Looking Forward to 2016

Lots to look forward to in 2016: Exciting Houston openings, happenings and big events

Lots to look forward to in 2016: Exciting big H-Town events & openings

Houston, Marriott Marquis hotel downtown, September 2015, pool shaped like Texas
The Marriott Marquis hotel, with a big swimming pool in the shape of Texas, is scheduled to open around Labor Day in downtown Houston. Courtesy rendering
Donald Trump hat
A big Republican presidential debate, featuring frontrunner Donald Trump, will take place at the University of Houston in February. Photo via nydailynews.com
NCAA Final Four Houston 2016
The Final Four comes to Houston the first weekend in April.  Photo courtesy of NCAA
Hopdoddy South Congress
The Austin favorite, Hopdoddy, and other new restaurants will open in River Oaks District in 2016. Courtesy of Hopdoddy / Facebook
University of Houston football player
The University of Houston takes on football powerhouse Oklahoma in the 2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium on September 3.  Courtesy photo
Houston, Marriott Marquis hotel downtown, September 2015, pool shaped like Texas
Donald Trump hat
NCAA Final Four Houston 2016
Hopdoddy South Congress
University of Houston football player

There's a lot going on in Houston in 2016. Here are some of the big things we're looking forward to:

1. Final Four

The sports world will focus on Houston when the NCAA Final Four basketball championships come to NRG Stadium in games April 2 and 4. Non-sports fans can catch big free concerts and a host of other fun activities surrounding the big event.

2. MATCH official opening

Although the new Midtown Arts & Theater Center has featured performances in a "soft opening" for several months, it officially opens with a series of activities, including a big block party called "Light up the Night!" on January 15 and a free Family Day on January 17.

3.  Republican presidential debate at University of Houston

A few days before the all-important "Super Tuesday" primaries, the Republican presidential candidates will meet at the University of Houston on February 26 for a debate sponsored by NBC News and Telemundo.

4. New retail openings in The Galleria

If 2015 was the year of retail at the River Oaks District, the momentum swings to Houston's venerable Galleria this year, with a new Saks Fifth Avenue slated to open in April. Throughout the year a host of new stores are scheduled to debut, including the Miami-based luxury retailer The Webster and the London-based Yatauatcha's in the newly-constructed "jewel box" on Westheimer, as well as such luxury stores as Christian Louboutin and Céline in the mall.

5. Restaurant openings at River Oaks District

The new mixed used complex focuses on restaurants, with a slew of openings planned in 2016, includingAustin-based burger chain Hopdoddy and four Dallas-based chains — pizza restaurant Thirteen Pies, comfort food spot The Porch, a pizza and pasta concept called Taverna and the French-influenced Belgian fare of Toulouse Cafe and Bar.

Also on tap is an upscale steakhouse called Steak 48 and Le Colonial, a San Francisco import offering French-Vietnamese fusion. 

6. The University of Houston takes on Oklahoma

Fresh off an exciting 13-1 season and a Peach Bowl win, the University of Houston Cougars will get another chance to prove they can play with the big boys when they take on perennial powerhouse the University of Oklahoma in 2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium on September 3.

7. New Marriott Hotel with pool in shape of Texas

The 30-story Marriott Marquis hotel, with 1,000 guest rooms and a Texas-shaped lazy river and infinity pool, is scheduled to open around Labor Day near the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. It's one of several downtown hotels scurrying to open before this year before the 2017 Super Bowl, including the Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites (at Crawford, between Rusk and Capitol streets), Hotel Alessandra (at Fannin and Polk streets), and Aloft Houston Downtown (at Fannin and Walker streets).

CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler contributed to this article.