What's your passion? Golf? Chocolate? BMWs?
A factory tour offers total immersion in something you love — and usually comes with shopping, sightseeing and entertainment on the side. Watching technicians meld the head of a golf club or standing on a balcony watching a worker flavor an entire vat of your favorite ice cream adds a new dimension to your appreciation of a favorite food or gadget.
Let's say you're enamored of the Big Bertha power-hitting golf club. The Calloway Golf Company (www.callawaygolf.com) offers 45-minute walking tours of its 450,000-square-foot plant in Carlsbad, Calif. Visitors can watch staff work on a grip here, add a medallion for weight there and other processes that go into the creation of the company's famed woods and irons.
Plus, the plant is within a half hour of San Diego and all that it has to offer. That includes another attraction located in Carlsbad, Legoland, as well as the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and, of course, 90 golf courses.
If speed is more your game, BMW's only U.S. manufacturing plant is in Greer, S.C., and right next to it is the BMW museum , the Zentrum (www.bmwzentrum.com/), where aficionados can see a collection of famous race cars and "art" cars (customized BMWs) as well as a timeline covering BMW milestones.
Visitors can also take a plant walking tour to see the Z3 and X5 models under construction. (Note: these tours are not being conducted at the moment but will resume Oct. 1. The company is taking reservations now).
The cutting-edge architecture of the plant itself with its gleaming glass and metal walls makes the trip worthwhile. Greer is a gateway to South Carolina's Upcountry, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Museum of Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass' (www.cmog.org) roots go back to CorningWare kitchen staples such as Correlle and Pyrex. Corning Inc. has sold that part of its operations to World Kitchen, but Corning remains the major benefactor of the not-for-profit glass museum.
Museum visitors can watch glass-blowing demonstrations (presented on a stage overlooking the Steuben crystal factory — which Corning still owns), view demonstrations of flame working (the art of bending glass rods into figurines), and participate in glass workshops.
The museum's GlassMarket holds a variety of shops selling crystal, jewelry and books, as well as a section devoted to familiar CorningWare products. The museum is in Corning, N.Y., in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region.
Taking an Ice Cream Dip
Anyone who wanted to take a dip in the river of chocolate while watching the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will find the simulated factory tour ride at Hershey's Chocolate World (www.hersheyschocolateworld.com/index_noflash.shtml) a must-do because of its chocolate-centric focus. Located in Hershey, Pa., the visitor center of Hershey Foods Corporation is also near attractions such as Zoo America, a walk-through zoo featuring plants and animals from North America, and Dutch Wonderland in nearby Lancaster, Pa.
In the same vein are tours at Ben & Jerry's (www.benjerry.com/) in Waterbury, Vt. They are as much educational (tours start with a seven-minute "moovie" — a film about the company's origins and its philosophy of responsibility to the community) as they are tasty (tours end with a sample in the FlavoRoom). Visitors who want more can also visit the Ben & Jerry scoop shop and gift shop.
Waterbury is in the heart of Vermont's picturesque Green Mountains.
How to Find More
Because factory tours abound, the best way to find one can be to visit the Web sites of your favorite manufacturers or visit sites such as Food Factory Tours (http://www.foodfactorytours.com/) and Marshal Brain's How Stuff Works (http://www.howstuffworks.com/cp-archive.htm).
There's also a guidebook to factory tours, Watch It Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide to the Companies that Make Your Favorite Products by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg (Avalon Travel, 2002).
It's a good idea to call ahead; tours can fill up, some companies recommend or require reservations and some charge a fee as well.
Please note that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.