Five NorCal Food Tours
These foodie tours give you an inside look at how your favorite products are made.
By Katie Henry
These free 40-minute tours take you on catwalks above the factory floor so you get a bird’s-eye view of how Jelly Belly jelly beans are made. A guide will tell you how it all works (including how the company got its name), and short videos along the way further explain the process. Kids will love the rainbow of colors rotating in the machines and the packet of jelly beans handed to them (and you) on the way out of the factory.
Before you head in for the tour, make sure you pose for a family photo with Mr. Jelly Belly. And before you leave, stop in the sweet shop to sample flavors even the adults will like—margarita, draft beer, and a mixture of flavors called cocktail classics. Tip: Visit on a weekday. Weekend tours are offered, but you won’t see the machines in action. Daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m., jellybelly.com. Fun fact: The blueberry bean was created to celebrate the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, with red, white, and blue jelly beans. —Katie Henry
Although the Fairfield brewery is the second smallest producer of Budweiser beers, tour the sprawling facility and it feels anything but small time.
On the two-hour Anheuser-Busch Beermaster Tour, you’ll don a baseball cap (included in the ticket price) and safety goggles (so you know you’re going to see the good stuff), and be led through each step of the beer-making process: the brew house, where you can peek through peepholes in the steel mash and brewing containers; the hop room, which includes a taste of fresh hop pellets; the finishing cellar, where you’ll sample a fresh brew from the finishing tanks; and the packaging facility, where you’ll see machines canning, kegging, and boxing the finished product.
As with all good brewery tours, you’ll finish in the tasting room, with a surprisingly diverse flight of Anheuser-Busch beers (including Goose Island and Shock Top). For a different tasting experience, opt for Flights of Fairfield, led by the in-house flight master. Special events such as the First Fridays Concert Series are frequently on tap. Thurs.–Tues. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Beermaster Tour requires reservations, $2–$35, budweisertours.com. Fun fact: This is the greenest Budweiser brewery, with a focus on recycling and water conservation, plus two wind turbines that produce a portion of the facility’s power. —Katie Henry
Set along Jack London Square’s waterfront since 2012, Baia Pasta takes you behind the scenes of the artisanal pasta company on a free half-hour tour. Founder-owner Renato Sardo mixes flour, extrudes it into fantastic shapes, and sets it out to dry, as he waxes poetic about his Italian homeland and passion for bringing small-batch dry pasta to the States.
Sardo feels most at home in the kitchen, which you can sense as he showcases organic durum orecchiette and freshly milled semolina sardinians (those are pasta shapes, for the unversed). As you walk through the tiny, brightly lit factory—it looks more like a high-tech version of an Italian grandma’s kitchen than a food facility—Sardo or his business partner, Dario Barbone, take you through every step of the pasta-making process.
Kids and adults alike will love watching Sardo turn flour and water into spirals and elbows. Expect constant tangents from Sardo: “I’m Italian! We tend to keep the parentheses open.” Fri. 10 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m., reservations required, baiapasta.com. Fun fact: Orecchiette, or nutshell, pasta is the trickiest shape to dry. The process, which can take up to three days, starts with a machine and finishes with fans, as the shapes are highly susceptible to environmental changes. —Michelle Robertson
Surrounded by groovy thrift stores and crowded taquerias, five-year-old Dandelion Chocolate—with its communal tables, hip vibe, and indie soundtrack—fits San Francisco’s Mission district like a glove. This is no Willy Wonka production. Chocolate is taken seriously: Dandelion uses only organic cane sugar and cocoa beans. And the factory tours book up three months in advance.
On the 40-minute tour, you’ll witness the bean-to-bar process, from sorting and roasting to melanging and tempering. As a chocolate-maker takes you through the various stages of production, you’ll taste everything from the raw cocoa bean to the just-tempered molten chocolate to the shiny final product. You’ll also learn about the chocolate revolution upon which Dandelion has embarked, which, as in the coffee trade, impacts quality and supports fair-trade sourcing. These chocolate connoisseurs even use the same lingo as their fellow bean lovers (“hints of cinnamon, raspberry notes”).
Sophisticated flavor profiling aside, this is a family-friendly tour for anyone over eight years old. After all, if there’s one thing that can bring the family together, it’s chocolate. Wed.–Sat. 6:10–6:50 p.m., reservations required, $5, dandelionchocolate.com. Fun fact: A voucher for hot chocolate is included in the tour price. For a South American twist, try the spicy Mission hot chocolate. —Michelle Robertson
Following Prohibition, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was America’s first craft brewery to start churning out brews in 1933. Three-quarters of a century later, Anchor produces roughly 500 barrels of beer a day. The three-story brewery’s walking tours—which can fill up three months in advance—start in the light-filled taproom, where you’ll sip a complimentary brew and learn all about Anchor Brewing’s history and future. (A new brewery and taproom are planned for Pier 48.)
A guide takes you from the copper kettle brew house upstairs to the humming bottling room downstairs and back, while explaining Anchor’s process start to finish. Of course, all that walking will leave you parched: Luckily, your tour will conclude with five to seven beer tastings in the taproom. Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., reservations required, $15, anchorbrewing.com. Fun fact: In 1965, Anchor Brewing was saved from imminent closure when young entrepreneur Frederick Louis “Fritz” Maytag III (of the home appliances line fame) purchased 51 percent of the company for only a few thousand dollars. —Rachelle Cihonski