Last Updated on July 13, 2023
Last Updated on July 13, 2023
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 critical environmental organizations and great food, Topsail Island is a place 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 will love.
We’ve organized this article to include the following:
- Where is Topsail Island?
- Where to Stay on Topsail Island
- Beach Accesses
- Parking Information
- Year-Round Things to Do on Topsail Island (The Beach, the Sound, and Indoors)
- Restaurants on Topsail Island
- Things to Do in Topsail Island’s Surroundings (Burgaw, Hampstead, and Sneads Ferry)
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?
- North Topsail Beach (Onslow County)
- Surf City (Onslow County and Pender County)
- Topsail Beach (Pender County)
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:
- Hammocks Beach State Park (and Bear Island)
- Shackleford Banks
- Moores Creek National Battlefield
Read More: 50+ Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington
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.
- Carolina Retreats (Various Locations): If you use a rental company for your beach vacation, we recommend checking out Carolina Retreats. Their houses are clean, spacious, and they are locally owned.
- Saltwater Suites (Surf City): These brand-new condo-style accommodations are perfect for small families and couples who want to take a memorable trip to Topsail. Only one block from the beach, we found them clean, spacious, and great for our getaway!
- The Loggerhead Inn (Surf City): The Loggerhead Inn is a historic 1950s beach motel that has been restored and welcomes guests to make memories. These accommodations are perfect for solo travelers, couples, and small families. And we loved having a pool during our trip!
Do you have a favorite rental company on Topsail Island? We’d love to know more about them!
Topsail Island Public Beach Accesses
If you’ve booked an oceanfront rental or one close to the beach, you’ll be near one of Topsail Island’s many beach access points. Here’s a breakdown by town:
- North Topsail Beach: 37 Beach Access Points
- Surf City: 39 Beach Access Points
- Topsail Beach: 20 Beach Access Points with 9 Soundside access points
If you’ve booked an oceanfront rental or one close to the beach, you’ll be able to walk to the beach without worrying about parking.
Parking on Topsail Island is a contentious issue with locals, as paid parking was only implemented recently. Here’s a breakdown of paid parking by location:
- North Topsail Parking (3 Options)
- Download the SurfCAST by Otto app to pay for parking.
- Scan the QRcode on the Parking signs and pay for parking via a Secure website.
- Call Otto Connect at 910-200-1497. They will ask for your email, phone number, License plate/tag number, state of registration, and a Credit or Debit card.
- Hourly: $5
- Daily: $25
- Weekly: $100
- Yearly: $250
- Questions? Contact Town of North Topsail Beach at 919-328-1349.
- North Topsail 4X4 Drive-On Lot (ORV Beach Access)
- Daily: $25.00 ($10 after 3 pm)
- Weekly: $100.00
- Surf City Parking (from March 1 to October 31)
- Text-to-Park (text SURFB to 25023) or a QR code at designated spaces
- Hourly: $5 for premium spaces near beach access points/$3 for outlying spaces
- Daily: $25
- Season Pass Available
- Standard: $250
- Military/Senior Citizen/ETJ Resident: $225
- Questions? Contact Town of Surf City at 919-328-4131.
- Text-to-Park (text SURFB to 25023) or a QR code at designated spaces
Many parking spaces in Topsail Beach are free, except near Serenity Point.
- Topsail Beach South-End Parking Lot at the end of Shore Line Dr and Inlet Dr:
- $5 per hour for up to 4 hours
- $25 per day
- Questions? Contact Topsail Beach at 919-328-5841.
Annual Events on Topsail Island
Keep an eye out for these annual events, as they’re the most festive things to do on Topsail Island!
- Free Summer Movies in the Park
- Free Sounds of Summer Concert Series (Once Monthly from May to September)
- Topsail Wine and Food Event (September)
- Autumn with Topsail (October)
- Topsail Island Holiday Flotilla (November)
Year-Round Outdoor Things to Do on Topsail Island (Beaches and the Sound)
Throughout the year, our favorite things to do on Topsail Island start and end with the beach.
You can plan your Topsail adventures visually through the following maps:
Naturally, you come to Topsail Island to enjoy the beach. Thankfully, the 26-mile barrier island has plenty of sand and access points 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 no flashy boardwalks, Ferris wheels, or crowds of people.
Beyond access points near our rental, here are a few of our favorite ways to see and enjoy the beach.
The Intracoastal Waterway
The Intracoastal Waterway extends from Boston to Florida, and the calm sound makes for excellent paddling and boating. If your rental is nearby or on the Intracoastal, you’ll benefit from watching sunset here.
Jolly Roger Pier
803 Ocean Blvd, Topsail Beach
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 plan to walk the pier, spectator tickets are $2.
3948 River Dr, North Topsail Beach
At the top of Topsail Island is the ORV Beach, also known as the 4×4 Driving Area. You need a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a permit to park here.
Please don’t try to drive this beach without those two important things.
When you arrive here, you’ll find a relatively calm patch of sand with water that’s great for fishing. Signs will tell you that water is too rough to swim here, and I recommend following their advice not to swim here.
Serenity Point is the Southern tip of Topsail Island and is an undeveloped area perfect for beachgoers. There is limited paid 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 tip where the ocean meets the Intracoastal Waterway.
Surf City Ocean Pier
112 S Shore Dr, Surf City
While in Surf City, check out the Surf City Ocean Pier, the island’s first fishing pier constructed in 1948. The view of the beach is gorgeous, and plenty of anglers hope to snag a nibble.
More Outdoor Things to Do on Topsail Island
If you do decide you need to do something away from the waves, we’ve got you covered with more things to do on Topsail Island. Some of these activities will take you away from Topsail Island, but they’ll mostly start in either North Topsail Beach, Surf City, or Topsail Beach.
Several companies on Topsail Island help you enjoy a day (or more) on the water. Here is a list of rental companies and water tours, along with their base of operations:
- A&B Saltwater Adventures (Topsail Beach)
- Aquaholics Boat Rentals (Surf City)
- Ghost Fleet Oyster Farm Tours (Hampstead)
- Herring’s Outdoor Sports (Surf City)
- Tate Tucker aka Tuck’s Water Shuttle (Topsail Beach)
- Tiki Tours (Surf City)
- Surf City Boat Rentals
- Surf City Jet Ski Rentals
- Topsail Boat Rentals (Surf City)
- Topsail Island Queen Jean (Topsail Beach)
Many of these boat tour companies will meet you in various locations, depending on the experience you’ve booked and where you’re staying.
Kenneth D. Batts Family Park
911 S Topsail Dr, Surf City
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 to get a great view of the Surf City bridge and the Intracoastal waterway.
Keep your eyes peeled for jumping fish!
The NC Oyster Trail
The NC Oyster Trail has sites throughout the coast, including restaurants and markets.
However, an oyster farm tour is the best way to experience the trail. Ghost Fleet Oyster Company invited us to their farm near North Topsail Beach, and it was a day we’ll never forget.
During a typical Oyster Farm Tour, you’ll talk to oyster growers, see the process from a sand grain-sized oyster seed to your plate, and learn about the environmental and social impacts.
517 Roland Ave, Surf City
Soundside Park is close to the Surf City Bridge, which is how you may arrive at the island unless you take Island Drive into North Topsail.
Soundside has a nice walking path, a playground, and picnic shelters if you’d like to have a family get-together or birthday party there.
We enjoyed a nice walk after letting our little one play before getting on the road home.
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
302 Tortuga Ln, Surf City
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, plan ahead to ensure a visit to the sea turtle hospital 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
720 Channel Blvd, Topsail Beach
Did you know that Topsail Island was almost Cape Canaveral!? During the 1940s, the uninhabited island was 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 comprehensively examines 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.
Salty Turtle Beer Company
103 Triton Ln, Surf City
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.
Support Local Businesses
There are some great local shops on Topsail Island, whether you’re gearing up for the beach or killing some time on a rainy day. Here are a few of our favorites and what they offer:
- Herring’s Outdoor Sports (701 N New River Dr, Surf City): High-quality outdoor gear, clothes, and equipment rentals.
- Mia’s Marketplace (14061 NC-50, Surf City): Saltwater taffy, apparel, gifts, and more.
- North Topsail Surf & Paddle (4021-C Island Dr, North Topsail Beach): Equipment rentals, Italian ice, gifts, and more.
- Quarter Moon Books & Gifts (708 S Anderson Blvd, Topsail Beach): Books, clothing, gifts, stationery, coffee, and wine.
- Salt Marsh Market (100 Charlie Medlin Dr, Surf City): Smoothies, Grab n’ Go and Take n’ Bake food, Local beer, wine, and more.
- Shark Attack (1295 State Hwy 210, Sneads Ferry): The World’s Largest Shark, souvenirs and just about everything you need to enjoy the beach.
- Topsail Trading Company (201 North New River Drive, Surf City): Fudge, gifts, and more.
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 remember 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!
806 Roland Ave, Surf City
Sears Landing has boat access along the Intracoastal Waterway and plenty of parking. 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, order the West Indies Seafood Rolls (pictured above). They are stuffed with fish, shrimp, crab, and cheese, then rolled into a tortilla and fried.
Oh, and they’re absolutely delicious!
107 B, N Shore Dr, Surf City
Shaka Taco is no secret, 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
108 N Shore Dr, 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
114 N Topsail Dr, Surf City
Even if your child doesn’t wake you up at ungodly hours, you’ll need a giant delicious coffee as I have.
The Daily Grind has an extensive specialty coffee and latte list, 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.
Come Back for More Things to Do on Topsail Island!
Yes, you’ll have to leave at some point, unless you decide to settle 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 change as folks continue discovering this remarkable island and everything 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? You can let us know here in the comments or by email.
Don’t forget to share your Topsail Island adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
Things to Do in Topsail Island’s Surroundings
These towns are perfect for a quick getaway from Topsail Island, or a great stop on your way to your rental.
- Sneads Ferry (10 minutes from North Topsail Beach): You’ll pass through Sneads Ferry if you drive straight to North Topsail Beach. This town straddles the New River and has some great seafood restaurants, including Salty Sistas and Riverview Cafe. Dear locals, please don’t criticize us for mentioning Riverview Cafe. It’s too good to ignore!
- Hampstead (20 minutes away from Surf City): ArtExposure is a wonderful gallery and showcase of the area artists. Eastern Outfitters has everything you need for the outdoors, including hunting, fishing, boating, and more gear.
- Burgaw (50 minutes away from Surf City): 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. In June, the NC Blueberry Festival is held in Burgaw. Fresh blueberries, a BBQ cook-off, blueberry-themed shopping, and so much more await during this celebration!
More Things to Do on Topsail Island’s Surroundings in Eastern North Carolina
These North Carolina travel guides feature things to do on Topsail Island and nearby!