As some of you might know, I just recently came back from an extended trip to Houston, where I downright got in love with the city. The views, the people (including some of our awesome Houston SEO clients), that particular flavor and energy that seems to permeate every building and activity that goes on down there… I just couldn’t get enough.
And among all the things I got to do, see, and experience when I was over there, I must say that one that stands out and earns a spot easily in the top 5 has to be the downtown Houston tunnels system.
This is mainly because (and I’m being candidly honest here) I had no freaking clue such a fantastic thing existed!
I had heard about Chicago’s tunnels before (after I got briefly obsessed with all things prohibition-era related). But I had no clue that there was a massive system of interconnected passageways running below a huge chunk of Houston city!
After realizing what an incredible architectural achievement Houston tunnels represented, I made a particular point of learning and visiting as much about it as I could, so I wanted to share with you a few interesting facts and trivia about it, to make sure to invite your curiosity the next time you stop by the city.
1 – It is Massive
The Downtown Houston tunnels system is not a small endeavor, as the phrase “go big or go home” lives in every Texan’s heart more so than in any other place. The whole thing is around six miles long and connects almost one hundred city blocks 20 feet below street level.
The first tunnel was commissioned by Ross Sterling, an American politician that wished to connect two neighboring buildings he owned, and since, the whole complex has developed into a vast architectural achievement that can house 150.000 people in a climate controlled environment.
2 – It is easy to access
The Houston tunnel system has evolved alongside the city architecture through the years, so it is not difficult to find street-level stairs and escalators that grant access to it, and most buildings in the area have an access point in their basement level or a specific stop in their elevator system.
However, two buildings offer “entrances” to the tunnel: McKinney Garage and the Wells Fargo Plaza on main street.
3 – And Easy To Navigate
I was a little anxious the first time I was going in there alone (even though I had visited it a couple of times with my friends) assuming that it would be confusing as hell to get my bearings once I was deep inside the network of passageways. It turns out I was utterly wrong.
Most of the main areas of the tunnel (populated by stores and services) are located in the basement areas of prominent buildings and connected by passageways. Everything is color-coded, and great signaling/wayfinding system makes it pretty easy for anyone to figure out which building you are currently located under. There are also great maps online you can use if you need a little extra reassurance.
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4 – You can eat, shop, and even do some banking
One thing that makes Houston tunnel system stand out is that it isn’t merely a way of quick foot navigation without having to deal with the hassles of busy city streets.
You can find almost anything in there! From Murphy’s Deli to Poco Mexico, you can find virtually any type of cuisine represented at some point in the tunnels. While you are at it, you can also find dry cleaners, cellphone service and repair shops, and banks that operate down there.
The Downtown Houston tunnels system function as a veritable city under a city. But keep in mind it only operates during business hours on weekdays, so plan accordingly.
5 – You can’t go everywhere though
As I researched about the tunnel system, I found out there are a few portions (some of them very significant size-wise) that aren’t accessible or connected to the rest of the system, and I couldn’t finish this without at least mentioning them.
There are a couple of high profile buildings that are connected underground without being part of the whole network, such as the Hilton-Americas Hotel, the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Toyota Center, and Houston Public Library.
However, the most significant of these isolated venues would be the Harris County tunnel, which connects Harris county court, jails, and associated building for a whopping ten blocks!
Well I hope I’ve peeked your interest, there’s much to do and see inside Downtown Houston tunnels, so make sure to visit them the next time you are in the city. You can explore just as I did or you can also take advantage of several great tours that can give you the rundown of the whole thing. Check out what I wrote about things to do downtown Houston and the downtown Houston nightlife!
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