20 Wonderful Things to Do on Topsail Island (Outdoor & Indoor Ideas for Your Next Beach Vacation!)

Last Updated on July 27, 2022

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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?
  • 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)

Read More: Eastern North Carolina Map (with 300+ Amazing Places Listed)

Where is Topsail Island?

NCMap doton TopsailBeach By The original uploader was Seth Ilys at English Wikipedia

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 the following towns, situated from west to east:

  • 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:

Read More: 50+ Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington

Where to Stay on Topsail Island

Things to do on Topsail Island Loggerhead Inn

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 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.
  • The Loggerhead Inn & Suites (Surf City): 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!

Carolina Retreats manages the Loggerhead Inn, which hosted us. We loved the company so much that we booked our vacation rental in North Topsail Beach through them!

Do you have a favorite rental company on Topsail Island? We’d love to know more about them!

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Topsail Island Public Beach Accesses

Things to Do on Topsail Island

If you’ve booked an oceanfront rental or one close to the beach, you’ll be near one of the many beach access points on Topsail Island. 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

Read More: 10 Amazing Beaches Near Wilmington (Which One is the Best?)

Parking Info

If you’ve booked an oceanfront rental or one close to the beach, you’ll be able to walk to the beach and won’t have to worry about parking.

Parking on Topsail Island is a contentious issue with locals, as paid parking was only implemented in recent years. 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.

Many parking spaces in Topsail Beach are free, with this exception 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.

Read More: 20 of the Best North Carolina Road Trips (Scenic Byways and Highways)

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)

Read More: Fall in North Carolina (Where to See Foliage + Great Fall Events!)

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 visually plan your Topsail adventures through our Eastern North Carolina Map or keep reading!

Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map

The Beach

Topsail Beach 1

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. 

Beyond access points near our rental, here are a few of our favorite ways to see and enjoy the beach.

The Intracoastal Waterway

Things to do on Topsail Island Kenneth Batts

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 have the benefit of watching sunset here.

Jolly Roger Pier

803 Ocean Blvd, Topsail Beach

Things to do on Topsail Island Fishing

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. 

ORV Beach

3948 River Dr, North Topsail Beach

Things to Do on Topsail Island NC ORV 4x4 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 do 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 to not swim here.

Serenity Point

Topsail Beach

Things to Do on Topsail Island Serenity Point

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. 

Surf City Ocean Pier

112 S Shore Dr, Surf City

Things to Do on Topsail Island Surf City 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. 

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.

Boat Tours

Things to Do on Topsail Island NC Boat Tours

There are several companies on Topsail Island to 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:

Note that 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

Things to do on Topsail Island Kenneth Batts Boardwalk

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! 

The NC Oyster Trail

NC Oyster Trail Oyster Farming
Ghost Fleet Oyster Company’s Farm near North Topsail Beach.

The NC Oyster Trail has sites throughout the NC coast, including restaurants and markets.

However, we think 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 that 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.

Soundside Park

517 Roland Ave, Surf City

Things to Do on Topsail Island Soundside Park

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. 

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

Things to do on Topsail Island Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital turtle

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. 

Things to do on Topsail Island Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital

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

Things to do on Topsail Island Missiles and More

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. 

Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)

Salty Turtle Beer Company

103 Triton Ln, Surf City

Things to do on Topsail Island Salty Turtle

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

Things to Do on Topsail Island NC Herrings Outdoor Sports Surf City

Whether you’re gearing up for the beach or killing some time on a rainy day, there are some great local shops on Topsail Island. 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.

Read More: Why and How to Support Amazing Local Businesses Every Day

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

806 Roland Ave, 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

107 B, N Shore Dr, Surf City

Restaurants on Topsail Island Shaka Taco

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

108 N Shore Dr, Surf City

Restaurants on Topsail Island Daddy Macs

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

Restaurants on Topsail Island The Daily Grind

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

701 S Anderson Blvd, 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.

Read More: The Best Topsail Island Restaurants (Great Food for All!)

Come Back for More Things to Do on Topsail Island!

Things to do on Topsail Island Kenneth Batts Boardwalk

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? 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

Things to do in Pender County Burgaw
Downtown Burgaw

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 away from North Topsail Beach): You’ll pass through Sneads Ferry if you’re driving straight to North Topsail Beach. This town straddles the New River and is home to some great seafood restaurants, including Salty Sistas and Riverview Cafe. Dear locals, please don’t get mad at us for mentioning Riverview Cafe. It’s too good to ignore!
  • Hampstead (20 minutes away from Surf City): Hampstead is a growing town, with quite a few fun things to do. Yanessa and Preston at Board and Brush (201 Alston Blvd Ext B) have the perfect place to gather your family (or friends) and pick out a project to do. 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!

16 thoughts on “20 Wonderful Things to Do on Topsail Island (Outdoor & Indoor Ideas for Your Next Beach Vacation!)”

  1. In Topsail Beach, Cora’s South End Deli has the best sandwiches on the Island (maybe in Eastern, NC). The Beach Grill has great food. The Quarter Moon Bookstore and Wine Bar is a good place to buy books, wine and other eclectic stuff. In Surf City, the Topsail Island Trading Co. has a wonderful selection of clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, other beachy stuff and especially great fudge. Max’s Pizza has yummy burgers.

    Reply
  2. Rent an e Bike from RideTI. As a senior I was hesitant to get on a bike. I was thankful to find that electronic bikes are easy. What a great way to visit the island workout getting in my car. I bet the younger generation enjoys them more, but it was rather enjoyable and the staff was great

    Reply
  3. Go to Buddy’s and take a drink to the top deck and watch the ocean. Eat at Daddy Mac’s , sit out on the deck overlooking the ocean, enjoy the food and the view. Stop by Unwined for some music and a drink to un wind with some wine! Dennis at Hulas is best known for his famous burgers and home made potato chips, but his Thursday night spaghetti always draws a local crowd. And don’t forget Splash by the Sea on the North end of Topsail beach for a good variety of food and drinks with a wonderful view.
    The Surf City Pier grill has some wonderful burgers as well as hand dipped ice cream. Take a walk out on the pier to check out the fishing and enjoy the view while you are there!
    If you or your kids want to surf or bike stop by On Shore Surf Shop to rent bikes, surf boards, or a paddle board.
    The South end of Topsail boasts a skating rink, putt putt course, a fishing pier, and a slow more relaxed feel for those that want to wind things down while still having fun.
    And don’t forget to walk the Surf City high rise bridge! Great exercise, perfect evening stroll, and great views!
    Enjoy!

    Reply
  4. We love staying at Luna’s Ocean Lookout and we usually don’t leave once we check in, but if we do, we’ve enjoyed the great food and dog friendly environment of Beach Bums! We also can’t get enough of the yummy popcorn at Topsail Island Popcorn! Oh, and if we’re lucky, we love to catch the Bada-Bing Italian ice cart on the beach. We love Topsail!

    Reply
  5. Surf City also has scenic and eco boat tours available. Specifically oyster farm tours. The topsail section of the ICW is know as the “Napa Valley” of oyster farms in our area. Ghost Fleet Oyster Co and Coastline Captain Services offer those boat tours. They are completely customizable to fit the needs of any group.

    Reply
  6. Surf City Scoops, located under the roller skating rink in Topsail Beach, for THE BEST homemade ice cream on the island.

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