Underground Cities: Travel below the surface of five American towns

Terena Bell
4 min readApr 9, 2019
City Hall Station in New York

On your next trip to the United States, you can visit the attractions everyone can see or you can go underground. By “underground,” we don’t mean secret, although some of the places on this list certainly seem so, from San Francisco’s speakeasies to the backway into NYC’s City Hall Station. We mean literally underground — as in beneath the surface, below where many travelers dare to go.

With that in mind, here are America’s five best subterranean cities:

Seattle, Washington:

As a nation, the US isn’t really old enough to have true ruins — cities under cities like in Athens or Rome. Except Seattle. Underneath present-day Pioneer Square, you’ll find abandoned streets and office buildings — even a beauty parlor. They’re remnants of the first Seattle, built in 1851 then destroyed by the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Afterward, mud covered the town, so locals built eight-foot retaining walls and paved over the destruction, raising street-level 22 feet. Today, Underground Seattle lies beneath. To see it, buy a 22 USD ticket from Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Youth and senior discounts available.

San Francisco, California:

San Francisco’s downtown hosts a number of historic, basement speakeasies, particularly near Jackson Square and along Columbus Avenue. For example, Bourbon & Branch (501 Jones St) operated as JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop during Prohibition. It did not sell tobacco.

If you insist on drinking above ground, Wilson & Wilson is directly upstairs. Don’t be alarmed when you visit the site to make reservations: Yes, it says Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency. In keeping with the Prohibition theme, the bar’s named after a purse that patron Lorraine Adeline Wilson stashed between the walls in 1932.

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Terena Bell

Reporter & fiction writer; series editor, Writing Through the Classics; short story editor for hire; sponsor more writing here: buymeacoffee.com/terenabell