Tuesday, July 29, 2014

tourist in my town: houston's tunnels and the chase tower observation deck

I don't think you ever fully understand what another place is like until you live there. For those of you who have never experienced Houston, we are known for extreme heat and intense humidity. The summer months are meant for soaking up as much AC as possible; our cars, home, stores, everything has AC (most dominantly central air; only really old homes rely on window units). As downtown Houston started really booming in the 80s with oil and energy companies putting down roots, a system of tunnels was developed to go from building to building. Since then, these tunnels have started housing different businesses to appeal to downtown workers - restaurants, salons, dry cleaners, jewelry repair, print shops, chiropractors, and even a florist. Ever since my dad told me that there were tunnels underground when I was a kid (we don't even have basements here, so this was a big deal!), I wanted to check them out. I was so happy that my first job downtown was so close to a tunnel entry point. I like to check it out every so often and see what's new.

In all honesty, the tunnels simply existing is their most exciting aspect. You would never know that there were people having lunch and hanging out beneath your feet, but a quick escalator down in many major buildings shows you the truth. The restaurants below aren't all that exciting (Subway, McDonald's, pizza, delis, even a Gigi's Cupcakes) but they do range from mall food court style to sit-down places. There's no directory to see what's where. You have to learn by trial and error since each part is maintained by the building that sits on top of it. There are maps and signage throughout, but it can be hard to get your bearings since you lose your sense of direction. I've been known to spend my lunch break just wandering around, taking the first escalator up if I get lost to see where I am in town and then walking back to work accordingly.

Detail on an elevator I passed | Some parts of the tunnels look like ugly office space, and other parts look like a mall food court (sorry for the pic taken while walking...)

I knew I needed a walk yesterday, so I wanted to see if the tunnel system would connect to the Chase Tower Sky Lobby. The Chase Tower is 75 stories - the tallest building in Texas - and has a viewing area on its 60th floor that is open to the public (and free to visit!). Due to some construction, I wasn't able to make the trek completely through the tunnels, but the two block walk I had to make on the street wasn't too bad. It also gave me a chance to realize how pretty the Esperson Building is and look at the statue outside of Chase Tower.

The tall building is the JP Morgan Chase Tower | The Esperson Building is so pretty | Statue outside of the Chase Tower

Once inside, I took an express elevator to the 60th floor. There were lots of people up there taking photos and just checking it out. For my Houston friends, you could clearly see NRG Stadium and the Williams Tower. I didn't feel as high up as I thought I would! The view was nice and made me wish that the lobby was open at night - I bet it would be beautiful then. I liked seeing Houston in a whole new way. It's definitely worth checking out if you're ever in the area.

Zoomed in view of Houston landmarks and the non-zoomed view facing toward the Galleria

Do you ever play tourist in your town?

The Sky Lobby | Another non-zoomed view | Proof I was there | Cars below were so tiny


  1. At first I thought that was a road to nowhere. Haha! I love finding new places in my town just by exploring or going a new way. What a great idea.

  2. I have never been to Texas (as you know), but there are so many similarities to Florida (hot/humid, no basements), lol. I love playing tourist in my town as well. This tunnel sounds fun!

  3. Cool! I bet your underground tunnels are much cleaner than ours. I only go underground to go to the train station, but will use the tunnels and underground routes if it's raining or too hot/cold.

    I am always touristing in my own town. Going to the top of City Hall to the observation deck is on my list of things to do. I need to get on that soon. Maybe tomorrow?

  4. this is a fab post :) I loved learning more about Houston. I really should play tourist here, I know nothing about it really. We don't have basements where I am from either, they freak me out!

  5. Fun, fun! I have only ever driven through Houston, but I do want to actually visit one day.

    I live in a small college town, so there isn't really anything to see or "tour." ;)

    Georgia is very similar to Houston with the heat/humidity and no basements.

  6. playing tourist is one of my favorite things to do. do they give walking tours of the tunnels so you can learn details about the city? i know portland does that and it is a cool way to learn history!

  7. I love learning about things in other cities. I play tourist in Birmingham sometimes, and I have certainly played tourist in Atlanta on more than one occasion! Atlanta has "underground" but it has turned into a dangerous area. Not the same as it was when I was in high school. Birmingham doesn't have any underground features but we have some really cool light tunnels that are fun to see at night! I am coming up with a Birmingham Bucket list of things I want to do and see.

  8. I'm still interested in the tunnels, do they have a historic reason?

    I love the observation deck but I have a hard time doing things like that. I know most people can't feel it but those buildings move slightly and it makes me motion sick. Yes I'm a total freak.

  9. What a cool idea to be a tourist in your own town! David and I have chatted about doing some fun things here in KC that we've never done before. I love the idea of a tunnel system -- I think that would be so much fun! It's a very innovative idea. I always have to remind myself that you guys don't have basements. They are very necessary where we are (hello, tornado alley!), but there are some houses around town that still don't have them surprisingly.

  10. What a great view! I love this idea.

  11. Cool little tour! I had no idea about the tunnels...I would have been curious! You should link up today on Esther's local adventurer!

  12. Tunnels under the city?? I never knew that about Houston! That is so super cool. I love tunnels.
    Actually, on a much smaller scale and for the opposite reason, the college I went to in Michigan had underground tunnels connecting all the main campus buildings. In theory they were there so that you could get from one building to another without having to face awful winter weather, but not that many people knew about them or how to get into them--they were sort of a legend to some, but I found my way in a few times.


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