Topsail Island is a classic beach destination along the North Carolina coast. Thanks to its idealistic beaches and sleepy seaside towns, there is much to love about Topsail.
Even the island’s name harkens back to days of pirates who would hide their boats in the channel between the island and the mainland. Only the ship’s sails would be visible from the Atlantic.
It’s said you may find hidden treasure from Blackbeard, but you’re more likely to have a splendid beach vacation on one of North Carolina’s best beaches. This is in large part thanks to the plethora of things to do in Topsail Island, which we’ll dig into!
Where is Topsail Island?
Before we dig into the best things to do in Topsail, let’s chat location. Topsail Island is a 26 mile long barrier island right off the coast of Southern North Carolina. It is south of Jacksonville, but north of Wilmington. There are three main communities on Topsail Island: North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach.
It’s a popular vacation destination in North Carolina with plenty of vacation rentals along the whole coast. The only two ways onto the island are via a bridge in Surf City and a bridge in North Topsail Beach.
Unlike many Wilmington beaches, Topsail Island never gets too crowded and there are no cheesy chain restaurants or tourist traps to contend with.
Topsail Island Beach Access
Topsail Island offers several public beach access points for visitors that are conveniently located and easily accessible from various points on the island.
- North Topsail Beach Accesses: There are many public beach accesses in North Topsail Beach, including the New River Inlet, which is the most popular beach access on the island.
- Surf City Beach Accesses: There are public beach accesses in Surf City, including the Surf City Pier, which is a popular landmark and a great spot for fishing.
- Topsail Beach Accesses: There are public beach accesses in Topsail Beach, including the Jolly Roger Pier, which is a well-known fishing spot on the island.
Best Things to Do In Topsail Island
Relax on the Beach
It’s tough to beat the beaches of North Carolina, and Topsail is no exception. At 26 miles long there is a lot of beach space to spread out and claim your spot on the gorgeous beach. Obviously, enjoy the beach is one of the best things to do in Topsail! The expansive natural beach delivers plenty of rolling dunes, natural vegetation, and a vivid teal-colored ocean.
With all that gorgeous beach it’s little wonder the top thing to do on Topsail island is to relax on the beach. So bring some beach chairs, towels, and an umbrella! This beach packing list is super helpful to make sure you have all the essentials.
Grab A Taco at Shaka Taco
One of the best things to do in Topsail NC is eat tacos and seafood – or both! For some of the best seafood on Topsail Island head to Shaka Taco in Surf City. They serve up some amazing fish, shrimp, and fresh local catch tacos/bowls.
On our visit, the special was blacked cobia tacos with pickled relish. Visitors can expect some fantastic fresh food with outdoor seating and craft beer.
20 BEST Surf City Restaurants (NC)
Play A Round of Corn Hole
It’s tough to find a game more fitting for the beach than corn hole. Of course, it doesn’t have to be corn hole, but any beach game is a great way to pass time.
Spikeball is another hit and is addictively fun no matter your age! If you’re with friends or have kids it’s pretty much a necessity.
Drive On The North End
On the North end of Topsail Island is the Onslow County Beach Access #3 which allows for vehicles to drive on the beach. If you like to tailgate with your truck this is an awesome spot. Deep sand, wild rolling coastal sand dunes, and a turbulent inlet make for an interesting landscape.
To drive on the beach a 4×4 vehicle is required. No motorcycles, ATVs, or go-karts are allowed. Visitors will need to drive on the beach year-round and can be purchased at the gate entrance. The beach is only open during daylight hours and no nighttime access is allowed.
Access Pass Costs
- Daily – $25.00
- Weekly – $100.00
- Annual – $250.00
Rent A Surfboard
Warm waters and consistent waves make Topsail Island an ideal spot to catch a wave. You can travel to the island with your own surfboards or you can pick up a rental at 50 South Surf Shop in Surf City. The surf shop delivers across the island and has a wide range of boards available to rent and they offer SUP, kayaks, and bikes.
The main surf spots on the island are around the piers and at the Point located on the north side of the side island. To check the surf forecast head to the Magic Seaweed.
Go Fishing on One of the Main Piers
You don’t need a boat or to pay the steep price for a charter boat to go fishing on Topsail Island. As with many North Carolina beaches, there are a number of fishing piers that provide affordable access to fishing. Pylons off the piers also supply a healthy habitat for the fish and a wide range of fish to be caught.
Topsail Island has three fishing piers spread across the island. Fish often caught off the piers are mullet, bonito, drums, flounder, blues, speckled trout, sheepshead, and Mackerels. Tickets or passes are required to fish off the piers, and spectators can pay a reduced price of around $2. Piers in NC operate like commercial fishing charter boats and guests are not required to have a state-issued license.
The Seaview pier is located in North Topsail Beach and features a no-frills seafood restaurant that serves fresh local catch.
- $14 Daily Fishing Pass (2 rods)
- $2 Spectator Pass
- $5 Beach & Pier Access
Surf City Pier
Surf City is the most centrally located pier that features a grill, gift shop, and large bait tackle shop. The tackle shop also offers rod rentals so you can fish even if you do not have your own tackle.
- $10 Daily Fishing Pass – Per Rod
- $5 Daily Childs Pass – Per Rod
- $1 Spectator Pass
- $10 Rod Rental
Jolly Roger Pier
In Topsail Beach is the Jolly Roger Pier extends 850 feet long and is an excellent spot for fishing. Attached to the pier is the quaint Jolly Rogers Inn.
- $16 Daily Fishing Pass
- $8 Daily Childs Pass
- $2 Spectator Pass
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center
Just over the bridge in Surf City is the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue Center. The center’s goal is to help aid in the conservation of the sea turtle population around Topsail Island. It is critical work for the Loggerhead Turtle population as the island’s beaches are nesting grounds for the turtles.
Every season local volunteers work with the center to walk every mile of the beach daily in search of turtle nests that need protection. Once identified the nests are protected and observed. Should any turtle require rescue or aid along the beach the center will step in and provide help.
If you want to meet some turtles up close and personal the center has tours open to the public for a reasonable price. It’s a great idea for families and anyone wanting to learn more about sea turtles. As a bonus, ticket sales help support the center!
- $7 General Admission (13 and up)
- $6 Seniors and Military
- $5 Children (2-12 years)
- $0 Babies and Toddlers (0-1 years)
Rent A Boat
Take to the Intracoastal Waterway and rent a boat to explore some of the diverse ecological biomes of coastal Carolina. It’s a great way to go fishing or just explore some of the numerous islands around waterways.
Learn About The Topsail Towers
The US Military launched Operation Bumblebee after the end of WWII in 1946. The operational goal was to begin testing modern propulsion for missiles and spacecraft. During this time Topsail Island was an undeveloped barrier island and was chosen as the test facility.
A series of photographic towers were built along the island to study the rockets’ trajectory. Nearly 200 experimental rockets were launched from the base over 18 months before the program moved to Cape Canaveral. However, Topsail still has its mark in history and played an important role in the development of modern rocket and jet propulsion.
Many of the towers built for the operation still exist and can be seen along the island. A small museum in Topsail called Missiles & More Museum where visitors can learn more about the operation and history on Topsail Island.
Topsail Beach Skating Rink
It can be tough to figure out what to do on rainy days in Topsail. However, the Topsail Beach Skating Rink offers a blast from the past with roller skating. It’s an affordable experience too and a great way to pass some time. Rates are $8 per skater with rentals included.
Go For A Swim
The best way to beat the summer heat is by taking a deep in the Atlantic Ocean. I love to spend my time body surfing in the waves, but it’s equally relaxing to float in the shallows.
On a calm day and with good currents the ocean can be crystal clear on Topsail Island. You’ve come to enjoy the beach and Topsail is an exceptional place to do so.
Browse Quarter Moon Books & Gifts
The eclectic Quarter Moon Books & Gifts has been a local institution for several decades. You can pick up a new book, find a gift, have a cup of coffee, or even relax on their outdoor patio with a glass of wine or craft beer. Throughout the year, Quarter Moon hosts a number of events such as live bands!
Enjoy Sunrise or Sunset
One of our favorite things about the coast of North Carolina and Topsail Island is the astounding sunrises and sunsets. Thanks to the humidity and coastal breeze it’s pretty common for the sky to turn a fiery orange and a myriad of colors.
Sunrise is best near one of the piers along the beach while sunset is great on the Intracoastal Waterway looking westward.
Visit The Historic Wilmington Waterfront
Topsail lies only 40 miles North of the historic port town of Wilmington. Personally, Wilmington holds a special place in our hearts as it is home to our Alma Mater and the place Natasha and I met. My family still lives here and we spend much of our time in Wilmington.
The historic downtown has a lot to offer visitors. You can check out some of the boutique shops and ILM coffees shops at the Cotton Mill, grab dinner at a restaurant, enjoy one of Wilmington’s many craft breweries, or scare yourself on a historic ghost tour.
20 BEST Hotels in Wilmington, NC to Stay
Hang out on Surf City
Topsail for the most part is a charmingly sleepy beach town, but Surf City has the most to offer on the island.
Grab coffee and donuts at the Fractured Prune, dinner at Sears Landing, or a beer at the Salty Turtle Brewery. Surf City also serves as a hub for beach rentals such as bikes, surfboards, or even boats.
For families, Southside Park is a great place to let the kids play. The quaint park has a jungle gym on the water with a view of the Surf City Bridge. It has a fishing pier, boat launch, and picnic shelters that serve visitors to the island.
Bike Along Topsail Island
A great way to get along the island is to hop on two wheels. You can bike along the Topsail Island bike path, the beach, or along any of the island’s roads. At 26 miles long and roads with slower speed limits, a bike is a pretty great way to get around.
Just be prepared for riding against the wind if you plan to cover any distance! 50 South Surf Shop, Ride TI Ebike Rentals, and Mutiny Ebikes all offer bike rentals for visitors. The latter shops offer e-bikes which make for an easy way to get around!
We love paddleboarding as it’s a sport that can be as relaxing or sporty as you’d like. They’re a little tough for areas with a lot of waves.
However, the Intracoastal waterway and marshlands on the western side of Topsail Island make for a fantastic area to paddleboard. It’s a great way to explore nature and enjoy some sun! You can rent paddleboards at Topsail Surf and Cycle.
Relax Along the Coastal Marshes
The marshes that surround most of the island are a serene location to spend your days. It’s our favorite spot to catch the sunset. As the sun dips along the horizon the reeds take on a golden hue and rustle in the wind while birds fly far overhead. Head to one of the numerous boat docks along the waterway to catch a sunset.
Go Surf Fishing
If you like a bit more space when fishing surf fishing is a great sport. The beaches are free and it’s pretty easy to find space on Topsail’s quiet beaches. You will need a rod and a North Carolina fishing license.
Hunt For Seashells and Shark Teeth
The picturesque natural beaches of Topsail Island are ripe for seashells and shark teeth. If you want to find the best shells it’s best to walk the beaches every morning! It also helps to go during low tide and to know the tide schedule for that matter! If you’re truly lucky you may even spot some Megalodon teeth which have been found on the island.
Spot The Local Wildlife
You might think about spotting an abundance of wildlife on your beach vacation, but you’ll be surprised by Topsail. The Carolina coast is full of wildlife thanks to conservation practices put in place by the state government. You can regularly expect to spot dolphins, turtles, pelicans, crabs, jellyfish, and various birds.
Walk Along The Beach
There’s no better way to spend your time on Topsail Island than walking along its shores. If you’re looking for the best time morning and evening are always best as it’s the most quiet time of day.
Best Restaurants on Topsail Island
- Surf City BBQ: Perfect little low key lunch spot in Surf City!
- Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille: For beachfront in Surf City here you can get fresh seafood, burgers, steaks, and pasta!
- Ocean’s Edge: For a special experience in North Topsail Beach, make a reservation at Ocean’s Edge so you can dine with sea views.
Where to Stay on Topsail
Topsail is the land of vacation rentals, vrbos, and cottages. There aren’t many hotels on offer here so best to rent a private family-owned home instead!
Best Things To Do In Topsail Island, NC Map
Plan For Your Trip to the South!
- We like to use VRBO when searching for vacation apartment rentals and Booking.com when searching for hotels.
- See our favorite cooler for the road!
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car for traveling the Carolinas. Check Prices on RentalCars.com
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always Allbirds.
- Check out our favorite North Carolina Souvenir!
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards.