Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
909 Fannin St
When we first moved to Houston and I visited downtown, I was shocked by the lack of people. I was used to downtowns like New York and San Francisco that are teeming with people bustling about. This is the fourth largest city in the United States—where was everyone? Then I learned Houston’s secret. They’re all underground. Literally.
Here’s how you can join the rest of the city (in the air-conditioning, no less) by exploring Houston’s Downtown Tunnels.
What they are
Located 20 feet under the surface of the city, the Downtown Tunnels are comprised of more than six miles of interconnected tunnels that weave together 95 blocks of downtown Houston, connecting shopping, banks, restaurants and access points to the theater district. The entire tunnel system is air-conditioned, which is the primary reason so many people who work downtown prefer taking the tunnels to walking topside (which, let’s face it, depending on the time of the year feels like walking on the sun ).
How to get there
You have some choices for how to get downtown to the tunnels. You can drive and park at one of the many paid downtown parking structures or try your luck at street parking. If you’re going to drive, the McKinney Place Parking Garage is a good choice, as it is an access point to the tunnels.
If you want to extend the adventure, you can take the METROrail. The simplest route is to park along the red line and exit at the Central Station, so you don’t have to bother with changing trains. Stations like Fannin South have parking for only $3, and you’ll find ticket machines at each station to purchase $1.25 one-way tickets. Remember, children ages five and under ride free, and you can take strollers on the METROrail.
Where to enter
Chances are you’ve walked by several entry points and not even noticed. Many of the stairs and escalators that lead you to the tunnels are located inside the lobbies of various downtown businesses and aren’t really advertised with signage.
There are two places where you can walk straight into the tunnels: the Wells Fargo Plaza or the aforementioned McKinney Place Parking Garage. These are both easy to find and have plenty of parking.
If you rode the METRORail, after you exit at Central Station, we suggest heading to the newest food hall in town, Understory, located roughly a five-minute walk away under the Bank of America Tower. It boasts chef-driven restaurants such as Mona Fresh Italian Food, Flip’n Patties (Filipino-inspired gourmet burgers), Boomtown Coffee, East Hampton Sandwich Co. and Seaside Poke, and is at the intersection of five different tunnels, which makes it an optimal starting point for your underground adventure. Yum!
What to do
Once you are inside, it’s fun to wander around and explore the system for what it is. We spent a good 30 minutes letting the kids choose “left or right” as we “got lost” inside the tunnels. Of course, you are never truly lost, as there are a number of maps located around the system (or you can download one ahead of time here).
You can also use the maps to navigate your way to various points of interest downtown such as Discovery Green, the murals at the Shops of Houston, or even the Houston Central Library. If you are trying to get a specific location, I would suggest studying the tunnel map ahead of time, alongside a Houston map, to figure out what the best route might be. It is a whole different visual processing system challenge to figure out which direction to go when traveling under the streets of the city.
Cover photo credit to the Carbonara Group
Originally published on Mommy Nearest