American factory tours -- 9 of the best from Harley-Davidson to Ben & Jerry's
By Chris Clayton, for CNN
Updated 4:18 AM ET, Tue May 12, 2015
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Boeing Factory (Mukilteo, Washington) – Housed in the world's largest building by volume, Boeing's aviation plant 25 miles north of Seattle produces 747s, 777s and 787s, and is the only commercial jet manufacturing center open to the public.
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Harley-Davidson (Kansas City, Missouri) – Harley Davidson's Kansas City plant shows visitors the complete assembly of its dream machines. The Steel Toe Tour is $35.
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Fender (Corona, California) – It's $10 for adults to tour the Fender Factory and Custom Shop in Corona, California. The guitars will set you back considerably more.
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Airstream Factory (Jackson Center, Ohio) – A visit to see shiny new Airstream trailers roll toward the open road is bound to drum up even more enthusiasm for the sleek throwback designs. Tours of the factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, are free.
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Jelly Belly (Fairfield, California) – Jelly beans wait to be packaged at the finishing room in the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, California. Irregular jellybeans are separated and sold in the gift shop as "belly flops." Tours of the facility are free.
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Ford Rouge Factory (Dearborn, Michigan) – Ford Motor Company's defunct Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan, has been refurbished to house the F-150 assembly line. Tours are $16 for adults.
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Ben and Jerry's (Waterbury, Vermont) – Vermont's Green Mountains provide the backdrop for Ben and Jerry's environmentally friendly factory. You can walk through the "flavor graveyard" outside to reminisce about retired flavors.
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Washougal Weaving Mill (Washougal, Oregon) – Washougal Weaving Mill is one of the Pendleton mills that spin classic American garments and blankets. The wool is first dyed before the carding, spinning, weaving and finishing steps. The mill offers free weekday tours.
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Huy Fong Foods (Irwindale, California) – The Huy Fong tour in Irwindale, California, begins outside the factory, where, if you're lucky, you'll see delivery trucks filled to the brim with red jalapenos -- the key ingredient in its beloved Sriracha. Free tours run Monday through Friday.
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Some American producers are offering the public a look at their facilities
You can tour Jelly Belly, Ben and Jerry's or Sriracha for a taste of America
Or get an up-close look at sleek airplanes, motorcycles and Airstream trailers
(CNN)Depending on the metric, U.S. manufacturing is either bouncing back or going to hell in a handbasket -- albeit one expertly crafted in Brooklyn by a tattooed weaver named Holden.
What's indisputable is that some American producers are thriving -- so much so that they're willing to pull back their factory curtains, giving visitors a glimpse at the assembly line magic.
"Everyone becomes a 5-year-old on a factory tour," says Karen Axelrod, who, with husband Bruce Brumberg, wrote "Watch it Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide to the Best Factory Tours and Company Museums."
"The best ones get you close to the machinery, the sparks, the excitement."
Here are some of Axelrod's favorites, along with a couple of under-the-radar picks.
1. Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations Tour
"Harley offers some of the best tours," says Axelrod. "They put you right on the floor."
The company has two other U.S. factories, but its Kansas City plant is the only one that shows visitors a complete assembly of one of its dream machines -- in this case its Sportster, V-Rod and Dyna models.
"Sons of Anarchy" fans will recognize the Dyna, which deserves an acting credit given how often it appears on the show.
The $35 "Steel Toe Tour" is worth it for behind-the-scenes glimpses at tank, frame and fender manufacturing as well as painting and polishing.
And, yes, you really do have to wear steel toe protection -- a safety vest and glasses -- making this more up-close than many factory tours.
Harley Davidson Factory Tour, 11401 North Congress Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64153; +1 877 883 1450
2. Huy Fong Foods Sriracha Tour
This is the tour for the person who puts Sriracha on everything.
Founded in 1980 by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran, Huy Fong Foods' take on the Southeast Asian chili sauce has become a cult foodstuff, loved for its sweet, fiery flavor and bottle with the green cap and rooster label.
The free 45-minute walk-through takes you inside Huy Fong's 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, California, past huge machines sorting red jalapenos and ending in the bottling area.
There's a gift shop on site -- because who doesn't want Sriracha-flavored ice cream?
An hour north of San Francisco sits Jelly Belly's temple of beans, home to a factory, museum and gift shop giving away samples of its 50 flavors.
The factory is the real draw.
"The tour is great," says Axelrod. "It takes place above the floor, but you get to see a lot of the process."
You'll also learn that it takes seven to 20 days to make a gourmet jellybean thanks to a seemingly endless heating and cooling cycle and a lot of churning in giant drums.
Another highlight: the oversize mural of Ronald Reagan made of thousands of beans; they say the Gipper loved his Jelly Bellys.
Jelly Belly Factory Tour, One Jelly Belly Lane Vacaville, Fairfield, CA 94533; +1 800 953 5592
6. Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour
Housed in the world's largest building by volume, Boeing's aviation plant 25 miles north of Seattle produces 747s, 777s and 787s, and is the only commercial jet manufacturing center open to the public.
The giant assembly area is a marvel.
Axelrod describes it as "very impressive in its size and the fact that it lets you see different planes at different stages of production."
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & BoeingTour, 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Mukilteo, WA 98275; +1 800 464 1476
7. Ford Rouge Center
Henry Ford would be proud of this state-of-the-art facility located on the site of the motor company's defunct Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan.
Today, the refurbished plant builds F-150 trucks from military grade aluminum alloy.
The self-guided tour includes an elevated walkway, where you can view the final assembly of Ford's most popular truck, as well as an 80-foot-high observation deck and two theaters.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour, 20900 Oakwood Blvd. Ford Factory, Dearborn, MI 48124; +1 800 835 5237
8. Ben and Jerry's Factory Tour
At Ben and Jerry's you can try new flavors at the Vermont production facility and full-service scoop shop and pay your respects to retired flavors in the outdoor flavor graveyard (RIP Vermonty Python).
Says the expert: "The whole tour is kooky. It's a fun, happy place -- how could it not be?"
The 30-minute guided factory tour ($4 for adults, free for kids) ends with a sample scoop of the day.
Oregon's Pendleton Woolen Mills has found new life as a trendy heritage brand.
You can shop for clothes and blankets at its Washougal, Washington, store and production facility, then tour the mill, where you'll see working looms and learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about weaving.
"I like the Pendleton tour because it emphasizes the company's history and tradition," says Axelrod.
The company's original Pendleton, Oregon, mill, housed in an 1893 building, is also open for tours but shows less of the production process.
Washougal Weaving Mill, 2 Pendleton Way, Washougal, Washington; +1 360 835 1118; Free tours run weekdays at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.