If you’ve ever driven from the Bay Area to Tahoe, Sacramento or anywhere else east on Highway 80, you’ve almost certainly seen it: that giant sign on the side of the road welcoming you to Fairfield and proudly announcing the city as home to the Jelly Belly Factory. If you’re like me, you’ve probably said countless times, “I should check that out someday.”
And then you never do.
Well, it took having kids entering prime candy-appreciation age (my oldest two are 4 and 6), plus no travel plans over a rainy week off of school in February, and I finally crossed this item off my Bay Area bucket list. Let me tell you: it is one sweet place (pun definitely intended).
Given the length of the drive (about an hour and 20 minutes from Menlo Park), I wanted to make sure we took advantage of everything the factory has to offer. So instead of showing up and doing one of the daily free self-guided tours, I booked us for the Jelly Belly University Tour, a one-hour small-group guided tour that takes you through every part of the factory floor—attired in fashionable lab coats, hair nets, and plastic gloves, which my kids thought was hilarious.
The three of us joined one friendly older couple—who were no doubt thrilled to see two very young kids walk up—and a knowledgeable guide and got a true insider’s look at the factory, which at peak time (Easter) can produce up to 250 million jelly beans PER DAY! It’s truly a staggering operation, and so fascinating to see up close. And yes, there were samples, but not so many that my kids went into sugar overload.
The guided tour costs $60 per person, which we felt was worth it, but for those looking to save their cash for the gift shop, the free tour is still pretty great. Guests make their way around a ¼-mile perimeter above the factory floor, looking down on all the activity below and enjoying informational videos, interactive exhibits and yes, don’t worry, free samples.
There’s also a café serving a wide range of non-candy options, many of which are shaped like jellybeans, and a giant gift shop, as you might imagine. The whole place was clean, the staff was friendly, and I didn’t leave feeling as though I’d survived a sensory assault (I’m looking at you, Chuck E. Cheese!).
Now, at this point in my tale, I feel we’ve reached the level of trust where I can confide that the Jelly Belly University Tour has an age requirement of 6 and older. If you’ll recall, I brought one 6-year-old and one 4-year-old with me. But for that day, they were twin 6-year-olds, and please don’t rub it in that my daughter’s twin brother is taller than she is; it’s a sensitive subject. Ahem.
Aside from that minor deception, I can say in all honesty that we had an awesome time. I spent half the drive there worried we were walking into a total gimmick, but this factory is beyond impressive. Seeing it up close the way we did was unlike anything I had experienced.
So stop saying “someday,” and be your kids’ hero by saying, “Guess where we’re going TODAY??”