Last Updated on September 21, 2021
Last Updated on September 21, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
Topsail Island’s (pronounced “Tops’l”) beautiful ocean views quickly convinced us that this 26-mile barrier island was the right choice for a weekend trip. If you are looking for the best things to do on Topsail Island, we’ve personally curated everything you’ll need to know for your next NC beach vacation.
Immediately, we were met with one of the friendliest “small town” atmospheres you’ll find in North Carolina. From amazing beach towns to important environmental organizations and great food, this is a place that you need to put on your NC bucket list.
After a few visits to the area, here are some of the best things to do on Topsail Island that we think you’re going to love.
We’ve organized this article to include the following:
- Where is Topsail Island?
- Beach Accesses
- Parking Information
- Outdoor things to Do on Topsail Island
- Indoor things to Do on Topsail Island (Great for Rainy Days)
- Restaurants on Topsail Island
- Where to Stay on Topsail Island
Where is Topsail Island?
Before we cover things to do on Topsail Island, we want to cover the first question many people ask: where is it?
Topsail Island is a 26-mile barrier island shared by Pender and Onslow counties along the coast of Eastern North Carolina. It includes North Topsail, Surf City, and Topsail Beach.
It’s north of Wilmington and south of Jacksonville (and Swansboro), making it a wonderful and relaxed coastal community. From Raleigh, the trip is approximately two hours and much of the drive is along I-40.
Places that make ideal Day Trips from Topsail include the following:
- Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park
- Shackleford Banks
- Moores Creek National Battlefield
Topsail Island Public Beach Accesses
- North Topsail Beach: 37
- Surf City: 39
- Topsail Beach: 20 beach with 9 Soundside accesses
North Topsail Parking: Download the SurfCAST by Otto app to pay for parking
Surf City Parking: Text SURFCITY to a code or use a QR code
Topsail Beach Parking: Free but limited
Outdoor Things to Do on Topsail Island
Our favorite outdoor things to do on Topsail Island start and end with the beach, with other fun attractions sandwiched in between.
Hit the Beach
Naturally, you come to Topsail Island to enjoy the beach. Thankfully, the 26-mile barrier island has plenty of sand and access points for you to enjoy.
One of the things that we love about Topsail Island is how even in the busy season the beach is never truly crowded.
The small-town vibes mean there are no flashy boardwalks, Ferris wheels, or crowds of people.
Topsail Island is where you go to relax and escape with salty air, fresh-made fudge, and locally caught seafood. But if you do decide you need to do something away from the waves, we’ve got you covered with all of these fun things to do on Topsail Island.
The Intracoastal Waterway
The Intracoastal Waterway extends from Boston to Florida, and the calm sound makes for excellent paddling and boating. There are several boat rental companies on Topsail to help you make the most of the sound.
Here is a list of rental companies and water tours: Tate Tucker (Tuck’s Water Shuttle), Tiki Tours, A&B Saltwater Adventures, Aquaholics Boat Rentals, Surf City Boat Rentals and Surf City Jet Ski Rentals, Topsail Boat Rentals and Topsail Island Queen Jean.
Soundside Park is close to the Surf City Bridge, which is the way you may arrive at the island unless you take Island Drive into North Topsail. At Soundside, there’s a nice walking path, a playground, and picnic shelters if you’d like to have a family get-together or birthday party there.
There, we enjoyed a nice walk after letting our little one play before getting on the road home.
Surf City Ocean Pier
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.
Kenneth D. Batts Family Park
Lean in a little closer… We’re going to tell you our favorite secret! Kenneth D. Batts Family Park is absolutely stunning- so if you’re looking for gorgeous photos or a place for a picnic- this is it.
There is a small playground, picnic shelter, restrooms- and the kicker is the longest sound side boardwalk. The boardwalk takes you right out over the marshes where you can get a great view of the Surf City bridge and the Intracoastal waterway.
Keep your eyes peeled for jumping fish!
Jolly Roger Pier
Located in Topsail Beach, the Jolly Roger Pier is an excellent place to cast a reel or get beautiful views of the green water. Jutting out 850 feet into the ocean you can sometimes see dolphins and sea turtles from the end of the pier.
Fishing tickets are $16/day but if you just plan to walk the pier, spectator tickets are $2.
Serenity Point is the Southern tip of Topsail Island and is an undeveloped area that is perfect for beachgoers. There is limited FREE parking, which adds to the privacy you’ll get.
Find a spot to lay out along the sound where the water is calm, or walk to the very tip where the ocean meets the Intracoastal Waterway.
Indoor Things to do on Topsail Island
Whether you are looking for a place to cool off or find it to be a rainy day at the beach, there are plenty of fun indoor things to do on Topsail Island.
The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
When vacationing on Topsail, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is a bucket-list-worthy experience. With limited hours and reservations required, make sure to include a visit in your Topsail itinerary.
The volunteer-run non-profit rescues and cares for sea turtles of North Carolina while also providing an educational resource to visitors. Open to visit from June to December, visitors can ask questions and see the turtles that the hospital is caring for.
Missiles and More Museum
Did you know that Topsail Island was almost Cape Canaveral!? During the 1940s, the uninhabited island because the site of a top-secret rocket launch mission.
At the Missiles and More Museum, visitors can learn about this unique history that could only be found in Pender County.
The Operation Bumblebee exhibit gives a comprehensive look at the US Navy project to develop 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) that was developed in response to World War II.
Board and Brush
Would you believe me if I told you that you’ll meet the nicest people in Pender County? This is especially true of Yanessa and Preston at Board and Brush!
This is the perfect place to gather your family (or friends) and pick out a project to do.
Indoors, air-conditioned, and serving local beer, Board and Brush is one way to commemorate your beach trip with something creative and cute!
Grab a Local Pint
Speaking of local beer, the very first thing we do when we settle in for a beach vacation is making a trip to the brewery. The Salty Turtle Beer Company uses high-quality ingredients to make innovative brews.
Feel good about your drink choice as this brewery donates a portion of its sales to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital.
Where to Eat on Topsail Island
From North Topsail to Topsail Beach and Surf City in the middle, there is no shortage of delicious restaurants on Topsail Island.
Here are some of our favorites, but keep in mind that we are always hungry and eager to eat more!
Hint: if we left your favorite off this list, send us a kind email and we’ll try to hit it next visit!
Sears Landing (Surf City)
Sears Landing has boat access along the Intracoastal Waterway and plenty of parking out front. Sears Landing is a mainstay Topsail Island restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here, you’ll find Southern coastal food served with a friendly smile!
Also, make sure to order the West Indies Seafood Rolls (pictured above). They are stuffed with fish, shrimp, crab, and cheese and then rolled in a tortilla and fried.
Oh, and they’re absolutely delicious!
Shaka Taco (Surf City)
Shaka Taco is no secret, and that’s evidenced by the line that typically wraps around the building! Located in the same building as the Surf City Surf School, Shaka Taco serves fresh tacos in a takeout style with patio dining.
To date, the shrimp taco at Shaka Taco is hands down the best I’ve ever had, so definitely order one (or five) We won’t judge you either way.
Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille (Surf City)
Located next to the Surf City pier, Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille has the best patio views on the island. Serving up local seafood and open year-round, a meal at Daddy Mac’s should be on your Topsail beach vacation plans.
By the way, Daddy Mac’s and Shaka Taco share parking!
While there is usually a wait during peak hours, you can go inside and order a cocktail to sip on while your table is being prepared.
Something interesting that I noticed on the menu was that they can cook your crab cakes to a specific style: Maryland, Louisiana, or Low Country.
For example, the Louisiana crab cakes offer a kick of spice and are absolutely tasty!
The Daily Grind (Surf City)
Even if your child also doesn’t wake you up at ungodly hours, you’re going to need a giant delicious coffee as I have.
The Daily Grind has a huge specialty coffee and latte list as well as homemade donuts, smoothies, and sandwiches. Check it out for lunch or even an afternoon snack.
They also have live music and a wine bar for the evenings.
Beach Shop and Grill (Topsail Beach)
What started as a soda shop in 1952 has now blossomed into a Topsail Beach locals’ favorite foodie hot spot.
The Beach Shop and Grill uses local ingredients and has an impressive wine selection. We won’t dispute what area locals have told us—Jeff makes the best burger on the island!
Make sure to stop into the retail store next door for some local artisan products.
Where to Stay on Topsail Island
With rental properties dotting the area, so there is no shortage of great places to stay on Topsail Island.
If you are choosing to use a rental company for your beach vacation, we recommend checking out Carolina Retreats. Their houses are clean, spacious, and they are locally owned.
Carolina Retreats manages the locally owned Loggerhead Inn, which hosted us. We loved the company so much that we booked our next vacation rental through them!
The Loggerhead Inn
For affordable and budget-friendly accommodations, we stayed at The Loggerhead Inn & Suites in their coastal cottage. There are 29 well-appointed guest rooms in the refurbished 1950s retro motel. Enjoy incredibly close and convenient beach access, environmentally sustainable hotel practices, and a great pool and outdoor area!
Note that the Loggerhead Inn is expanding! There appears to be some great-looking construction going on to provide more short-term and affordable rentals.
Come Back for More Things to Do on Topsail Island!
Yes, you’ll have to leave at some point, unless you decide to settle down in the area. Topsail Island isn’t as well known as other beachy spots in North Carolina, which is another reason to keep coming back.
However, that could be changing as folks continue discovering this awesome island and all the things to do here. Even though we all want multiple return visits to Topsail, I’m sure there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy it for the foreseeable future.
Have you ever been to this piece of paradise? If so, what are your favorite things to do on Topsail Island?