We've done the Jelly Belly Factory tour in Fairfield many times, but knowing practically every twist and turn of the tour doesn't stop us from visiting once a year or two. It's fun, it's free, and it's less than a 90 minute drive from where we live. Plus, they give out free jelly beans! What's not to love?
Jelly Belly is open for free factory tours every day from 9:00am to 4;00pm, but weekdays are the best days to go because the factory is up and running (on weekends, factory workers are home and visitors stare down at an empty factory floor while watching a video). You don't even need to make a reservation; tours leave frequently (every 10-15 minutes), so all you have to do is show up and get in line.
Take note, wait times are as little as 10 minutes during the off season but can escalate to an hour during Spring Break and Summer! We've waited as long as 40 minutes; this time around our wait time was about 25 minutes. I really think they could streamline the waiting process by handing out slips of paper with tour times, but at this point in time, all you do is stand in line and wait. You can make the waiting more bearable for the kids by browsing through the shop and the free tasting bar, but one person always has to be in the line in order to hold your place.
Once your turn comes up, you are handed a paper Jelly Belly hat, which you have to keep on at all times during the tour (if you're already wearing a cap or a hat, you can choose to keep it on instead of the paper hat). You're instructed to go up the stairs to a waiting room (filled with cool jelly bean portraits) until everyone on the tour (about 60 people) has assembled. After your tour guide briefs you on the rules (no photos or videos, no food or drink, keep your hat on, don't get ahead of the tour guide), everyone lines up for a photo with the Jelly Belly mascot (which they'll try to sell to you later), and the tour starts.
The tour goes through the history of the jelly bean, the history of the Jelly Belly company, and the production process. Everyone walks along an enclosed catwalk overlooking the production floor. The tour guide stops at specific intervals to explain what is going on below, and to play a brief video with more information. Throughout the tour, the smell of the flavor currently in production wafts up to the tour group -- which is wonderful when they happen to be making a flavor I like (Pear! Mango! Toasted Marshmallow!), but horrible when it's a flavor I detest (Buttered popcorn! Licorice!). Several times during the tour, the tour guide gets out a box of jelly beans and gives everyone a sample! And at the end of the tour, everyone gets a free pack of jelly beans! Usually they hand out packs of random flavors, specially packed for the tour, but this time they handed out branded Disney Princess Jelly Belly beans in adorably glittery colors.
The tour itself lasts only 40 minutes, but after 90 minutes of driving and 25 minutes of waiting in line, we weren't ready to head back home just yet! All those heavenly candy smells had us craving lots and lots of sugar, so we lined up at the Jelly Belly tasting bar for some free samples. You're allowed to ask for 3 flavors at a time (and they give you 2 beans of each flavor that you request).... but you can get back in line as many times as you want. I won't shame the kids (or myself) by revealing how many times we lined up.
We also had lunch at the Jelly Belly cafe, which serves sandwiches, salads, and pizza. Their signature items are jelly bean-shaped burgers and pizza!
Finally, a visit to the Jelly Belly Factory isn't complete without a stop at their souvenir shop, filled with all the Jelly Belly branded merchandise you can think of. They sell clothes, hats, tote bags, keychains, flashlights, umbrellas, cups, glasses, jelly bean dispensers, jelly bean jars, and more..... along with lots and lots of candy! You can buy bagged jelly beans, custom jelly bean mixes, jelly beans in decorative containers. The Jelly Belly factory is also the only place where you can buy Belly Flops, bags of factory overruns that taste perfectly fine, but get rejected by quality control because the beans aren't the right shape or size or weight or color. They cost $9 for a 1-lb bag of assorted flavors.
I'm very particular about my jelly bean flavors, so I'm not a big fan of random assortments; I prefer smaller bags of flavors that I know and love. Fortunately, that's not a problem at Jelly Belly; they have over 150 flavors, and they come in so many pre-selected flavors! Here's a selection of the varieties we found at the factory store:
(left to right, top to bottom): Pink Camo, All-American, Peter Rabbit, Hello Kitty, Candy Corn, Harry Potter Jelly Slugs, Sugar Free, Licorice, Cocktail Classics, Snapple, Soda Pop, Dr. Pepper, Chocolate Dipped, Beer, and Disney Princess.
Draft Beer is one of their newest flavors; it's non-alcoholic so even the kids can try it. I hated it. It tastes and smells exactly like cheap, sweet beer. Yuck! But I guess there are people out there who like it. If there are people who like Buttered Popcorn, Jalapeno, and Licorice Jelly Belly beans, anything is possible. I wonder what flavor they'll come up with next? I guess we'll find out the next time we visit!