If you like puzzles and are open to exploring, I’d most definitely recommend spending an afternoon navigating the hidden tunnels of downtown Houston.
I’m not sure if anyone else has been in my position before – looking at their GPS when downtown searching for a Starbucks (yes, I am a shameless Starbucks addict), only to be led to the outside of a high-rise building… with no Starbucks in sight. This happened to me twice and left me confused each time, no closer to getting my caffeine fix. I don’t like admitting defeat, but I gave up both times. I avoided downtown and sought my coffee elsewhere.
However, after recently securing an internship downtown this past summer, I became aware of a huge revelation – downtown Houston has an underground tunnel system that spans the equivalent of six miles and connects 95 city blocks.
Ever wondered why downtown doesn’t seem very busy during the day? Probably because the district’s 150,000 or so employees mastered the tunnels and cleverly avoid Houston’s inclement weather in the process.
What’s Down There?
The Houston underground system of tunnels lies 20 feet below the streets and originally started as one tunnel between two downtown movie theaters.
Fast forward to the present day, and there is an array of restaurants, banks, salons, retail stores, bars and much more in the elusive tunnels.
When I discovered the tunnels, I spent many a lunch break trying to navigate my way around and working out where the nearest entrance was from my office. I made it my mission to explore these air-conditioned tunnels as much as I could. Given that we’ve just had one of the hottest summers on record, it was a great way to get my steps in without passing out from the heat or returning to the office drenched in sweat.
How I Navigate
I don’t blame anyone for not venturing into the tunnels. They are pretty hard to find. The tunnels aren’t signposted from the street level at all. You need to do your research on your nearest entry point and like me, this may be through trial and error.
The puzzle of the tunnels continues as you can only gain access from street-level stairs, escalators and elevators that are inside random office buildings or parking garages. There were many times when I was walking inside a tunnel only to be stopped by an elevator that took me back up to the street, so it was no easy feat.
One of my favorite entry points is adjacent to the Houston Rodeo mural on the corner of Travis and Prairie Street. You enter via the One Market Square Garage opposite El Big Bad restaurant. Take the elevator to B2 and from here you will be greeted with a tunnel map that leads you onwards.
On this route, you can access Understory which sits below the Bank of America Tower. Understory houses a bright, naturally lit forty-foot atrium filled with eight different eateries, a bar and Boomtown Coffee. There are also free games such as foosball, mini basketball hoops, ping pong tables and cornhole.
If you continue from Understory, look for Michael’s Cookie Jar. They’ve got delicious cookies and do a cookie happy hour from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. every day. The pecan and chocolate chip cookie is a must-try. And, you’ll finally come across a second Starbucks you may have been looking for earlier. Just saying!