Not everything these days has been outsourced to other countries, and those who are curious about the production lines of America might enjoy a tour of one of the country's many factories. Perhaps you may even live close to a few of some of the places listed on the website Factory Tours USA (www.factorytoursusa.com) -- which may be serendipitous considering the rise of gasoline prices. We're offering a smattering of interesting choices, and for other suggestions, check out the book Watch it Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide to the Best Factory Tours and Company Museums (www.factorytour.com), written by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg.
Anchor Brewing (tel. 415/863-8350; www.anchorbrewing.com), located in San Francisco, is well known for its flagship beer, Anchor Steam but has been selling its well-crafted microbrewed beers since 1896. Anchor offers a free brewery tour that's so popular guests must reserve ahead of time. Tours are offered once a day during the weekday, last about 45 minutes, and finish up with a tasting. Children are welcome to walk through the tour but cannot partake in beer sampling. Plan on spending at least two hours there, but that shouldn't be too difficult; the brew house is in the center of the action, and the building provides some great views of the city -- if it's not too foggy.
If your travels take you to Holualoa, Hawaii, you can witness the genesis of a different kind of brewed beverage at the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company (tel. 800/333-0348; www.konalea.com/tour.htm). Take the free tour of the plantation and taste (and bring home) the famous, expensive kona coffee for which Hawaii is well-known. The organic grounds include several dozen tamed geese, which help reduce the need for mowing and keeps the ground fertilized, eliminating the need for pesticides or herbicides. The company roasts its own estate coffee and handles the coffee production for more than 100 Kona farms. Tours are available Monday through Friday, 8am through 4pm; those traveling with large groups should call ahead.
Fans of hot sauce might enjoy a trip to the McIlhenny Company, the company responsible for Tabasco sauce (tel. 337/365-8173; www.tabasco.com). The famed stuff is aged in white oak barrels and is available in more than 160 countries and territories around the world. McIlhenny is located on the salt dome of Avery Island, west of New Orleans, accessible via a $1 toll. Additionally, it's home to a bird sanctuary called Bird City, a botanical refuge called Jungle Gardens (full of Spanish moss, azaleas, and oak trees), and fields of peppers the company uses for its products. The factory and visitors center is open Monday-Sunday from 9am-4pm and closed on major holidays.
In Long Island City, New York, Steinway & Sons (tel. 718/721-2600extension 3164; www.steinway.com), which was founded in 1853, is synonymous with quality pianos, and the company produces nearly five thousand pianos every year for worldwide sale, handcrafted by skilled workers. Tours are usually held on Monday or Tuesday at 9am and range from two and a half to three hours, and reservations must be made in advance. You must be at least 16 years old to tour the facility and photography is forbidden.
While you're in New York City, a tour of NBC Studios (tel. 212/664-3700; www.nbc.com) in mid-town Manhattan is possible. Home to the Today Show, NBC Sports, Conan O'Brien, the news and of course, Saturday Night Live, you can tour all of these studios and be surprised at how small all of those spaces really are in person. While it's not a factory per se, it does produce information, popular culture, and entertainment. Depending on when you go, it's possible to spot a celebrity or two in the hour-long tour. Beware, though: these are extremely popular, especially in the summertime, and operate on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $10; tours operate Monday through Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm and depart every fifteen minutes, now through Labor Day.
In 1994, Toyota (tel. 800/TMM-4485; www.toyotageorgetown.com/tour.asp) opened a 11,500 square-foot visitors center in its Georgetown, Kentucky manufacturing plant and offers tours that include hands-on experiences, model displays, exhibits, and other interactive activities -- you can get inside a car and test out some of its amenities. You can also see the Solara, Camry, and Avalon models that are produced onsite and view how the cars are literally put together from stamped pieces of metal. Tours are free but should be reserved in advance; walk-ins will be accepted depending on availability. The tours are conducted Monday through Friday at 10am, 12pm and 2pm, with an additional tour at 6pm on Thursdays.
The Trek Bicycle Corporation (tel. 920/478-4678; www.trekbikes.com) manufactures road, mountain, and hybrid bicycles for men, women, and kids, along with innovative cycling products and accessories right in its headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. In business since 1976, Trek was started by five people in a wooden barn who built the bicycles by hand. Trek's factory tour shows you the corporate offices and the frame factory -- actually the Waterloo and Whitewater facilities are both open for tours. At Waterloo, the hours are Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am, but you must make an appointment at least five days beforehand. For the Whitewater location (tel. 262/473-8735), tours are available weekdays Monday through Friday by appointment only; the same five-day rule applies.
Speaking of transportation, Winnebago Industries (tel. 800/643-4892; www.winnebagoind.com) offers tours of its 60 acre-facility in Forest City, Iowa. The 50-year-old company is undoubtedly the first name in RVs, and each one is made of 3,000 or so parts, many of which are not prefabricated elsewhere but made from scratch onsite. Winnebago's free tours operate twice daily from April through October at 9am and 1pm; reservations are required for groups of six or more people.
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