CIAA Brings Basketball, Parties and Celebs to CharlotteCIAAThe weeklong CIAA Tournament features plenty of entertainment at games as well as a three-day fan festWhen the annual CIAA Basketball Tournament moved to Charlotte more than a decade ago, it was already a well-established sporting event, representing one of the oldest athletic conferences in the nation. But its Queen City presence has elevated this NCAA Division II conference tournament to new heights, setting record attendance for its basketball games and spawning hundreds of events.Known as CIAA Week, the official events will take place Feb. 21 – 25, 2017, largely centered in Uptown Charlotte and anchored by the tournament played between the men’s and women’s teams from the 12 schools of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Twenty-two games will be played at Spectrum Center; and the CIAA also hosts the three-day Fan Fest - with free admission - at Charlotte Convention Center.If you’ve visited during CIAA Week before, you know there will also be hundreds of parties and social events surrounding it, including many that are hosted by celebrities, from hip hop stars and media personalities to popular actors and professional athletes. And because most Charlotte hotel rooms are reserved well in advance of tournament week, you’ll potentially stay at hotels in surrounding cities. This gives ample opportunity to explore local shops, restaurants and attractions in the greater Charlotte area.ShoppingSouthPark MallCharlotte Among the more than 150 stores at this luxury shopping mall are several you won’t find anywhere else in the Carolinas, such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. It’s common to spot celebrities and professional athletes here strolling to the stores. Plus, there are a couple of enticing shopping villages elsewhere in the SouthPark neighborhood: Specialty Shops and Phillips Place.Charlotte Premium OutletsCharlotte When this collection of 100 outlet stores opened in 2014, it brought premium shopping at a discount to the Steele Creek area. Ann Taylor, Coach, Cole Haan, Gap Outlet, J.Crew, Kate Spade New York, Lucky Brand, Michael Kors and Nike are some of the most popular stores here.Carolina Place MallPineville Just south of Charlotte, about 20 minutes from Uptown, you’ll find several of your favorite department stores here, including Belk, Dillard’s and Macy’s; plus more than 120 other stores specializing in apparel, accessories, shoes and more. And along the streets surrounding the mall are plenty of home furnishings and specialty stores and restaurants.Birkdale VillageHuntersville Head north from Uptown on Interstate 77, and in just a little more than 20 minutes you’ll arrive at this awe-inspiring shopping village. There are dozens of trendy boutiques and restaurants, including several locally owned shops, which pair well with the bigger brand stores like Banana Republic, Jos. A. Bank, Victoria’s Secret and White House | Black Market.Concord MillsConcord It’s one of the most-popular attractions in North Carolina, and you’ll quickly realize why when you encounter this massive, indoor outlet mall, home to more than 200 stores as well as entertainment venues such as an aquarium and 24-screen movie theater. Travel time from Uptown is about 25 minutes, and Interstate 85 North will get you there.DiningMert’s Heart & SoulCharlotte Local and out-of-towners make repeat visits for the many Southern and Low-Country-inspired dishes, such as the fried fish, macaroni and cheese, and shrimp and grits. And you must try the “soul rolls” – two egg roll wraps filled with black-eyed peas, seasoned rice, collard greens and diced chicken breast.Price’s Chicken CoopCharlotte If you ask for recommendations on where to eat in Charlotte, chances are this South End (neighborhood just outside of Uptown) takeout joint will make the list. Fried chicken is the star, and it’s been spotlighted in several national television shows and magazines. Be advised, the restaurant is cash-only and there’s no seating.Lancaster’s BBQMooresville and Huntersville With two locations – Huntersville replicates a general store, while Mooresville pays tribute to NASCAR – Eastern-style North Carolina barbecue is served in the form of brisket, ribs, pulled pork dinners and sandwiches. The 20- to 30-minute drives from Uptown are well worth it for lunch and dinner, and you’ll want to order extras to go.Red Bridges Barbecue LodgeShelby For nearly 70 years, this small-town restaurant (about 45 minutes south of Uptown) has attracted diners from around the state. The barbecue is pit-cooked, with the pork cooked slowly over hickory over night. And because everything is cooked fresh daily, be warned that this eatery will sometimes close early once it runs out of food.Museums & AttractionsHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + CultureCharlotte The appeal of this cultural center begins with the award-winning design of its four-story building, and carries over inside with the collection of African-American art, featuring works by renowned artists Romare Bearden, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett and Jonathan Green. The center, named for Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, also showcases traveling exhibitions and special events.Levine Museum of the New SouthCharlotte This national award-winning museum tells the diverse history of the South, from the end of the Civil War to today. Its permanent exhibit, Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers, which features more than 1,000 artifacts, is a must-see for anyone wanting to learn how the Charlotte area grew to become one of the largest and most vibrant metropolitan areas in the South.Historic Latta PlantationHuntersville You’ll experience living history at this historic plantation, built around 1800 and featuring the original mansion and smokehouse as well as replica buildings. Reenactors, historic displays and hands-on activities convey what life was like for the residents, farmers and enslaved African-Americans here 200 years ago. It’s located about 25 minutes north of Uptown.Daniel Stowe Botanical GardenBelmont After several days of fast-paced events and activities, what better way to wrap up your visit (and wind down) than by strolling these beautiful grounds. Situated on 380 acres on the banks of Lake Wylie, DSBG features colorful gardens, fountains, nature trails, an indoor conservatory filled with tropical plants and orchids, and more.More FROM VISITNC.COMThere’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.The Ultimate Trip for College and Pro Sports FansOur state is home to iconic college teams, pro basketball, football, hockey and racing, and sports museums and halls of fame you can visit year-round.Stay in Style at Boutique Hotels in North CarolinaSeveral new boutique hotels have opened across the state since last year, giving you an abundance of choices for a sophisticated stay.African-American Heritage JourneyThis five-day trip will immerse you in highlights of the great contributions African-Americans have made to local history and culture.Museums, Music and More in CharlotteCharlotte has much to offer in art, history and culture. Spend three days here and discover a great sampling of museums, music and more.