When a reader recently asked for local or nearby factory tours, I knew there was not a quick and short answer. While there may not be many large factories right in the Fairfax County area, there are a few manufacturing facilities where you can see potato chips or chocolate be made, for example. We listed those and other local ideas (including places where you can see antique equipment still operating today) on our blog.
As I pointed out in that post, just a short drive away in Pennsylvania there are factories galore. This merits its own post because there are so many. The ones listed below are just a few, but all are four hours or less from Northern Virginia (most are actually just a two- or three-hour drive away). Some of these are very close to each other and in popular areas with many other family-friendly attractions, so you could even make a weekend of it. By the way, if you love salty snacks, you’ll love touring Pennsylvania, home to chips and pretzels companies galore! Please note tours are not offered on most holidays and on most tours cameras of any sort are not allowed on the “real” factory tours. For ANY factories, it’s also a good idea to check the websites and call ahead to confirm tours before you visit.
U.S. Mint – Philadelphia
In our previously mentioned blog post, we told you about where you could see how paper money is made in Washington, DC. If you want to tour where coins are made, plan to visit the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, which also offers free tours. Tours cover both the present state of coin manufacturing as well as the history of the Mint. You will view the actual coining operations from 40 feet above the factory floor! Tours are self-guided and available 9 am-4:30 pm Mondays-Fridays, plus Saturdays (same hours) during the summer. Photo identification is required and other restrictions (such as no cameras allowed) apply; the website provides all the details you need.
Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations – York
See where select H-D motorcycles are made! The tour offers a limited view of the assembly line and designated fabrication areas for the Softail,® Touring, Trike and CVO™ model families; nearby exhibits detail the manufacturing and assembly processes of the factory. You also can sit on current production motorcycles and visit the gift shop, and visitors 12 and under can enjoy The Kids Corner made just for them. Tours are free, Monday-Friday, 9 am to 2 pm, and last about an hour; tickets are issued first-come, first-served.
Martin Guitar Factory Tour – Nazareth
C.F. Martin & Co. has been making guitars for more than 150 years, and now you can take a peek. Your guided tour of the factory floor will show you how guitars come to life in this state-of-the-art facility. You will follow a guitar from rough lumber to a finished product,which requires more than 300 steps to complete. The one-hour tours are free and offered Monday-Friday, 11 am-2:30 pm on a first-come, first-served basis; reservations are required for groups of 10 or more. Photos are allowed without a flash; no audio or video recording or cell phones.
Kreider Farm Tours – Manheim
These 90-minute dairy farm tours offer high-tech view of farming, including a bus ride down the middle of the loafing barn, otherwise known as the cow palace and a bird’s eye view of the milking merry-go-round. The tours, “filled with facts and humor,” are offered by advance reservations only, Monday-Saturday, 9:30 am-1:30 pm; a fee applies. For fees and scheduling information, call 717-665-5039.
Utz Snacks Factory Tour – Hanover
The self-guided tour of Utz Snacks lets you view the entire 30-minute process from potato to chip at this 600,000 sq. ft. facility. From a special glass-enclosed observation gallery, you can look down into the production process from beginning to end. Tours are free and available Monday-Thursday, 8 am to 4 pm. Plan 30-45 to complete the tour. No cameras, please.
Snyder’s of Hanover Bakery Tour – Hanover
This free tour combines history with modern manufacturing. The guided walking tour (recommended for ages 5 and up; must be able to climb stairs) takes you from the raw materials warehouse to the finished goods warehouse where you’ll see robotics at work, and finally the packing room. You’ll also get to see the oven room and factory store, where you’ll get a free bag of pretzels at the end. Tours last around 30 minutes and are conducted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10:00 am, 11:00am and 1:00-pm year round. Advance reservations are required; call 800-233-7125 Ext. 28592 Monday through Friday 9:00 am-5:00 pm.
Herr’s Snack Factory Tour – Nottingham
Learn first-hand what it takes to make potato and tortilla chips at Herr’s. The one-hour, walking tour is based around live manufacturing and includes walking outdoors at three different buildings, so wear comfortable shoes. Tours are free and offered Monday-Thursday 8 am to 3 pm and Fridays 9-11 am (though production is NOT guaranteed on Fridays); in July and August they offer extended hours upon request. You can schedule your tour online. No photos allowed during the tour.
Intercourse Pretzel Factory Tour – Intercourse
This small Lancaster County pretzel company makes just 100 pounds a day. Pretzels are made the old-fashioned way. The free tours are quick (just 10-15 minutes) and hands-on: at the end, you get a piece of dough to practice your own pretzel-twisting skills (sorry, no bake-and-take: this dough is discarded later for sanitary reasons). Tour hours vary and viewing pretzel-making is not guaranteed; see the website for details and restrictions.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery Tour – Lititz
Visit Pennsylvania Dutch Country and enjoy a hands-on tour with pretzel-twisting. Tours are offered to small groups Monday-Saturday 9:30 am-4:30 pm and are about 20 minutes long. Groups of 10 or more need to make advance reservations. Admission is $3.50 for adults and $2.50 for kids.
Revonah Pretzel Factory Tour – Hanover
Watch sourdough pretzels get rolled and twisted by hand, then salted and baked during this 20-minute free tour. Tours are free and offered Tuesday-Thursday, 8 am-1 pm; reservations are recommended and tours are handicap-accessible.
The kinda, sorta factory tours – various locations in Pennsylvania
The tours listed above are those for real factories where you can see the actual manufacturing of products, not just information or visitor centers. If you want to get a “taste” of manufacturing — or your kids are too young to appreciate a real factory tour — Pennsylvania also has some other family attractions that offer simulated tours:
- Hershey Chocolate World – Hershey: Located next to the Hersheypark theme park, Chocolate World gives you a taste of how chocolate is made (a real taste, because you get a sample at the end!). You’ll follow the process from cocoa bean to candy through their demo of a factory. Admission into Hershey’s Attraction is free, and so is the Great American Chocolate Tour Ride; other attractions require a ticket.
- Turkey Hill Experience – Columbia: Come learn how Turkey Hill ice cream is made, sit in a milk truck, milk the mechanical cows, and learn about the people and culture of Turkey Hill Dairy. Create your own virtual ice cream flavor, ice cream package, and a commercial, and enjoy other activities. Ticket prices vary from $8 to $10 per person; admission is free for kids age 4 and under.
- The Crayola Experience – Easton: Little artists will learn how “chemistry, and technology magically combine to create a colorful adventure for a child’s imagination.” The Crayola Experience features 25 one-of-a-kind attractions including a playground, studio, workshop, and water play area. Admission is $16 per person.