While some hit the beach, others go camping, and others fly to Europe, statistics keep telling us that most of American travel is within a few hours' driving distance of the home. For those who are interested in something quirky, educational and fun to do this summer, a factory tour fits the bill. These types of attractions are generally good for folks with kids, and they can sometimes involve an element of hands-on activity. A good place to start is the website Factory Tours USA (www.factorytoursusa.com), which lists 479 tours and counting. The list is by no means comprehensive; if you're curious about whether or not the makers of your favorite products are offering tours, you can also visit that company's web site and search for tours.
Because it's so heavily agricultural and overall a lovely place, Vermont yields many opportunities to tour a handful of comfort-food companies. And in summer, what's better than ice cream? Ben and Jerry's in Waterbury, Vermont (tel. 866/BJ-Tours; www.benjerry.com/scoop_shops/factory_tour/) runs an extremely popular tour, so get there as early as possible. Through May 31, the factory is open from 10am-6pm and tours leave every 30 minutes or so. In June, the factory tour starts up at 9am and from July 1-August 19, they operate 9am-9pm, and tours leave every 30 minutes. Morning tours give you an excuse to eat ice cream for breakfast; samples are dispensed in their FlavoRoom. But the factory does not run on weekends and holidays, so if you arrive on a weekend, your tour will consist of a video and your guide narrates an explanation. Adults: $3, seniors $2; children 12 and younger are free. Or you can get a tour, a pint of ice cream, and a factory tour t-shirt for $20 for adults, and $15 for children 12 and younger.
Boeing Commercial Airplane, (tel. 800/464-1476; www.boeing.com/companyoffices/aboutus/tours), at the Everett Tour Center in Everett, Washington, is the manufacturing home of the 747, 767, 777 and soon, 787 -- all of which are on display. The building itself is remarkable, as it's rated the largest in the world, based on cubic volume. Visitors can see airplanes in various stages of testing and development. The Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour is available Monday through Friday from 8:30am-5pm and last a little over an hour, and reservations can be made. You can ride a flight simulator and digitally design and test your own jet. General admission to the space, which includes a tour, is $14 for adults, $14 for seniors $8 for children 15 and under, or you can just visit the gallery for a reduced rate.
Tea lovers might enjoy the free tour of Celestial Seasonings (tel. 305/581-1202; www.celestialseasonings.com/contact/visit-us.html) in Boulder, Colorado, the folks who bring you Sleepytime, Red Zinger and other classics, along with newer green, roobois and white teas, chockablock with antioxidants and polyphenols and other salubrious ingredients. The tour takes about 45 minutes and includes a video, a walk through the garden where the herbs are sourced, the factory itself, where 8 million tea bags are produced every day, and the sinus-clearing experience of the Mint Room. Stop in the gift shop or have lunch in the Celestial Café, which has over 80 varieties of tea available. The tours are given on the hour from 10am-3pm on a first-come, first-served basis Monday through Saturday and from 11am-3pm on the hour on Sundays. Children under five years old are not permitted in the factory portion of the tour.
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour (tel. 800/835-5237; www.hfmgv.org/rouge/default.asp) is a five-part tour that takes you in various stages of the production and history of the quintessentially American icon that changed our lives forever: the automobile. The tour is not conducted when production periods are busiest, so it's best to inquire about that and make reservations (you can buy your tickets online). The tour is a five-part event that departs daily every half hour from 9:30am-2:30pm in front of the Henry Ford Museum. A bus takes you through a narrated drive of famous landmarks, and you can also experience historic footage that tells the story of the Rouge, a virtual reality look the process, an observation deck stop, finally ending with a walking tour of the manufacturing complex to see how Ford F-150s are made. The tours are conducted seven days a week from April 15 through September 2; from September 3-December 31, tours are not available on Sunday. Adults $14; Kids ages 5-12, $10 for non-members of the Henry Ford Museum.
Baking enthusiasts might enjoy the KitchenAid Experience Center (tel. 888/886-8318; www.kitchenaid.com/custserv/experience.jsp) in Greenville, Ohio, which shows you not only how the kitchen staple stand mixer is made but also gives you the opportunity to try out new recipes and use some of the company's countertop appliances, gadgets; there are eight interactive culinary areas. Factory tours are given 10am and 1pm daily during the week, subject to manufacturing schedules, or by appointment; cost is $5 per person. The store itself though is open on Saturdays 10am-6pm and Sunday noon-5pm.
In addition to ice cream and vacation, summer also means baseball. The Louisville Slugger Museum (tel. 877/7SLUGGER; www.sluggermuseum.org/visitorguide.aspx) in Louisville, Kentucky, has been the bat of choice since the company's inception in 1884, and it is currently the official bat of Major League Baseball. Honus Wagner of the Pittsburg Pirates signed a contract in 1905 to endorse promote the bat -- the first deal of its kind for a bat manufacturer. Today, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Reds center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. favor the Slugger. Other features of the museum include a batting cage, theater, ball field and the oval room, where you can come face to face with a fastball. The museum admission cost includes a tour, which lasts about an hour and a half. Tours start at 9am and depart every twenty minutes and the last tour of the day starts at 4pm, but there isn't a guarantee that you will see full bat production on any tour. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm from April-June. In the height of the summer, July 1-August 12, it stays open until 6pm. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors 60 and older, $4 for kids 6-12 and free for kids 5 and under. They're open on Sundays, but no bat production takes place those days, nor on Memorial Day, 4th of July and inventory day, June 29.
Martin Guitar (tel. 610/759-2837; www.martinguitar.com/visit/tour.html) in Nazareth, PA, offers guided ours of its factory floor where you can watch the company's esteemed acoustic guitars go through more than 300 steps from start to finish. Martin recently opened a visitor's center and museum and the lobby is fashioned in the shape of their famous Dreadnought guitar. The company was founded in 1833 and its guitars are played by countless professional musicians, from Beck to Eric Clapton to Sting and Paul Simon. Free public tours are conducted regularly between 12:30pm-2:30pm, Monday through Friday, on a first-come, first-served basis, and last about an hour. If the spirit moves you, some of the company's top-selling guitars are on display in the gift shop for you to try out.
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