Sugar and Spikes: A Family-Friendly Las Vegas Adventure

Interested in candy making, marvelous machinery, or just have a sweet tooth? The Ethel M. Chocolate Factory tour in nearby Henderson, NV, just ten miles from the Las Vegas strip, has something for everyone. This century-old chocolate factory combines time-tested recipes and techniques with state-of-the-art modern machinery, and you can see every step of the process firsthand on the free self-guided factory tour, available Monday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Watch sugar, cocoa, and special ingredients transform from raw materials to delicious bonbons and candy bars as you follow the progress through the clean, brightly-lit facility. Each piece of equipment is helpfully labeled, and friendly staffers are on hand to answer questions as you watch the process through large windows or on video monitors. The safety-minded have no need to fear. The tour is thoughtfully designed to make you feel like you’re close to the action while keeping machinery well away from loose clothing and curious hands.

Don’t worry, Ethel M. knows a candy factory tour wouldn’t be complete without a few free samples. If you try something you like but have concerns about chocolate’s chances on a long drive or plane ride home, the factory store will be happy to ship to any address you like. A tip for chocolate connoisseurs: Pick up a box of lemon satin crèmes and put them in the icebox for a few hours. They turn into little chocolate-covered bites of lemon sorbet!

Not many people think “nature walk” when they think about the Las Vegas area, but the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory dedicated its grounds to the largest cactus and succulent garden in the United States. Entry to the garden is free during regular factory tour hours, and is a can’t-miss sight for anyone interested in the exotic flora of the American Southwest.

Home to over 300 species of plants thriving in a special blend of local sand and specially-enriched soil, the garden was planted according to the tradition of English country estates, a naturalistic landscaping philosophy that creates a placid garden perfect for wanderers. Plants are grouped in spontaneous arrangements that mimic the way they appear in the wild. If it weren’t for the manicured garden paths and unobtrusive, informative botanical signage offering information about each plant, it would be easy to believe the garden was created by nature alone.

Keep an eye out for iconic desert plants like the Teddy Bear Chola, a spiny cactus related to the prickly pear. A visit in the early spring will give you a glimpse of its rare, delicate pale yellow flowers. Those aren’t flowers dotting the spiky branches of the Wooly Butterfly Bush nearby though. As the name might suggest, this plant makes a wonderful home for many varieties of butterfly and can attract them by the hundreds. Less colorful, but no less interesting is the Creosote, which propagates by cloning. The Creosote, at Ethel M.’s garden, was cloned from an almost 12,000-year-old Creosote in Victorville, CA called “King Clone”, which makes it the oldest living plant on Earth.

Spring is the best time to see the garden in full bloom, but fall and winter visitors can enjoy an even more colorful side of the garden. Every year, from November to January the garden is decked out in holiday lights. You can view them nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and enjoy performances by local choirs and musical acts. Get some holiday shopping done while you’re there thanks to special extended hours at the factory shop. Unlike the daytime garden tours, the holiday light display does require tickets, but a donation of an unwrapped toy benefits HELP of Southern Nevada and gets you tickets for a family of 4.

Ethel M. is an easy drive from most Las Vegas resorts and hotels, making it an easy change of pace for a day or even just an afternoon. From The Strip, just head South on I-15 and exit East onto Henderson I-215. Take the airport exit and head left on Sunset Road, which will turn into Sunset Way and lead you to the Green Valley Business Park. Ethel M. is right there on the corner, at 1 Sunset Way, Henderson, NV 89014. Allow half an hour for the drive, depending on your starting position and current traffic. The factory offers free parking every day of the year.

Vacations are about making memories and having experiences you can’t have at home. There’s plenty of flash and excitement in Las Vegas itself, but it can be nice to get a break from the theme park atmosphere and take in some of the nature that made Nevada so stunning long before the first roulette wheel ever spun and the first acrobat ever twirled. Share a new kind of adventure with your family at Ethel M.’s garden, one you can’t have anywhere else.