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.
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.
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.