I have been wanting to take a tour of the Jelly Belly (BUY!) factory for years. I remember back when I was in middle school you could go to their website and, if your timing was right, get a free sample bag of jelly beans mailed to you. Now that they’re a beloved and well-established candy company, they no longer need to mail out free samples to drum up business.
The people at the Jelly Belly Factory were so nice! We arrived at 3:15 to find a huge line winding out of the factory through those gates. I was worried that we wouldn’t make it in for a tour that day (the website said that tours are offered until 4:00, and we were dozens of people past the hour-long wait marker), but they reassured us that, if we were already in line, we would get a tour. We made it in at about 4:20, and there was at least one more tour that went in after our group.
To make the wait easier, Jelly Belly employees constantly walked up and down the line handing out Jelly Belly samples. They had a special scooper that doled out exactly one jelly bean at a time. We got to taste a Very Cherry, a Kiwi, and a Pomegranate. I also visited the Jelly Belly sample bar (hooray for my parents, who held my place in line for me), where you can try everything they sell. Basically, you’re only limited by your shame. I tried a dark chocolate Jelly Belly (a sort of new flavor), a chocolate covered Sunkist fruit gem (not worth buying; the plain fruit gems are way better), an orange Jelly Slug (also not that great), and a lemon-lime Sport bean (super juicy!). And because I’m not a horrible daughter, I bought a little bag of buttered popcorn flavored Jelly Bellies for my patiently waiting parents, as that’s their favorite flavor.
Alas, photography was not allowed on the tour, so you’ll have to be content with their painted representation of the Jelly Belly making process. The tour basically walks you through the factory (you’re overhead on a walkway that has window cutouts at adult and kid-friendly heights) as you watch the Jelly Belly employees work. Each stop has featured video that’s introduced by your tour guide. When we visited, the panning room smelled strongly of buttered popcorn Jelly Bellys with a faintly fruity undertone (Tutti Frutti, perhaps?). I asked our guide, Desmond, if it always smelled like that, and he said the smells vary from day to day as they change the flavors of beans that they’re manufacturing.
At the end of the tour, we all got free mini bags of Jelly Bellys. My family also walked out with 3 bags of Jelly Belly Belly Flops (they were buy 2 get 1 free) in addition to the Bertie Bott’s and on sale Christmas candies I picked out for myself. If you’re ever in the San Francisco area, you should definitely make the Jelly Belly pilgrimage. It’s fun, and you get free Jelly Bellys out of it!