Planning a family vacation? Free factory tours can make for great vacation fun, especially when the company manufactures something kids like. (Plus free samples never hurt.)
MRS. GROSSMAN'S (Petaluma, Calif.) - Kids and "scrapbookers" know and love this sticker company. Your family can see what's behind the fuss during a free factory tour of the bright and colorful plant that prints 15,000 miles of stickers every year. The tour begins with a video narrated by the owner's dog Angus and concludes with a free sticker art class and a gift bag stuffed with stickers. The gift shop sells all of the company's 700 sticker designs. Reservations are recommended. Call (800) 429-4549 or go to www.MrsGrossmans.com for details.
TILLAMOOK CHEESE (Tillamook, Ore.) - Visitors are treated to a free tour, showcasing the entire cheese-making process from cow to mouth. There are interactive kiosks providing nutritional information that kids of all ages can enjoy. As visitors reach the end of the tour, they are treated to samples of Tillamook's famous cheese. For more information and tour times, go to www.tillamookcheese.com.
JELLY BELLY FACTORY (Fairfield, Calif.) - Step into the factory and smell the aroma of chocolate, apricot, cinnamon or pineapple, whatever is being cooked up that day. The Jelly Belly candy-making factory is about an hour's drive north of San Francisco. During the 40-minute walking tour, you'll learn the secrets to how they create the legendary Jelly Belly bean, and discover why it takes more than a week to make a single bean. Verify dates and hours of operation before planning your visit. Go to www.jellybelly.com or call (800) 953-5592.
BASIC BROWN BEAR FACTORY (San Francisco) - The Basic Brown Bear Factory is one of the few remaining manufacturers of stuffed animals left in the United States. All of its toys are cut and sewn right on the premises. After the tours, visitors can select their own unstuffed bears from dozens of styles; then stuff, groom and dress them. The bears start at $9 and the daily tours are free. Call (415) 931-6670 or go to www.basicbrownbear.com for specific tour schedules.
BEN AND JERRY'S ICE CREAM (Waterbury, Vt.) - Last year, 275,000 ice cream fans toured this facility. Not bad for a company launched in 1978 in a renovated gas station. As visitors soon learn, it's not just about ice cream - there's a social mission behind Ben & Jerry's. Thirty-minute tours are offered daily, beginning with a seven-minute video, continuing on to the tour mezzanine, where you watch ice cream production. If production is down, a narrated video will fill in the details. The tour ends at the Scoop Shop, where guests try old favorites like Cherry Garcia, and possibly test-drive a new flavor. More information can be found at www.benjerry.com.
There are so many other great factory tours in every state of the United States. Find a list by state at www.factorytoursUSA.com.
Mary Hunt is the creator of The Cheapskate Monthly newsletter, which can be ordered online at www.cheapskatemonthly.com/um. You can e-mail questions or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135 Paramount, CA 90723. All correspondence becomes the property of Cheapskate Monthly.