to the first 10 participants only, so reservations are required. The company schedules an additional tour on Fridays during the summer.  This field trip will show you all that it takes to create Leatherman tools from start to finish, including steel punching, polishing, assembly, and quality control.  This 90,000-square-foot factory produces more than 1 million tools a year!  Walking and standing is required, and best suited for people ages 12 and up.

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Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Factory in Fairfield, Calif.

Definitely a favorite of kids everywhere, this free, 40-minute tour is offered seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The guided tour begins with an explanation of what you will see, as well as a reminder that photos are not allowed on the tour.  You will view the jelly bean making process from a covered walkway above the factory floor.  Field trips during the week are prime as the factory is in production, and you can view the staff in the actual process of making the sweets.  Tours on the weekends will view the prerecorded process on video monitors.  Tours are great for all ages, are ADA and stroller accessible, and include samples. Yum!

Note: There is also a Jelly Belly warehouse in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., where you can take a free 30-minute train tour.  The plant is slated to close, although no date has been set, so be sure to check with the factory before planning a visit.

Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory in Brenham, Texas

This yummy tour is offered Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as needed, and on a first-come, first-served basis.  After purchasing tickets, you can view eight different educational DVDs in the tour center while waiting for a tour to begin.  On this 45-minute guided tour, you will visit three different observation decks that overlook the production floor, and see parts of the ice cream making process.  The field trip begins with the homogenization process, moves to the making of the fun Rainbow Freeze Bars and creamy Ice Cream Sandwiches, and finally the filling of Blue Bell cartons with finished ice cream products.  Tours have a fee of $4 to $6 (children 5 and under are free), but it includes a generous bowl of your choice of Blue Bell ice cream at the completion of the tour.  A visit to their fun gift shop concludes the tour.

Additional tour locations are at Broken Arrow, Okla., and Sylacauga, Ala.  You can find links to details on each location here:

Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth, Texas

This fabulous field trip includes a 45-minute guided tour where students can watch U.S. currency being printed from a catwalk above the printing floor, watch a film clip about the bill printing process, and purchase some fun money-themed gift shop items.  Tours are free, and offered on a first-come, first-served basis from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.  Expect to wait at least 30 minutes to pass security measures.


Dana Tour 5SAS Shoe Factory – San Antonio, Texas

Stop in at the SAS General Store, where you can stroll through their gift shop, purchase SAS shoes, and watch shoes being made during the free factory tour.  This unique field trip is not just about the factory tour you can take, but a unique, old-fashioned ‘general store’ experience.  The General Store is a nostalgic step back in time where you can purchase paper bags of popcorn for a nickel, and cups of soda for a dime.  Be sure to give the kids a handful of change for the peanuts, as well as penny candy!  Reservations recommended for these tours, which are conducted Monday through Thursday and offered three times a day at 9:15 a.m, 12:30 and 2:05 p.m.  Tours are free and last approximately 45 minutes.

John Deere – various locations in Iowa

Four different tours are available, at four separate locations, each showing a different aspect of John Deere construction.   Each location specializes in the manufacturing of a different John Deere large machinery product.  Individual plants offers an exclusive introduction video (varying in length from  5 to 15 minutes), after which a guide will help you don headsets and goggles before you board the ‘cart’ for your riding tour through the factory.  During the tour, you will stop in various areas of the factory where your guide will explain a particular process in the manufacturing of the plant’s machinery.  Tours are for people ages 13 and up and lasting 1.5 hours each. Reservations are to be made 48 hours in advance, and these free tours do fill up quickly.

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Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Ore.

Tillamook offers the opportunity to view their cheese making process through a free self-guided walking tour via an enclosed walkway above the middle of the factory.  You will view master cheese makers at work, and the tour is supplemented by viewing screens explaining the process.  Take your time, enjoy great photo ops, and try some yummy cheese samples — including cheese curds, which squeak between your teeth.  This fun stop is not far from the coast.

Boeing in Everett, Wash.

Tickets for this 90-minute tour are not cheap, but this field trip is one of a kind!  While in the largest building in the world, you can watch 747s, 777s, and 787s being assembled.  Your guided tour will begin with a short video explaining some of the history of Boeing, and then progress into the manufacturing plant.  You will see huge jets being assembled while your guide explains the process.  Included in your tour fee is admission to the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Gallery where you can enjoy interactive activities including designing and building your own online aircraft. The center is photo friendly.  There is no minimum age requirement for this 1/3 mile long walk, but attendees must be at least 4 feet tall.

Boeing also has a museum in St. Louis that is free to the public, but only open during the summer months.

Hammond Candies in Denver

Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hammond Candies offers free tours of their candy making factory so that visitors can see how their master candy makers craft traditional candy canes, colorful lollipops, and other flavorful hard candies, all by hand and from scratch. Even if you can’t make it to Hammond, be sure to have the kids check out the tour video, as well as the “Kid in a Candy Store” TV clip here:

Visitors to the Jelly Belly factory will see these portraits of U.S. presidents made out of 14,000 to 25,000 different colored jelly beans.
Visitors to the Jelly Belly factory will see these portraits of U.S. presidents made out of 14,000 to 25,000 different colored jelly beans.

About Dana Ticknor

Dana Ticknor and her husband, along with their tribe of 8 gypsy kids (they also have 4 more grown and flown) have been calling the road home for seven years. Traveling with a highly modified toy hauler, their passions are discovering local history and culture, as well as volunteering with disaster relief efforts across the country. You can follow their journey at, where they write about fulltime RVing and the family friendly destinations they discover during their travels.

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