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There’s a lot of buzz about Houston right now. For the first time in more than a decade, the city will host the 51st annual Super Bowl on Sunday, February 5 and an estimated one million people will come to the nation’s fourth-largest city for the big game. The stage is set for Houston to show off.

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Expect non-stop action including the 10-day Super Bowl Live Festival (which is free and headlined by Houston’s own ZZ Top, Solange Knowles and the Sufferers), a pre-Super Bowl concert headlined by Bruno Mars, the NFL Experience, the DIRECTV Super Saturday Night party and countless other attractions and live music performances, all leading up to game day at NRG Stadium.

Monument Au Fantome found in the new district | Flickr CC: Lorie Shaull

Monument Au Fantome found in the new district | Flickr CC: Lorie Shaull

The new downtown entertainment district, Avenida Houston, officially opens in January and its pedestrian plaza along the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green will be transformed into a spot for Super Bowl events while also connecting to venues like Minute Maid Park, the Toyota Center, a host of hotels, art installations and a new restaurant row that boasts names like Biggio’s, Xochi, Grotto, and several others.

Meanwhile, a cool vibe has been emerging over the last few years in Houston as the city sheds its image of an oil-town gone bust. Its food scene, for example, is downright outrageous.

For starters there’s Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar where owner and Chef Mark Holley creatively combine the flavors of Texas, New Orleans, Kentucky and beyond to tickle palates like never before. Shrimp and grits come with a sorghum glaze, pickled serrano-boursin grits, and andouille-tomato mojo and don’t miss Holley’s Cornish hen with sweet potato waffles, pecan butter, fried quail egg, creamed mustard greens, and sorghum-rhubarb syrup. The menu is full of surprises, craft cocktails and all manner of goodness.

For Vietnamese try Le Colonial. And while Peska, is known for its seafood, its pork belly bbq is exactly what you’d expect from Texas, fab in a way only Texans can do. Meanwhile, Houston food and travel writer Mai Pham, gives high praise for brand new Killen’s STQ, which blends live fire steakhouse cooking with bbq techniques.

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There’s plenty of nightlife around town, from the traditional bars and clubs to unique spots like Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, whose theater was built in 1912. Dine on a three-course meal and take in musicals like Tales of Hard Nut, a burlesque-inspired adaptation of The Nutcracker, for bawdy, big fun, especially for the uninitiated.

Downtown Aquarium | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer for Visit Houston

Downtown Aquarium | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer for Visit Houston

On the tamer side, there’s the Downtown Aquarium with its amusement rides and games. The Johnson Space Center NASA is a must-see with its more than 400 space artifacts.

Houston is also very much an arts town. Their museum district has 19 institutions, many that charge no admission. Explore the Children’s Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, the esteemed Menil Collection, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and zoo, for starters. Look into getting a Houston CityPASS from the Houston Visitors Center or online, for $56 for adults and $46 for kids and get admission to five popular attractions.  If you like shopping, you could go broke. Houston fancies itself the style capital of the South. There are hundreds of stores, in more than a dozen distinct shopping areas, where you’ll find vintage, as well as high-end designer.

Photo courtesy of Hotel ZaZa

Photo courtesy of Hotel ZaZa

When it comes to accommodations, you’ll have your pick of big names. The Hotel Derek, near the Galleria, and Sheraton are popular as is the Royal Sonesta Houston. Their suites are spacious, elegant, and the service superb. For a lodging close to the museum campus, try the boutique Hotel ZaZa, whose lobby is a photographic love letter to the movies.

Beyond the Super Bowl there’s plenty of good stuff on the horizon. Houston will host the Middlelands Musical Festival, one of North America’s largest festivals, at the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds, in early May. In addition to live music from world-renowned artists and local favorites, there will be vendors offering medieval style food and drinks, and a four-day camping program with Renaissance-era group activities.

It’s not enough that Houston already has the largest skatepark in North America. This fall, North Houston Skatepark will unveil one of the largest bike parks in the U.S. The $14 million 20-acre North Houston Bike Park will feature a BMX-sanctioned race track, street course, freestyle ramps and bowls, and a community events center.

Houston is nipping on the heels of other big cities in many ways. Watch out, world.

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Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money,,,, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

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