Factory tours are a great way to learn more about a company and how some of your favorite products are made – and here in the Northwest, we make everything from airplanes to cheese and chocolate. Whether you’re a local, or visiting from afar, these are some of the best factory tours in the Pacific Northwest.
Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Factory Tour, Everett, Washington
Located about 25 miles north of Seattle, The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Factory Tour is the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America, which means if you have an any interest in aviation, this one is a must-experience – and, even if you don’t you’re likely to find it fascinating anyway. Visitors enjoy a behind-the-scenes look during the 90-hour tour, which includes walking through part of the largest building in the world by volume at an astounding 472 million cubic feet. You’ll watch the 747s, 777s, or 787s get assembled right before your eyes. On the flight line, you’ll see the massive planes in a variety of stages of manufacture and flight tests too.
Reservations are recommended, although there are tickets sold at the center that can be used the same day, starting at 8:30 a.m., and selling until they’re sold out for the day. Sold on a first-come, first-served basis, you don’t want to miss out if you’re coming from a long distance as they can go quickly, especially during the summer months.
Theo Chocolate, Seattle, Washington
Located in the Fremont neighborhood just north of downtown Seattle, Theo Chocolate was the very first fair trade and organic bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America. The company offers a fascinating look into the world of chocolate and its unique, creative flavors like Ghost Chili, Coffee and Cream, and Bread & Chocolate. You’ll be highly entertained by the story of cocoa, and how the cocoa fruit is transformed into chocolate. You’ll also learn about environmental issues related to cocoa farmers while taking the walking tour through the facilities where chocolate is made. But, of course, the highlight is sampling those heavenly products. Before you leave, be sure to stop by the retail store where you can stock up on some of your favorite flavors.
Glasshouse Studio, Seattle, Washington
The oldest blown-glass studio in the Northwest, the Glasshouse Studio was founded nearly a half century ago during the early days of the glassblowing movement. The Glasshouse Studio features a talented team of artists that are continuously striving to push the boundaries in their work, and you can not only watch demonstrations, but you can take a group tour, hosted once a week. It’s a great way to see how beautiful glass works of art are created. The gallery next door showcases the work of the artists, many of which have an emphasis on northwest style, providing an array of items that are ideal for that unique souvenir.
Filson, Seattle, Washington
Filson is a company that makes gear for outdoor enthusiasts, including men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and luggage. In business since 1897, it was started in order to fulfill the needs of prospectors who were on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush, supplying them with a variety of outdoor gear, like boots, clothing, sleeping bags and blankets. Visitors can tour the Seattle headquarters manufacturing facility to see how its craftspeople turn some of the highest quality materials sourced from across the globe into all sorts of gear and garments that are made to last. You might even be able to see new products in the works to get a glimpse of Filson’s future offerings.
Complimentary tours are available for those 12 and older at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and 1:30 p.m. every Thursday.
Liberty Orchard, Cashmere, Washington
Makers of a Northwest favorite candy – aplets (apple-walnut) and cotlets (apricot-walnut) – if you find yourself in Cashmere, Washington you’ll want to make a snack break and enjoy a factory tour. The shop is located on the Cascade Loop scenic drive (one of favorite Northwest scenic drives) so it’s a perfect Northwest adventure. Tours are available Monday-Friday year-round, weekends April-December. Candy production and factory tours do not always overlap; if you call ahead you can confirm tour schedules and find the best tour for you.
Buck Knives Tour, Post Falls, Idaho
If you’re into knives, the Buck Knives factory located near the Washington/Idaho border in Post Falls offers the chance to find out how the company’s famous knives are made. Known for making everything from hunting knives and scissors, the company prides itself on the quality of their process – so much so that it even offers a warranty that lasts “forever,” which is why it’s considered to be one of the sturdiest brands in the world.
After being issued your headphones and safety glasses, you’ll be led into the factory for a start-to-finish overview of the entire manufacturing process. While photography is prohibited during the tour – they don’t want to give away those trade secrets – you can take photos of the shop from the small museum at the end of your visit.
Tours are free and available January through November, Monday through Thursday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children who are seven and up are welcome.
Tillamook Cheese Factory, Tillamook, Oregon
The Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour is considered one of the very best in the west if you happen to be traveling the Oregon coast. Open daily to the public, visitors can watch the workers in action, viewing the cheese-making process during the self-guided tour on an enclosed walkway just above factor level. Displays explain exactly what they’re seeing, like master cheese makers creating their delicious works of art and workers packaging blocks of that tasty Pepper Jack or sharp cheddar as it makes its way down the conveyor belt. Of course, the best part of all may be those free cheese samples. The factory also includes a gift shop with cheese and other dairy products along with gourmet treats, as well as a café serving up items like mac and cheese, cheeseburgers and grilled cheese. Be on the look out for cheese curds (only available here) as well as misshapen blocks of cheese available for a discount.
Pendleton Woolen Mills, Pendleton, Oregon
American heritage brand and style icon Pendleton Woolen Mills is famous for its cozy blankets and clothing. Visitors can take a free tour to watch and learn about its renowned weaving process, and afterward shop for fabrics, blankets, womenswear and menswear.
Public tours are available on weekdays at various times throughout the day – check with either the Washougal, WA or Pendelton, OR location and make a reservation if you plan to go. While it isn’t required, it is recommended.
Pacific Oyster Company, Bay City, Oregon
The Pacific Oyster Company is family-owned and especially visitor friendly, making it a great place for oyster lovers to watch all of that shucking, including techniques that have been used for more than 200 years. During the self-guided tour, available Monday through Friday, you’ll see skilled workers sorting them out by size and quality to select only the best. Afterward, you can enjoy oyster shooters at the bar or a bowl of fresh made clam chowder – many say it’s the best fish and chips on the Oregon Coast. Picnicking, birdwatching and even an interpretive nature walk along the jetty are all options too.
Harry & David’s, Medford, Oregon
Harry and David’s factory has been at home in Medford since 1934 and is still going strong. Offering sweet treats, bakery items, fresh local fruits and nuts, and everything you would want for a lovely gift basket. Many of their products are created on site at their headquarters in Medford. Depending on the season, you may see them craft their chocolate truffles, cheesecakes, or Moose Munch gourmet popcorn, or perhaps watch teams assembling their famous gift towers. Their guided hour-long tour will culminate with free bakery and chocolate tastings, and wine and beer tastings as well for those over 21. Tours are offered four times a day, Monday-Friday.
Bob’s Red Mill, Milwaukie, Oregon
A foodie’s paradise, the home of Bob’s Red Mill offers a free guided tour of their manufacturing facility just east of Portland. Learn about stone grinding whole grains and the process of milling grains for creating wonderful baked goods at home. Attendees will leave with a free sample! Their 75 minute guided tours are available year-round, Monday – Friday at 10 am, with additional tours during the summer. The tours take place at the factory just down the road from their beautiful signature red Whole Grain Store and Cafe which includes a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and grocery store stocked with freshly baked items, cookbooks, kitchenware, as well as everything you would need to stock your pantry to bake at home.