Touring off the beaten path.
December 4, 2009 4:44 PM   Subscribe

I need suggestions of places that are semi-off-limits to the public.

I'm in the process of firing up a blog or two. I know I asked about something similar (places where people behave rudely) not too long ago, thanks for the replies!!!

I also want to write about touring semi-off-limit places. I have a few, but I am looking for more.

It can be a general place (ex. steam tunnels) or a specific place (ex. steam tunnels under Ohio State University). Places in Chicago (or near) is a plus.

It's funny that I mentioned steam tunnels, because I'm not really looking for suggestions of abandoned places or utility spaces (urban exploration)...because 1. I've been there and done that 2. I already know a lot of info through the internet and books 3. From the previous two points combined, I discovered it is a little dangerous for my tastes.

Ok, lets define semi-off-limits. I'm not talking about trying to access places where I would get my head blown off or get 20 years in prison. I'm talking about places where you need special permission or privileges to access, must know someone that has access (coming as a guest), give special tours on occasion (but cannot access otherwise), places that are generally unknown to most people, or places that the average person would not voluntarily go to (because it is taboo or unpleasant).
posted by Eleutherios to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Sewage treatment plant? This really came up in a discussion with someone the other day.
posted by dilettante at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2009

Behind the scenes at zoos and aquariums are always very cool. I used to work at a zoo and it was always fun to show people the exhibits, research areas, and veterinary hospital that every day guests didn't have regular access to.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:48 PM on December 4, 2009

The press box at a sports stadium.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2009

A bit of a hike from Chicago, but this question made me think of the fact that there's some abandoned subway tunnels in Cincinnati that they apparently give tours of from time to time but are otherwise closed to the public.
posted by Kosh at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2009

Club 33 at Disneyland.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2009

Also The Black Museum at Scotland Yard.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:57 PM on December 4, 2009

Just recently, the Hanford Site started offering very limited tours to their facilities. Spots filled up within the first few hours for the entire 2009 season if I'm not mistaken. They also offer boat tours up the Columbia River, much further north than most people care or can get away with without government interference.

Obviously no where near Chicago, but a tour of a place where you need some serious clearance badges and is surrounded by snipers in the hills sounds like fun. Hopefully this is the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:59 PM on December 4, 2009

I would second zoos. Also, movie studios.
posted by brundlefly at 4:59 PM on December 4, 2009

Mauna Kea Observatory. It comes under the heading of "unpleasant" because it's at 13,800 feet altitude.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:00 PM on December 4, 2009

Rare book room at the library. Preparation room at a funeral home. Backstage during a ballet performance. Behind the soundboard at an arena rock show. That one good bar in the airport terminal that everyone seems to fucking know about but me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:02 PM on December 4, 2009

floor/sidelines for college/pro sporting events
second the sewage ttmt plant, or the drinking water pre-treatment plant
closed courtroom
inside crime/accident scenes
in the sacristy (or non-catholic church equivalent) during mass
maintenance areas/locker rooms in sports arena
state/national wildlife refuges normally closed to public (islands with protected populations)
workroom at mortuary or crematorium
hospital morgue
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:03 PM on December 4, 2009

fermilab does something called 'ask a scientist' on the first sunday of the month. includes a tour of the collider, and a visit to their visitor's center--something that was limited after 9/11.
i think argonne national laboratory also does tours for the public, but they were a bit more restrictive.

if you haven't been to bensenville recently, you should check out the neighborhoods east of york road before the city tears them down.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:04 PM on December 4, 2009

Going on Chicago Architecture Society tours gets you into some amazing pre-war skyscrapers and office buildings which don't permit unaccompanied visitors.
posted by mdonley at 5:08 PM on December 4, 2009

When I was growing up, I lived near the Smoky Hill Weapons Range in Kansas and they allowed limited public access, with special permission, on days when the air force wasn't practicing bombing runs. When I was in high school my biology class went there with our teacher to walk around and identify native grasses, and I knew people who had permits to hunt there.
posted by amyms at 5:08 PM on December 4, 2009

Niihau, Palmyra, Kure.
posted by jet_silver at 5:16 PM on December 4, 2009

The Nevada Test Site, home of atomic craters. It's not taboo but it is radioactive.
posted by benzenedream at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Movie projection room.
Judge's chambers.
posted by GPF at 5:35 PM on December 4, 2009

Most nuclear power plants will give you a tour (escorted by a knowledgeable person, also to keep you from wandering off) if you ask.
posted by ctmf at 5:53 PM on December 4, 2009

Oh, and if you write to the public affairs officer of a Navy ship or submarine squadron, you can probably get at least a tour arranged, and possibly a ride.
posted by ctmf at 5:54 PM on December 4, 2009

The economy is halting some major construction projects. In Chicago, the site where the Spire was going to be is currently a big hole in the ground. It would be neat to see inside what is there.

In Las Vegas, construction of the multi-billion dollar Fontainebleau Las Vegas was halted at 70 percent complete. It would be interesting to see in there.

Both of these would require a bit of finagling to get into, though.
posted by chris p at 6:07 PM on December 4, 2009

Top of a water tower or one of those TV/Radio towers
posted by flug at 6:15 PM on December 4, 2009

Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. I highly recommend a visit.
posted by chinston at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2009

a 911 dispatch center

air traffic control at a major airport

Once or twice a year, The Field Museum allows members to visit the offices and labs and store rooms and file rooms and almost everything behind the scenes of the exhibits. Last time I went, I watched a dissection of some kind of large [wild] cat.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:43 PM on December 4, 2009

There's always the classic Bachelor's Grove in the south suburbs. Not too obscure, but it is still officially "off-limits" and, if you believe the hype, not a place you would want to be at too late in the night.
posted by caminovereda at 7:45 PM on December 4, 2009

Any sort of mining operation.

Industrial production (e.g., assembly lines).

In addition to sewage treatment, any water treatment facilities. Power plants - public utilities in general (I've attended/taken many classes to these facilities for tours).

Most government agencies (EPA, NRCS, NOAA, etc.) will arrange tours of their facilities and explain what they do (ditto the above touring).

Train stations, bus stations, subway stations, etc.
posted by faineant at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2009

Whoops, left off military bases.
posted by faineant at 8:11 PM on December 4, 2009

If you google "technical tours" you can find some interesting stuff.

For example, in Santa Clara county you can visit SLAC or NASA's Ames Center. In Snohomish County, WA, you can tour the Boeing factory or a hydroelectric powerplant. Many technical tours seem to be connected with specific industry conferences, but if you're just looking for ideas (as opposed to finagling an invitation), check them out. They sound fascinating and I'm jealous that I'm not going to any radioactive waste management or seaport operations conferences!
posted by Quietgal at 8:19 PM on December 4, 2009

Most people require permits to visit some Aboriginal Lands in the Northern Territory, Australia.
posted by Kerasia at 8:27 PM on December 4, 2009

The Field Museum has Member's Night where you can tour the labs and collection rooms.

You'd probably like the photography of Jan Theun van Rees, by the way.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:40 PM on December 4, 2009

Magic Castle
posted by mittenedsex at 9:04 PM on December 4, 2009

My friend who does research in a lab at JPL tells me she'll need to get me a pass the day before in order to show me around.
posted by rio at 10:59 PM on December 4, 2009

This question reminded me of the insider's tour of Alcatraz that was posted on MeFi a while back.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:34 AM on December 5, 2009

Centrailia, PA.
posted by availablelight at 5:50 AM on December 5, 2009

The back-hallways/maintenance areas of a large shopping mall.
posted by various at 7:47 AM on December 5, 2009

Trinity site is open to the public twice a year, although they have been known to occasionally offer a mountain bike tour.

Some Native American pueblos don't allow the general public on their land, but allow the public to attend feast days.
posted by yohko at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2009

Backstage at the opera or orchestra. Good times!
posted by aquafortis at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2009

Places I've been:

Hospital morgue/medical examiner's office/autopsy room.
Closed off sections of a museum wing/museum rooftop with hidden/forgotten artworks.
Underground steam tunnels of an university/institution.
posted by suedehead at 2:31 PM on December 5, 2009

Midway Atoll fits your description perfectly. You do have to get permission to visit, and it's a place of significant historical significance, as well as natural significance, that is worth visiting.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:26 PM on December 5, 2009

Visiting Centralia is not recommended. The underground coal fires burn incompletely and produce a lot of carbon monoxide, which leaks through to the surface. Carbon Monoxide is colorless and odorless and the toxic dose is very small. It's easy to die there by accident.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:28 PM on December 5, 2009

Alcatraz: the foundations of the prison are from the original civil war fort. Also, the 2nd level and off limits cells, and the former living quarters of the prison guards' families.

Ellis Island: most of the buildings are off limits, but you can tour them with the permission from the park or the Save Ellis Island foundation. Super cool to walk around.

Old miners' houses/cabins. A lot are quite remote, but not illegal to visit. The Inyo Mountains Wilderness has some beautiful scenery and interesting mining artifacts. Even a small abandoned town. 1-2 day hike in, though.
posted by shinyshiny at 5:54 PM on December 5, 2009

As noted above, there are apparently places in Walt Disney World/Land that fit this bill. Epcot has a number of locations that are supposedly only accessible if you are connected to the company sponsoring the exhibit.

Also, (and this is random) there was a masonic supply store located in the Flatiron building (Anthony Nizzardini Masonic Supply Co. 175 5th Ave.) I don't know if it's still open, but I went in 10 years ago and bought a cool masonic light bulb. It's not as big a deal now that you can buy all this stuff online but it definitely had a feeling of off-limits.
posted by jeremias at 6:19 PM on December 6, 2009

Here's another random one. In Brattleboro, Vt, there is the Retreat Tower, built in the late 19th century by the staff and patients of the Brattleboro Retreat, a mental hospital (of course in the 1880's it had the gothic name of "Vermont Asylum for the Insane".) The tower is permanently closed, but occasionally opened to the public. Video here.
posted by jeremias at 6:33 PM on December 6, 2009

many bridges will do a bridge tour, the golden gate is talking about starting them up for pay
police car ridealongs (less of a place I guess)
our 911 center just did a semi public open house
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:19 PM on December 6, 2009

Chicago: the rooftops of many of the downtown skyscrapers.
posted by capitalist.pig at 6:22 AM on December 7, 2009

Datacenters can be interesting, but they're very tight on who gets inside since they house the computers for corporations large and small.

Datacenters can range from warehouse space with some extra air-conditioning to large, purpose built buildings. The higher-end locations would be more interesting. Be sure to get a tour of the power stuff. One place I worked had a large room full of something like car batteries which provided power long enough for the big generators out back to start up.

The security stuff can be kind of interesting as well (a bit James Bond). Hand scanners and fingerprint readers are common. You'll likely need to go through a mantrap to get in. Some facilities keep all lights inside turned off so you can't look at the customer equipment (the aisle is dimly lit so you can see where you're going).

The fire suppression systems are fancy too. You probably wouldn't see this on a tour (unless someone coincidentally burns popcorn in the microwave), but when the alarms go off doors close automatically, lights flash and there are really annoying alarm sounds. In the datacenter itself (not the adjoining office space) fm200 may be used for fire suppression.

If you can get a tour of the NOC (network operations center), that can be cool too. Some places go for a nice War Games style war room look with lots of screens showing network status and such.

One of the Mae East or Mae West would be neat to see, although maybe they just look like any other datacenter (more networking gear, fewer computers I suppose).

Probably the easiest way to get a tour is to have a company and shop for a place to house a server.

Some major datacenter providers are IBM, Equinix, and Savvis.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 4:17 PM on January 9, 2010

Ports, or other areas secured under DHS's TWIC requirements
posted by Seeba at 5:34 PM on January 9, 2010

Once when I was walking over the Chicago River downtown in the middle of the night, someone showed me that the trapdoors in the sidewalks on the bridges are not locked. You can just lift them up, climb down the stairs, and hang out on a small platform over the water. I guess that was probably supposed to be off-limits.
posted by nowmorethannever at 11:48 PM on January 9, 2010

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