Pender County (Everything You Need to Know + 4 Great Towns to Visit!)

Last Updated on November 27, 2021

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Pender County is home to some of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina. Of course, you may know Topsail Island, which this Eastern NC county shares with Onslow County.

The Revolutionary War-era Moores Creek Battlefield is also in Pender County, and the annual NC Blueberry Festival is one of the most popular summer events in NC. The area is also known as a wonderful backdrop for movies and TV shows, which we’ll cover in this guide.

Because there is so much to know about Pender County, we’ve organized the guide into the following sections:

  • Where is Pender County? (Hint: a Great Location!)
  • Revolutionary War History in Pender County (Moores Creek National Battlefield)
  • The Film Industry in Pender County (Movies and TV Shows)
  • Annual Events
  • Towns in Pender County (and Things to Do)
  • Where to Eat
  • Where to Stay
  • More Things to Do in Pender County (Related Posts)

You can skip ahead to any of these sections or keep reading about Pender County’s location in Eastern North Carolina. We’ve also created a map of Pender County locations mentioned in this guide, if you’d like to visually plan your trip!

Read More: Our North Carolina Travel Map

Where is Pender County?

Pender County NC
Image Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pender County is situated along the coast of Eastern North Carolina, north of Wilmington and South of Jacksonville. It’s in the hear of the Cape Fear region, as part of the Cape Fear River basin.

Pender borders NC counties, including the following:

  • Duplin County (north)
  • Onslow County (northeast)
  • New Hanover County (south)
  • Brunswick County (south)
  • Columbus County (southwest)
  • Bladen County (west)
  • Sampson County (northwest)

You may associate Pender County with the coast, but much of it runs from east to west (or west to east). At 933 square miles, Pender County is the fifth largest in North Carolina by land area.

If you’re traveling to the area from Raleigh, the trip is approximately two hours, and much of the drive is along I-40. Beyond I-40, highways that run through the county include US-17, US-117, and US-421.

Read More: The Best Day Trips from Raleigh

Revolutionary War History in Pender County (Moores Creek)

Pender County NC Moores Creek National Battlefield

History thrives in this area and Moores Creek National Battlefield in Currie is a testament to Pender County’s significance. Moores Creek was one of the first battles fought in the South during the Revolutionary War.

You can learn all about it at the Visitor Center and by walking the 0.7-mile trail through the battlefield and across a historic bridge along Moores Creek.

This National Parks Site is also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail, extending 1175 miles from Clingmans Dome to Jockeys Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks

Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina

The Film Industry in Pender County

Historic Pender County Jail above Pender County Visitor Center Burgaw

Pender County and its neighbor Wilmywood (Wilmington) have served as the backdrop to many Hollywood films. If you consider yourself a movie buff and want to see the film locations of some of the best movies filmed in North Carolina, then consider making your own tour.

Film locations include movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Idlewild, and Secret Life of Bees. TV shows filmed in Pender County include Dawsons Creek and One Tree Hill.

Visit Pender County has curated this list of filming locations, including addresses to each site.

We were lucky enough to be allowed upstairs of the Pender County Visitor Center, which used to be the county jail. This historic building in Burgaw has been used for many major motion films, and we can definitely see why!

Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

Annual Events in Pender County

  • March: The annual Poplar Grove’s Herb and Garden Fair marks the beginning of Spring! The two-day event features the best herb and plant vendors and local artisans, crafters, food, and fun! 
  • May: Spring Fest is an annual event held by the Pender County Arts Council and Art Beat. Arts and crafts, vendors, food, and memories. Also in May is the “Celebrate Hampstead” Festival, usually held on Mother’s Day weekend. This great event benefits the town’s Chamber of Commerce and arts programs in Topsail Schools.
  • June: NC Blueberry Festival is the biggest annual event in Pender County. Fresh blueberries, a BBQ cook-off, blueberry-themed shopping, and so much more! 
  • October: Autumn with Topsail brings 100+ regional artists together for juried competitions and retail markets with live music, food, and inflatables for children. The NC Bacon Festival celebrates the most delicious part of breakfast! With plenty of bacon, helicopter rides, pig races, and loads of family fun! Ghost Walk of Pender’s Past brings the paranormal history to life with spooky theatrics! 
  • November: NC Spot Festival is an annual event in Hampstead that celebrates the Spot Fish and the coastal community. Enjoy live music, fireworks inflatables, vendors, and Spot dinners! 

Towns in Pender County (and Things to Do)

Pender County includes the towns of Burgaw and a portion of the 26-mile barrier Topsail Island, both the towns of Surf City and Topsail Beach. Parts of Wallace are shared by Pender County and its neighbor to the north Duplin County.

Overall, there are six incorporated towns in Pender County, followed by even more census-designated places, unincorporated communities, and the Village of St. Helena.

Here are four of the biggest towns in Pender County, along with things to do in each one.

Burgaw

Things to do in Pender County Burgaw

Burgaw is the county seat of Pender County and an adorable small town with a charming historic district. Trees dot the historic streets, making it an excellent walkable downtown. 

Blueberries in Burgaw

Home of the North Carolina Blueberry Festival in June, you can find some of the juiciest blueberries in Burgaw! Buy or pick blueberries during the summer months at Carol Sue Farms and Farmer Mac’s Blueberry Farm.

If you’re in a hurry, there are plenty of local blueberry stands that offer excellent and delicious blueberries. 

Read More: Blueberry Picking in North Carolina

Muscadines and Wine

Blueberries aren’t the only fruit in town, as Burgaw’s Bannerman Vineyard and Winery will demonstrate to you. Their six varieties of NC muscadine grapes are available for u-pick during September and October.

Make sure to stop in the tasting room and sample some of the delicious wines too! 

Read More: Muscadine Grapes in North Carolina (History, Health Benefits, and Great Farms to Pick Them!)

The Burgaw Train Depot

The Burgaw Train Depot is believed to be the oldest train station in North Carolina. Home to the Chamber of Commerce, step inside and take a tour of the Railroad Museum. 

Surf City

Just over the bridge, Surf City is the first and busiest city you’ll explore on Topsail Island. Even though it’s the center of the island, there’s such a laid-back feel.

Read More: The Best Beaches in North Carolina

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

Things to do in Pender County Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital turtle

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is the #1 thing to do in Surf City. The volunteer-run non-profit rescues and cares for sea turtles of North Carolina.

Visitors are welcome to come and learn from June through December, and tours provide such a valuable educational experience for ocean lovers of all ages. 

Surf City Ocean Pier

Things to do in Pender County Fishing

While in Surf City, make sure to check out the Surf City Ocean Pier, the island’s first fishing pier constructed in 1948. The view of the beach is gorgeous, and there are plenty of anglers hoping to snag a nibble. 

Salty Turtle Beer Company

Pender County NC Salty Turtle Beer Company

After a busy day on the beach, hit the local brewery for a pint! The Salty Turtle Beer Company is located in Surf City and uses high-quality, innovative brews.

Feel good about your drink choice as this brewery donates a portion of its sales to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. 

Read More: The Best North Carolina Breweries

Board and Brush

Things to do on Topsail Island Board and Brush

If you are looking for something fun and unique to do while in Pender County, Board and Brush is our recommendation! Great for families and even date nights, Board and Brush is a creative space where you can pick your project and enjoy time together.

Make your appointment take your time as you sip on a local beer while crafting. Take home your Topsail memories and tell the owners Vanessa and Preston we said, “Hi!”

Topsail Beach

Compared to the busy Surf City, Topsail Beach is much quieter and a place where you can relax and live like a local.

Play putt-putt at Patio Playground, strap on a pair of skates at the retro Topsail Skating Rink, or make your way around the end of the island at Serenity Point.

Missiles and More Museum

Pender County NC Missiles and More Museum

I bet you didn’t know that in the late 1940s, Topsail Island was the base of operation for top-secret missile research, also known as Operation Bumblebee?

At the Missiles and More Museum in Topsail Beach, you can learn about the history of this mission via its Operation Bumblebee exhibit. This comprehensive exhibit shares how the US Navy project developed supersonic guided missiles here on Topsail Island.

The “and More” portion of the museum includes exhibits on local history, pirates, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) developed in response to World War II. 

Read More: Interesting Facts about North Carolina

Jolly Roger Pier

The Jolly Roger Pier in Topsail Beach is an excellent place to cast a reel and enjoy beautiful views of the water. From the JRP, you can sometimes see dolphins and sea turtles from the end.

If you plan to fish here, tickets are $16 per day. To walk the pier, spectator tickets are $2. 

Serenity Point

Pender County Serenity Point Topsail Island NC

Serenity Point is an undeveloped area at the Southern tip of Topsail Island and is perfect for beachgoers and boaters. There is limited FREE parking, which adds to the privacy you’ll get.

Find a spot to lay out along the sound side and calmer waters. You can also walk to the very tip where the ocean meets the Intracoastal Waterway. 

Hampstead

We mentioned Hampstead in our “Annual Events” section, but want to share a bit more about each town here.

Hampstead is a growing town, known as the “Seafood Capital of the Carolinas.” You’ll find seafood vendors, great restaurants, and easy access to the water with your boat in Hampstead.

ArtExposure is a wonderful showcase of the area artists. The studio/gallery offers classes, supplies, and more to aspiring and current artisans.

If you’ve come to the area for the outdoors (you should), Eastern Outfitters has everything in mind, including hunting, fishing, boating, and more gear.

Where to Eat in Pender County

Things to do in Pender County MeMas

It’s not uncommon for us to plan our travel around food, and Pender County is filled with tons of great restaurants. We will try our best to include as many delicious places as possible, but stay tuned for more food guides to specific areas and towns.

  • MeMa’s is a destination restaurant in Burgaw. Serving incredible smoked barbecue, chicken, and ribs, every single thing on the menu is prepared with love. Sure, you’ve had baked beans before, but we guarantee you haven’t had ones as good as MeMa’s!
  • Sears Landing in Surf City is a mainstay Topsail Island restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here, you’ll find boat access to tasty coastal food served with a friendly smile!
  • Located next to the Surf City pier, Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille pairs the best patio views on Topsail Island with delicious food. Serving up local seafood and open year-round (double bonus!), a meal at Daddy Mac’s should always be on your Topsail beach vacation itinerary.
  • The Beach Shop and Grill in Topsail Beach uses local ingredients and offers an impressive wine selection. We won’t dispute what area locals often tell us—Jeff makes the best burger on the island!

Where to Stay in Pender County

Loggerhead Inn Topsail Island Pender County North Carolina Hotels
Loggerhead Inn.

There are plenty of accommodation options in Pender County for every type of traveler. Bed & Breakfast at Mallard Bay is a nice and peaceful place to stay on the Intracoastal Waterway in Hampstead.

Campers and RV travelers have plenty of choices, too, including Blackbeard’s Treasure Family Campground and Lanier’s Campground, both in Surf City.

Of course, there are plenty of beach rentals that dot the shores of Topsail Island, and we’ve enjoyed stays in a few of them.

If you are looking for a laid-back historic hotel, then check out the Loggerhead Inn & Suites. With 29 beautifully appointed pet-friendly and family-friendly rooms, there are lodging options for every type of traveler and budget.

Want to Know Anything Else about Pender County?

We love visiting Pender County and always look forward to our next visit.

If there’s anything else you’d to know about it, please feel free to contact us by email. You can also join our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group and ask a question there any time!

If you’re familiar with Pender County, we’d love to know about your favorite things to do and places to see in the area.

More Things to Do in Pender County

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