Topsail Island NC is part of a chain of barrier islands located along the North Carolina coast. The island offers 26 miles of pristine beaches, wonderful for rent homes and condos, great restaurants and shops to explore.
We've been to Topsail island a number of times in the past year, and have really enjoyed our visits. We had heard of Topsail, but never visited until our Marine son's were stationed near there.
Topsail has become one of our favorite beach destinations in North Carolina. Let's just jump in and learn more about what Topsail Island has to offer, and why you should consider visiting for your next beach vacation!
This article is part of our "On the Road Series" where we share our adventures outside of the Blue Ridge Mountains with you.
Where is Topsail Island?
Topsail Island is located off the coast of North Carolina, near the city of Jacksonville NC. The island lies just south of Jacksonville NC and the Marine Base at Camp Lejeune and north of Wilmington NC. Topsail Island contains the communities of North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach.
Topsail Island is about a 2-hour drive from Raleigh NC, and about 6.5 hours from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.
Communities of Topsail Island
Topsail Island is made up of three separate communities:
- North Topsail Beach
- Surf City
- Topsail Beach
Let's explore each one, as we have visited all three, and each one has it's own set of pros and cons.
North Topsail Beach
As you might suspect from the name, North Topsail Beach is on the north side of Topsail Island, and is accessible by taking a left onto New River Inlet road, off Highway 210 just after crossing the bridge coming from Sneads Ferry.
North Topsail is a bit more laid back the rest of the Topsail Island. You won't find a lot of things to do, or places to eat, but you gain the benefit of less people, and more remote beaches. North Topsail is our favorite place to stay when we visit, and is only a short drive to Surf City or Sneads Ferry for more dining and entertainment options.
At the very north of North Topsail is a nature beach area, and crab sanctuary that is beautiful and fun to explore.
Surf City is the largest town on the Island, and is at about the half way mark on the 26-mile long Topsail Island. Surf City offers a number of really nice dining options, a pier, shops to explore, and things to do. Additionally, it offers a very nice and popular public beach option, with a pier for fishing and really nice views.
As far as Topsail Island goes, Surf City is the "big city" of the island.
Located, on the southern side of the island, you'll find the small town of Topsail, and Topsail beach. The majority of this portion of the island is homes and beaches. We really enjoy visiting Serenity Point on the very south end of the Island.
Serenity Point is a natural beach area the circles the southern most part of the island, and offers beach front access to both the sound and the ocean, with no housing or commercial businesses. You'll get pure beautiful beach and water.
Military Activity at Topsail Island
Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station, both Marine Corps bases are located just to the north west of Topsail Island. Camp Lejeune is the largest US Marine base on the east coast, and located in nearby Jacksonville NC. In fact, you can see both Lejeune and New River from the northern portion of Topsail Island.
These bases are training bases for US Marines, and US Marine Helicopter pilot training facilities. As a result, if you enjoy seeing Military aircraft, you'll love seeing the Ospreys, Cobras, Hueys and CH-53 Super Stallions flying over the island, along the beaches and water.
While driving along TopSail, you may also notice one or more of the 8 concrete towers that are along the beach front. Some are stand alone towers today, while others have been converted into vacation rentals. These towers are what remains of guided jet missile test towers. These 900-square-foot concrete towers, are five feet thick and held up by 41 pilings, that are buried 40 feet into the sand.
The towers are placed at very specific points, and were used to measure the performance of the missiles. The project was later moved out west, and the towers were sold. More than 200 missile launches were done on the Island prior to the project being moved.
What to do on Topsail Island
Topsail Island is very different than a place like Myrtle Beach, as it's more small town, remote, quiet and relaxing. As a result, you won't find hundreds of commercial things to do see and do. But with that said, there is still plenty to do and see. Let's explore some of the great things to see and do while in Topsail Island.
1 - Visit the beaches!
Topsail Island is full of beautiful, natural, and clean beaches, and is the main activity for most visiting and vacationing in Topsail. There are a number of private and public beach access locations for everyone.
The 26-mile Topsail Island provides plenty of sand, sun, and water. The beaches are very natural, full of wildlife, shells, and beautiful clean sand.
North Topsail has 37 public beach access points, Surf City has 39, and Topsail has 20 with 9 Sound access points. They are numbered and shown on Google Maps as well, to make them easy to find and access.
Parking generally has a fee, and you can pay electronically using their website or app, depending on your location.
The main thing we love about Topsail, outside of the relaxed and slow paced atmosphere is that even during the most busy of seasons, Topsail never seems overly crowded. The beaches of Topsail are where you go to get away from reality, relax, revive, and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the Ocean.
Topsail reminds us a lot of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
2 - Explore the Intercoastal Waterway
Topsail Island is separated from the mainland by sounds and channels that make up a portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which a large, 3,000 mile inland waterway. The Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) consists of saltwater rivers, natural inlets, bays and sounds. Also part of the ICW are artificially canals created canals that provide routes for boaters so they can avoid many of the hazards associated with the ocean.
For visitors, the ICW offers:
- Kayaking and Paddleboarding
- Jet Ski Rental
There are a number of tourism companies that provide rentals and tours on the island.
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3 - Adventure in Soundside Park
Soundside Park is located in Surf City, and is the towns premier park, located along the intracoastal waterway. The park provides exceptional scenic views, and access to wildlife. The park has nice boardwalk, that is perfect for fishing or for nice walk outdoors.
If you are a boat owner, you and put your boat in at the NC Wildlife Commissions boat ramp in the park. For the kids, the park has a really nice pirate ship playground, and their are picnic shelters and tables nearby.
The park provides exceptional sunset views, and makes for a great place to hang out with the family or meet up with friends.
4 - Fish and walk Surf City Pier
Surf City Pier, located in Surf City (as you would expect), was Topsail Island's very first pier. The Pier offers fishing and exception views of the ocean, beaches and Topsail Island. Top Sail Pair is 937 feet long and has a 40 foot octagon at the end for extra space and views.
Surf City Pier features:
- Two large fish cleaning stations with fresh running water.
- Plenty of lighting for all night fishing.
- A Large well lit parking area, and additionally public parking is available around the pier.
- Large assortment of bait in the shop
- Fully stocked tackle shop.
- Grill/Ice Cream
- Outside Dining Area
The Pier is open from Mid-March to December 1st, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
We visited the Surf City Pier during our recent visit to Topsail and really enjoyed walking out on it. The views were gorgeous, and we really enjoyed watching all fo the people fish as well. The cost to just walk the Pier as a spectator, was whooping $1 each - Definitely worth it. Fishing passes are more, and they even offer season passes.
4 - Visit Serenity Point
Our visit to Serenity Point turned out to be the highlight of our visit to Topsail Island.
Serenity point is a remote section of beach located at the southern most portion of Topsail Island. You basically drive down as far as you can, and park in the public parking area on the sound side. To reach Serenity point, you'll need to walk about a mile or so along the beach.
Serenity point is located where the sound meets the ocean (Topsail Inlet) and is a large natural and undeveloped beach area. Serenity Point is popular for boating, but not overly crowded. It's the ideal location for a sunset, and for enjoying some more remote and quiet time on the beach.
5 - Visit Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
Located on the mainland, but not far from Surf City is the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Their mission is the conservation and preservation of all species of marine turtles, both in the water and on the beach.
The center provides rescue, care, and release of sick and injured sea turtles along with public education regarding the plight of sea turtles and the threat of their extinction.
Visitors to Topsail Island, from June through August can visit the center and the active "Turtle hospital". The enter is non-profit, and run by volunteers that help rescue and care for the sea turtles. Visitors can see turtles being care for, and talk to volunteers to learn more about them, and what the center does.
You'll need to book your tickets, and time slot online, and you'll want to arrive 15 minutes prior to your start time.
6 - Go Shopping
Surf City, Topsail, nearby Sneads Ferry and Jacksonville are full of wonder places to shop, from your typical big store merchants, to smaller locally owned shops. Visitors and locals alike enjoy the custom craft made items, jewelry and art that is found throughout the shops located on Topsail Island.
Beach shops full of beach gear, and Family souvenir can also be found on the island, along with those every so popular Topsail Beach t-shirts!
If you enjoy shopping, you'll find lots of options in this area. We've pulled together the best shopping centers and boutiques to explore in and around Topsail Island:
7 - Tiki Tours
Tiki Tours is one the top-rated tour companies on Topsail Island. You'll board the Tiki Queen Paddlewheel or Tiki Time Pontoon boat for a guided tour of Topsail Island. Along the way, you'll search for and see beautiful scenery, cross the same waters of famous pirates, and watch for amazing wildlife, including dolphins, ospreys, pelicans and sea turtles.
For a special treat, book an amazing sunset tour! The guides are informative and fun. Be prepared to collect lots of shells, and see some amazing views!
8 - Missiles and More Museum
Before Topsail Island became the beach vacation destination it is today, Topsail was owned by the US Military and a secret Navy missile operation, called Bumblebee, was conducted by the Military in the late 40s and early 50s.
The Missiles and more Museum was founded when concerned citizens wanted to preserve the future of the Missile Assembly building, which was constructed in 1946. Today, this same building is now the Missiles and More Museum, which opened in 1995.
The museum is a neat place to visit, and houses a number of exhibits that highlight the natural and military history of Topsail Island. Exhibits include:
- Barrier Island - Focuses on the natural history of the barrier island
- Camp Davis - Nearby historic military base that was an antiaircraft training base
- Natural History - Artifacts and exhibits of traces of Native American life on the island.
- Operation Bumblebee - Exhibits and history of the secret missile development operation.
- Osprey Aircraft - Exhibits and history of the V-22 Osprey Aircraft, the world’s first production tilt-rotor aircraft. They can often be seen flying over the island.
- Pirates - From 1630 to 1720 pirates plundered merchant ships up and down the Atlantic coast, including Topsail Island. This exhibit focuses on 10 different pirates, the pirate history of the area.
These are just a few of the wonderful exhibits the museum offers. The museum makes for a fun, unique, and educational visit on Topsail Island.
9 - Skating at Topsail Skating Rink
Rainy day, or just feel like getting out of the sun? Take the family to Topsail Skating Rink!
Opening in 1969, the Skating Rink is open nightly beginning in March. The rink is very historic, and old timey feel, with modern fun. They have snacks and drinks as well.
One of things we really like is it's truly family friendly fun. The rink doesn't tolerate horseplay, fast skaters, cursing or any non-family behavior.
10 - Patio Playground Putt-Putt
No trip to the beach is complete without playing some mini-golf! Patio Playground Putt-Putt has you covered, and is a 1955 retro 18-hole putt-putt golf course.
In addition, bike rentals, Ice Cream Shop, and TWO air-conditioned arcades. They even have a live DJ to help keep you entertained. They also have a small gift shop for you to explore.
11 - Surf City Jet Ski Rentals
A popular outdoor activity on Topsail Island is using Jet Skis to cruise around the sounds and beaches of Topsail Island. There are a number of really great companies, but the best Jet Ski Rental in Topsail is found at Surf City Jet Ski Rentals, providing top quality equipment and customer service.
Not only do they rent jet skis, they also provide guided tours and Paddle Boards rental as well. One of the best things about Surf City Jet Ski Rental is they provide a 9 mile riding area, which is much larger than many other rental companies. You even get a full-refund for bad weather!
For a super fun, unique and exhilarating way to experience the waters of Topsail Island, rent a Jet Ski or take a guided Jet Ski Tour!
Best Restaurants on Topsail Island
Topsail Island is full of lots of great, locally owned restaurants, and more than just seafood too! You're bound to find a number of great options for you and your family to enjoy.
We've visited Topsail a number of times now, and tried many of the different restaurants. Here are our top picks for not only food, but atmosphere as well. We really enjoy beach front and outdoor dining, so that factors into our picks.
Where to stay on Topsail Island
Home and Condo Rentals are the main choice for visitors to topsail island, and there are many many different options. You'll find:
- Beach front
- Sound front
- Homes with boat docks
- and non-ocean front homes.
Each has their own set of pros and cons, including different budgets. Nearly all of the homes on the island are close to public beach access, or even have their own private beach access.
Here are a few of our tops picks:
Tips for visiting Topsail Island
We've been to Topsail Island a number of times, and we learn a little something new with each visit. Here are our tips for visiting Topsail Island and getting the most out of it:
- Topsail is for relaxing and is not the a busy beach like Myrtle. So come prepared to relax and enjoy your vacation at a slower pace.
- North Topsail is mainly houses and condos, with only a few places to eat, and very little shopping. You'll need to go to Surf City for more restaurants or travel over to Sneads Ferry or Jacksonville.
- Nearly all of the public parking is pay to park. The do make it easy though, you just download an app and scan a bar code. The parking cost isn't crazy expensive, but it's not cheap either. Plan accordingly.
- Unless you are staying in Surf City, you'll need to drive to most restaurants, venues or shops.
- There is a really awesome crab sanctuary on the north end of the island, that is fun to explore.
- You can drive vehicles on the north end of the beach, but you have to have a permit and a 4x4 vehicle. Entering without a pass is a $50 fine.