Drizzling? IBX Has Indoor Appeal, Too.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

When vacationing on the Inner Banks, don't let the rain turn your beach holiday into mud. With the islands' proximity to Wilmington and other major attractions, you might even be wishing for a few gray days. Here are seven ways to spend a stormy morning or afternoon.

1. Take a self-guided tour of the Battleship North Carolina, a restored World War II memorial docked across from Wilmington on Eagles Island. Info: 910-251-5797, http://www.battleshipnc.com; $12.

2. Orton Plantation Gardens, a former rice plantation on the Cape Fear River's west bank, has 20 acres of garden-lined walking paths, plus the occasional alligator sighting. The house is closed to the public, but you can dodge the raindrops in Luola's Chapel, a rain shelter or inside the garden market, which sells botanical items and refreshments. Info: 910-371-6851, http://www.ortongardens.com; $9.

3. Explore the winsome port town of Southport, which has changed little since its founding more than 200 years ago. The compact downtown and waterfront are a lively mix of restaurants, antiques shops, art galleries and such points of interest as the Old City Jail and a branch of the N.C. Maritime Museum. Info: Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-457-6964, http://www.southport-oakisland.com.

4. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington campus bubbles with activity year-round, even for those way past their graduation date. Among the diversions: the Claude Howell Gallery, featuring art openings and exhibits; the North Carolina Teachers Legacy Hall, which covers the history of teaching; the Watson School Art Collection; film series; music concerts and theater. Info: 910-962-3000, http://www.uncw.edu.

5. Still glum about the breakup of "Dawson's Creek" and the hookup of Cruise and Holmes? Go back to more innocent TV times on a tour of the EUE/Screen Gems Studios North Carolina, the largest full-service motion picture facility east of California. Info: 910-343-3500, http://www.screengemsstudios.com; $12.

6. Museum-hop around Wilmington. Choices include the Africa Museum, the Bellamy Mansion Museum and Gardens, the Cameron Art Museum, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, the Children's Museum of Wilmington and, for the not-so-squeamish, the Cape Fear Serpentarium. Info: Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Centers, 877-406-2356, http://www.cape-fear.nc.us.

7. Pick up an umbrella, or a bathing suit for when the sun returns, in any of the assorted shops in Wilmington's historic riverfront district. Find heavy retail therapy along Front Street, which is bookended by the Cotton Exchange and Chandlers Wharf shopping complexes.

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